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J Exp Biol. 2006 Oct;209(Pt 19):3742-57.

Centre of mass movement and mechanical energy fluctuation during gallop locomotion in the Thoroughbred racehorse.

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  • 1Structure and Motion Laboratory, The Royal Veterinary College, University of London, Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms, Hatfield, AL9 7TA, UK.


During locomotion cyclical interchange between different forms of mechanical energy enhances economy; however, 100% efficiency cannot be achieved and ultimately some mechanical work must be performed de novo. There is a metabolic cost associated with fluctuations in mechanical energy, even in the most efficient animals. In this study we investigate the exchanges between different forms of mechanical energy involved in high-speed gallop locomotion in Thoroughbred race horses during over-ground locomotion using innovative, mobile data collection techniques. We use hoof-mounted accelerometers to capture foot contact times, a GPS data logger to monitor speed and an inertial sensor mounted over the dorsal spinous processes of the fourth to sixth thoracic vertebrae (the withers) of the horse to capture trunk movement with six degrees of freedom. Trunk movement data were used to estimate the movement of the centre of mass (CoM). Linear (craniocaudal, mediolateral and dorsoventral) and rotational (roll, pitch and heading) kinematic parameters (displacement, velocity and acceleration) were calculated for seven horses at gallop speeds ranging from 7 to 17 m s(-1) during their regular training sessions. These were used to estimate external mechanical energy (potential energy and linear kinetic energy of the CoM) as well as selected components of internal energy (angular kinetic energy). Elastic energy storage in the limbs was estimated from duty factor, sine wave assumptions and published leg stiffness values. External mechanical energy changes were dominated by changes in craniocaudal velocity. Potential energy change, which was in phase with craniocaudal energy during the front limb stances, was small. Elastic energy storage in the limbs was small compared to the overall amplitude of fluctuation of external mechanical energy. Galloping at high speeds does not therefore fit classical spring mass mechanics.

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