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Pioneering Online UK Equine Conference Hailed A Success

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A new one-day online UK conference which took place this week, showcasing the research findings of equine science students, has been heralded an outright success. A total of 57 students from 18 centres of excellence for equine learning took to the online stage, including three from as far afield as Australia – while the event was also live-streamed to reach the wider equine audience.

Following the cancellation of numerous equine conferences, the initiative provided a much-needed lifeline for the equine student community, offering an opportunity for individuals to capitalise on the advances in video conferencing software to share research undertaken as part of their equine studies via an online forum.

This pioneering take on the traditional end of year event was the brainchild of Dr David Marlin, along with his colleagues, Dr Jane Williams from Hartpury University, Dr Roberta Ferro De Godoy, from Writtle University College and Lorna Cameron from University Centre Sparsholt. The participating cohort of 57 students delivered both oral and poster* presentations in undergraduate and post-graduate categories. Judging was undertaken by Prof Pat Harris (WALTHAM Equine Studies Group), Dr Helen Warren (Alltech) and Dr David Marlin, two prizes were awarded in each category** as follows:

Undergraduate Poster 1st :  Kirsty Stratfull, University of Nottingham ‘Prevalence of ulcerative keratitis’ 
Highly commended: Nina Robinson, University Centre Bishop Burton ‘A Preliminary Report on the Pressure Present Beneath Bitless and Bitted Bridles, and the Effect on Equine Locomotion’

Undergraduate Oral 1st :  Rachel Smith, University Centre Sparsholt ‘Effect of breast support on 3D relative displacement and upper-body muscle activity in female horse riders on an equine simulator’  
Highly commended: Lilly Harris, Reaseheath College  ‘Coach and Rider Perceptions of Autonomy Supportive Coaching Behaviours’ 

Post-graduate Poster 1st : Freya Rooke, University of Nottingham ‘The perceptions of quality veterinary care by different professional roles within a referral equine hospital’                             
Highly commended: Sue Nixon, University Centre Myerscough ‘The sleep patterns of stabled horses and the influence of endogenous and exogenous factors’

Post-graduate Oral 1st :   Celeste Wilkins, Hartpury University ‘Competition level does not influence intersegmental coordination between the rider and a riding simulator in sitting trot”     
Highly commended: Isabeau Deckers, Hartpury University ‘The kinematic effects of a postural adjusting taping method in racehorses’

Undergraduate and Post-graduate Oral prize winners received £200 and Highly Commended £100. Undergraduate and Post-graduate Poster prize winners were awarded £75 and Highly Commended £50.

Commenting on the event, Dr David Marlin said, “We are absolutely delighted with the response to the online conference. The high standard of research presented is indicative not only of the excellent work that is being conducted in our top equine learning centres, but also demonstrates the commitment and determination of the next generation of equine health professionals. It was extremely rewarding to see so many students enjoy their moment of fame, as they took to the stage to present their research, which I’m sure will represent an important milestone in their future careers.”

Dr Jane Williams from Hartpury University added, “The event exceeded expectations with fantastic engagement from students and a wider equestrian audience. The students were amazing and it was great to see them take advantage of the opportunity to present their work and showcase the breadth and quality of applied research which is being undertaken to benefit equine health and welfare, as well as horse and rider performance, across Higher Education institutions.” 

Celeste Wilkins (winner Post-graduate Oral) said, “For me, seeing the passion and diversity of work undertaken at equine universities in the UK was really impressive. It was clear that every student had worked so hard on their projects and everyone was so keen to get their take-home message across to students, but also to the general horsey world. My study was two years in the making and I was really proud of the innovative data analysis that I’ve been able to achieve. I plan to finish my PhD in early 2021 and I’m hoping to be able to make a difference in riders’ (and their horses’!) lives with the information from my PhD which focusses specifically on the techniques that result in greater harmony between horse and rider.” 

Lilly Harris (Undergraduate Oral Highly Commended) said, “Overall, the conference ran really smoothly and was fabulously structured with the benefit of a practice tech run-through. The conference provided all the students with something to work for and aspire to. I thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to seeing more in the future. I initially submitted my abstract to the Alltech Hartpury conference but unfortunately due to Covid-19, the event was cancelled. When I saw that an online opportunity was being created, I immediately felt drawn to send in my work as I had been wanting to share my work and this was the perfect opportunity.  I very much hope to inspire other students to enjoy research and participate in events such as this. I eventually want to complete more research and set up my own business as an equine/animal trainer and behaviourist.” 

Freya Rooke (winner Post-graduate Poster) said, “I always learn so much at these conferences and come away with 101 questions, research ideas and new connections – it’s great and definitely a highlight of my year. I decided to enter my work as I believe it is so important to share the research we are conducting as students, without the opportunity to present at conferences such as this, a lot of the hard work that goes into dissertations and student projects wouldn’t be seen outside of the institution they were conducted at. All of the other conferences I had planned to attend had been cancelled or moved to 2021, so I was incredibly grateful to be able to submit my abstracts this year and be given the opportunity to present my work.” 

Sponsors of the event included: Alltech, Science Supplements, Haygain, University of Edinburgh, Writtle University College, University of Highlands and Islands, Hartpury University, University Centre Sparsholt, Arioneo, Equestic and Cryochaps.

FOOTNOTES:

* A poster presentation represents a quick verbal overview of a poster to communicate what research has been undertaken, why and the key take home messages. Students were given two minutes to present and were each asked two questions on their research. All posters had previously been circulated 24 hours prior to the conference to all attendees and presenters to give them the opportunity to review ahead of the event.

** The conference was open to any student studying in the UK and overseas in 2018 – 2019 or 2019 – 2020 who had not previously presented their research, regardless of whether they are now living or isolating overseas.

– ENDS – 

Note to editors:

Comments from the judges on the winning presentations:

Undergraduate Poster 1st 
Kirsty Stratfull, University of Nottingham 
‘Prevalence of ulcerative keratitis’ 
A study using big data looking at almost ½ a million veterinary records to assess the prevalence of ulcerative keratitis. Kirsty’s poster was clear and she understood the complex analysis techniques and the advantages and limitations of her approach. Response to questions was excellent.

Undergraduate Poster – Highly Commended 
Nina Robinson, University Centre Bishop Burton.
‘A Preliminary Report on the Pressure Present Beneath Bitless and Bitted Bridles, and the Effect on Equine Locomotion’ 
Bitless bridles are often presented as ‘kinder’ and Nina investigated pressure beneath a bitless and bitted bridle. A good experimental design and clear poster. The results were also intriguing showing pressure varied with increased pressures found at different locations across bitless and snaffle bridles. 

Undergraduate Oral 1st 
Rachel Smith, University Centre Sparsholt 
‘Effect of breast support on 3D relative displacement and upper-body muscle activity in female horse riders on an equine simulator’  
Another biomechanics study and building on the work already carried out by Rachel’s supervisor at Sparsholt, Lorna Cameron. An excellent and clear presentation combined with interesting findings and very confident handling of questions.

Undergraduate Oral – Highly Commended 
Lilly Harris, Reaseheath College 
‘Coach and Rider Perceptions of Autonomy Supportive Coaching Behaviours’
A very insightful study of equestrian coach and rider perceptions of coaching behaviour which should be of interest to many coaches. Traditionally coaching research in equestrian has lagged behind other sports and so this research is very much needed and can be applied immediately.

Post-graduate Poster 1st 
Freya Rooke, University of Nottingham 
‘The perceptions of quality veterinary care by different professional roles within a referral equine hospital’
A very clear study, well presented poster and clear and concise presentation on veterinary care by those with different roles in an equine hospital. Questions addressed with confidence.

Post-graduate Poster – Highly commended
Sue Nixon, University Centre Myerscough
‘The sleep patterns of stabled horses and the influence of endogenous and exogenous factors’
A study to look at factors influencing sleep behaviour in horses. Good design and interesting findings. Easy to read poster. Overview clearly presented online. 

Post-graduate Oral 1st
Celeste Wilkins, Hartpury University
‘Competition level does not influence intersegmental coordination between the rider and a riding simulator in sitting trot’     
This was a complex piece of research on biomechanics and whilst there was also external collaboration it was clear that Celeste had an excellent grasp of the techniques. This was also a novel use in equestrian. Her response to questions also made it clear she really understood the area.

Post-graduate Oral – Highly Commended
Isabeau Deckers, Hartpury University
‘The kinematic effects of a postural adjusting taping method in racehorses’
Postural taping has become widely used in horses but with relatively little research. Isabeau’s study design was good with a clear presentation and excellent handling of questions.

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