Dr. Abbey Dondanville of the College of Health Professions (COHP) will travel to Barcelona, Spain this summer to present her research on the jumping biomechanics of sport horses. For the past 30 years, Dondanville has been an avid horse rider who experienced firsthand the power behind a horse’s jump.
“In 2008, we started seeing a huge spike in rider and horse deaths from what is called a rotational fall,” Dondanville said. “The horses were hitting the obstacles with their legs, which caused them to pivot, fall and ultimately crush the rider. I, too, have had a rotational fall but luckily, only suffered a mild concussion.”
Dondanville decided to begin her research immediately by studying the angles of flight within a horse’s jump path. She hoped to find the cause behind the rotational falls and determine a course of action to lessen the growing occurrence of rider deaths. What Dondanville found out changed the way she will ride a horse forever.
“We are always taught for safety to have our horse jump close to the fence,” Dondanville said. “Unfortunately this is instilled too much and we aren’t taught to consider speed as this is happening. By training riders to maintain the right speed and the trajectory of a horse’s jump point, we can save many lives.”
Dondanville, an associate professor of athletic training through the COHP’s School of Kinesiology, said her research on the biomechanics of a horse’s jump was more than an area of interest. It was a labor of love.
“My desire when doing any kind of research is making it applicable,” Dondanville said. “I have such a passion for this sport, which makes it all the more meaningful that my research may provide a quick solution for a common problem.”
Dr. Gary McIlvain, chair of the School of Kinesiology and associate dean for the COHP, said this will be Dondanville’s third international conference, but her second oral presentation on this topic.
“Dr. Dondanville’s interests in equestrian injury prevention complement what other faculty are doing in injury prevention in other sporting venues,” McIlvain said. “We are excited for her to present at an international sport science conference as it is an opportunity to showcase the breadth of faculty research and interest at Marshall. We congratulate her on her accomplishments thus far and look forward to many more.”
In addition to her extensive research initiatives, Dondanville volunteers with the Ohio University Southern (OUS) Equestrian and Therapeutic Riding program as a clinician and member of its advisory board. With help from the VA Department of Rehabilitation, she hopes to begin a line of research exploring postural control improvements following therapeutic riding sessions at OUS.
Dondanville will present her research in Barcelona at the European College of Sport Sciences conference June 25-29. More than 5,000 researchers will attend with more than 2,900 abstracts and 88 concurrent sessions.
Photo: Dr. Abbey Dondanville has been riding horses for more than 30 years. Based on the data collected from her recent research, she hopes to prevent many amateur riders from experiencing a fatal fall in the future.