This month, a multitude of cameras are focused on Barcelona, where
they will capture Olympic athletes in motion for sports fans worldwide. But there are also
several cameras whirring away at the equestrian events with a purpose quite different. You
will not see the images preserved on film by these cameras on your TV, and though they'll
be viewed and reviewed many times over, it will never be to the grand strains of Olympic
theme music. These video cameras are set up to record specific parts of the performances
of elite equine athletes for gait analysis research by Hilary Clayton, BVMS, PhD, MRCVS,
of the University of Saskatchewan, and Nancy Deuel, PhD, of the University of Maryland.
Both will be looking for gait characteristics that identify superior performance.
Together with several scientists from Spain, Clayton
is videotaping the most difficult of dressage movements: the piaffe, a stylized
trot in place, and the passage, a very slow trot with exaggerated elevation of
the limbs. The Olympic contenders must execute two passage-piaffe-passage sequences in the
center of the arena and their performances at these movements account for 25% of their
total marks. Three cameras set up along the edge of the arena will capture a minimum of
six steps of passage preceding and following the piaffe, the piaffe itself and the
transitions between them.
Clayton will also position three video cameras at the show jumping event in order to
record world-class horses going over a selected fence. These tapes will include the final
approach stride, take off, airborne phase, landing and the first stride as the horse moves
off to continue the course (the recovery stride). In each case, the location of the
cameras will allow three-dimensional views to be constructed, since important landmarks on
the horse's body (such as centers of joint rotation) will always be visible by at least
two of the three cameras.
Meanwhile, Deuel will be building on the research she began at the 1988 Olympics in
Seoul. This time, she'll be heading up the team to record and analyze performances in the
three-day event. Her participation at the last Summer Olympics (and at the 1990 World
Equestrian Games in Stockholm) offers a unique opportunity to analyze some of the same
horses four years apart. With her studies, she hopes to help answer one of the prime
questions in gait analysis research: does a horse possess certain gait characteristics
that are immutable over time? If the answer is yes and if those characteristics that mark
a horse exceptionally talented for a chosen sport can be identified, then gait analysis
may emerge as a very useful selection tool when making purchasing decisions.