Two decades ago, Dr. Kevin Keegan at the University of Missouri wondered how good subjective lameness detection was. He gathered together a group of experienced equine veterinarians and had them evaluate the same group of horses for lameness. He discovered that they disagreed a lot. A whole lot - 75% of the time.
The vets all knew what to look for. With a sound horse performing a trot, the movement of the left half of the body mirrors exactly that of the right. If it doesn’t, something is amiss. But when lameness is mild, the human eye isn’t fast enough to register the subtle asymmetry, much less pinpoint the limb involved or the internal structures of the limb that are responsible for the pain.
Determined to find a way around the limitations of the human eye and brain, Dr. Keegan began experimenting with treadmills, markers, and high-speed cameras, collecting any and all data he could with no clear idea of how he might use it. Eventually, with the assistance of top-flight electronics engineers at Mizzou and in Japan, he arrived at the system he now calls the Lameness Locator.
It is a far cry from those early treadmills and cameras. For one thing, you can fit the entire system in a briefcase and take it directly to the horse. Physical components include matchbox-sized sensors mounted on the horse (two accelerometers and one gyroscope) and a tablet PC receiving wireless transmissions from the sensors and doing the motion analysis. Sophisticated custom software ties it all together and produces graphic reports. Watch the show here and you can see it at work.
I’m a bit of a technology geek but I still find that many new gadgets are solutions in search of problems. This is one case where the cart did not get in front of the horse. A real problem was solved with really cool technology. Now in its final stage of testing, the Lameness Locator should be in widespread use in the years to come.