Research Proposal: Equine Sports Medicine Polo

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Equine Sports Medicine

Polo is one of the sports that rely heavily upon horses. The sport has developed from ancient times, and is growing in popularity in the United States, as well as other Western countries. According to Paul Wollenman, 40% of polo ponies in the United States are Argentine Thoroughbreds, while 60% are American. Polo players require more than one horse -- up to as many as seven -- during a game.

The game is played by four players on each team, and consists of six 7-minute periods, or chukkers. Usually a different horse is used for each chukker. Because so many horses are required for each game, the investment requirement is rather large, despite the fact that polo ponies are generally cheaper than other thoroughbreds such as race horses. According to Wollenman, the value of high goal horses range between $20,000 and $60,000, down to low goal club ponies that range from $6,000 to $12,000.

There is also a specific dress code associated with the sport. White jeans or breaches are worn with a specifically designed T-shirt for each team (Hungarian Polo Club). The T-shirt usually has a collar and displays the position number on the back and chest of each player. Some players use gloves, although this is not a requirement. Wrist and elbow bands are worn for protection. A helmet is essential to prevent or mitigate head injuries, which players suffer most commonly when playing polo. Face masks and goggles are also often worn to protect the player against injury from mallets or balls. Knee guards are worn above the boots to the knees from injury. Polo boots should be comfortable and durable. They are brown, reach up to the knees, and have a zipper at the front.

Being a somewhat stressful sport, Polo can cause injury not only to riders, but also to horses. There are several common injuries suffered by Polo ponies. One of the most common of these is tendon injuries (Wollenman). Types of tendon injuries can range from "banana bows," which are easily noticed, to minor swelling. Because they are so common, these injuries are normally noticed and treated long before they become serious. Blisters associated with this type of injury cause hair growth patterns that serve as an indicator that treatment is required.

Another common injury among polo ponies occurs in the ligaments, and particularly in the suspensory ligament. There are three specific locations where such injury can occur: the proximal, mid-body, or branch locations. Proximal suspensory desmitis is regarded as the most common ligament problem, affecting about 5 to 8% of polo ponies per year. Most horses recover from this condition, within 3 weeks to 3 months (Wollenman).

The worst and most recurring of ligament injuries is suspensory body desmitis. This injury could include a broken splint bone, and would require the horse to rest for a significant amount of time. Suspensory branch desmitis commonly occur in ponies that have played in the number 2 and 3 positions. Such injuries will usually lead to a polo pony no longer being able to compete in high goal competition, although they will still be useful as low goal ponies (Wollenman).

According to Wollenman, the fetlock joints are most affected in polo ponies. Quick lateral pivoting, fatigue and hyperextension can cause severe strain to these joints, and can affect toe to elbow flexibility. Common conditions associated with fetlock joints in polo ponies include joint effusion, resentment, restriction and lameness (Wollenman). Such injuries are easily treated.

According to Natalie Waran (38), clinical tests on blood samples taken from ponies after competing showed high levels of substances such as lactic acid, proteitn, sodium, and haemoglobin, which is typical of high-activity horses. Problems such as dehydration and myopathies do occur in polo ponies, but less so than in other sports horses such as race horses. On the other hand, traumatic and severe injury tends to be higher in polo ponies. Furthermore, a Malaysian study found that 14 out of 33 ponies had fetlock joint swellings, 9 had restricted joint fexion, 13 of the same group had pain on the flexion, while 13 displayed lameness. This is indicative of the rate of general injuries that occur. Usually, ponies with severe or traumatic injury have to be euthanized, having little chance to recover. Less serious injuries however recover more easily with the correct treatment.

The least serious common injury for polo ponies is the pastern. The injury is caused when players swing their mallets for neck shots, impacting the right side of the pastern. The lameness caused by such an injury is also known as "bamboo fever," and does not result in any long-term problems. Because polo ponies are generally an expensive investment, it is necessary to provide them with proper care in order to ensure their continued well-being and optimal use in the sport. There are several treatments available for injured horses. These range from the highly traditional to very new and revolutionary therapies.

One such remedy is heat and cold therapy. Zamar offers a relatively new method of administering this therapy, via a programmable machine. The machine is designed to combine heat and cold therapy with massage not only to repair, but also to maintain horses' legs. Treatment pads are attached to the affected area and the system works by means of an adapted circulation system. According to Zamar, research has proved the effectiveness of heat and cold therapy. The system is also said to play a major role in offering relief to horses with injuries and maintenance needs. Specifically, heat and cold therapy is used for tendon/ligament injuries, splints, hematoma, sore shins, bursitis, suspensory desmitis, as well as any area of the body that has been injured or strained. Zamar's prices start at around $40.

Another recognized and drug free therapy for injured polo ponies is magnetic energy (Blue Springs Polo School). In addition to its other virtues, the therapy is also favored for its non-invasive nature, and it restores the horse faster than other, more traditional methods. Equestrian magnetic therapy increases muscle elasticity, provides relief for stressed or fatigued joints and muscles, and reduces the necessity for pain relief prescriptions.

Specific therapies available at the Blue Springs Polo Center include the magnetic blanket at $180-30, magnetic boots at $120, bell boots at $80, and the pastern band at $35.

The magnetic blanket has a light and durable design to ensure comfort. They are often used both prior to and after competitions. Before games, the magnetic blanket is used for warm ups, while it is used to soothe a strained neck after competitions. Older horses that suffer from back and neck problems can also benefit from this therapy.

Magnetic boots are beneficial for stressed lower leg muscles and tendons, where polo ponies receive the most strain. Sprains in these areas are common, and treated effectively with magnetic boots. The boots can also be used preventatively before and after work-outs. They increase circulation and reduces recovery time after injury. Focusing on the hoof, magnetic bell boots are used to ensure deep penetration and blood circulation to the hoof. They are applied in the treatment of laminitis, navicular syndrome, and chronic bruising.

As noted above, the pastern joint is a significant problem area for polo ponies. The quick stops, turns and twisting movements required by the sport result in severe strain to these areas and can cause degenerative joint disease. The magnetic pastern band can be applied to these areas when treating arthritis, high ringbone, fractures and tendon injuries.

Other available therapies include chiropractic treatment, massage therapy, laser therapy, acupuncture and acupressure, as well as physical therapy. Chiropractic treatment is a fairly new in terms of its application to the equine industry, resulting in a large amount of skepticism. Where skillfully applied, it is however extremely useful in treating problems in the neck, shoulders and back. Like magnetic therapy, one of the major benefits of this therapy is the fact that it is drug free.

For the same reason, massage therapy has become very popular for polo ponies. Massage therapy is generally applied where muscle soreness occurs. It is not however useful for serious injuries or conditions. Laser therapy, on the other hand, is recognized as a useful tool for reducing problems such as inflammation and soreness, as well as general toning and maintenance. Lasers increase the circulation of blood to an injury, thus speeding up the healing process.

Traditional Chinese remedies such as acupuncture and acupressure are also enjoying popularity and success in the equestrian community. Acupuncture should be used with great care to ensure that the horse is not unduly stressed, as this will reduce the effect of the treatment. Commonly, neck problems, lameness, and problems in the back and hindquarters are treated by these methods.

Physical therapy has been part of polo pony care for many years. This entails a series of treatments over time, and has shown great benefits for injured, tired and strained horses. While the level of therapy will vary according… [END OF PREVIEW]

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