this is an advertisement

I saw a post that piqued my interest on Facebook this morning.  It was a Horse and Hound article about how breastplates can negatively affect the way horses jump.  Clearly it did more than just pique, it’s ruffled my feathers enough to break me out of my blogging ennui.  Thank you, bad science!!  You’re just what I needed.

well, that and this adorable mug

So, let’s take a look at this article by Horse and Hound. I’m not going to blame H&H too much for this reporting, since they aren’t science reporters and are really only able to work with the information they are given.  I have a sneaking suspicion that this is actually  sponsored article, and if they didn’t disclose that information it is unethical.  However, H&H is bound to know that, and so this particular article is probably not specifically sponsored — more likely, Fairfax gives H&H some large sum of money for general advertising and this article is being played off as a general reporting piece.  You will notice that the first suggested link after the article is about a girth “scientifically proven” (ever scientist’s favourite two words) to improve the way horses go.

The TL;DR of this situation: this is not science, this is an advertisement.

There are so many glaring red flags in this “study” that I can hardly list them.

There is no link to a peer reviewed journal article, or any data, figures, or any other “scientific” measures of difference. The article does point out that the horses took off “closer” (no measurement) and landed “closer” (no measurement) to the fences, thus increasing the flexion of and strain on their hocks and other joints (no measurement).

The “researchers” (Fairfax) even provided a handy-dandy little image that demonstrates how different the arc of the horse is.  No matter than in the “better” image the horse has already started to take the forward part of the landing stride with his front feet and that is where they measured his “landing” point from, and in the “bad” image the horse is pictured at a different part of the landing phase, and his landing point is measured from the foot that is further back. Plus we all know that every horse jumps every fence the exact same every time, and nothing but equipment ever influences this — not rider balance, approach, speed, or general attitude on the day!!


the exact same. every time.

All’s fair in marketing and “research”, right?

And what about those oh-so-critical study numbers that people are always reporting.  Things like sample sizep-value, effect size, or even the dastardly value of measurement?  “Significance” (their scare quotes, not mine) is all well and good, but if the effect size is less than 1%, who gives a shit?!  Wow, excellent, I can improve my horse’s bascule by less than 1% by spending $350 on your special piece of equipment.  Talk about promoting a quick fix.

There is that upper-level rider’s testimony. He says his horses jump so much free-er in front, and he can feel it.  But really, humans are biased and fickle things, and just because we think something is true doesn’t mean it is true.  Especially not subjective, un-measurable things like the feeling of a free-er jump that might be influenced by free product or small piles of gold coins.

It’s probably just me, but damn am I sick and tired of the lack of science that goes on in the equine industry! We all want to do the best for our horses, and I get that.  But a little bit of testing, common sense, and critical thinking goes a LONG WAY with this stuff.  Fortunately, many readers of this article already figured that out.

And finally, one additional pet peeve: If it’s real science, nobody is ever going to use the phrase “scientifically proven” to talk about it.  Scientists don’t use those words because science is always changing and adapting. 

Image result for snakes on a plan gif

30 thoughts on “this is an advertisement”

  1. That rubbed me the wrong way, too. This is the second time Fairfax has had some kind of “scientific study” proving that their new product is superior to all others on the market (they did one with their girth too). All seems well and good at first, except they really aren’t giving you numbers, nor are they giving you details about HOW the studies were done, what controls they used, how they measured, etc etc. Without that, the information is totally useless.

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  2. I saw this too and it got a BIG EYE ROLL. Have you actually seen this breastplate too? I wonder how it works if the saddle actually slides back… There’s no comment of that in the article either. The first thing I did was look up the price and WOW… nice way to justify that one…

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  3. nothing bugs me more than people using sketchy pseudo science to prop up a commercial agenda.

    disinformation spread from lazy, sloppy, or subversive misinterpretations of science is a major reason why good science has a credibility problem today.

    see my own past rants on:
    – riding your horse in < 20* temperatures
    – turning your horse out on frozen mud

    cliff notes version: you better not do any of those things bc THE HORROR OMG ALL THE HORSES WILL ALL DIIIIIIE. IT'S BEEN SCIENTIFICALLY PROOOOOOOVENNNNNN

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is awesome.

    Question for you, on a somewhat related note. Have you ever looked into the Back on Track Trauma Void EQ3 (or previous generations) and/or MIPS technology? I am intrigued but struggling to determine if its truly safer or if it’s just another product.

    The helmet: https://www.backontrackproducts.com/Horse-Rider/Riding-Helmets/Trauma-Void-EQ3-Microfiber-Helmet-p382.html
    Their technology page: http://traumavoid.com/Technology.html

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  5. So many products are like this, it drives me nuts! And then otherwise reasonable horse people will parrot out, “Only Name Brand product works for that, there’s a study that proves it!” when I say I use something different, causing my eye to twitch. I gave up arguing years ago, my degrees in physiology and behavior are no match for the advertising juggernaut. I do enjoy all the money I save by not buying overpriced snake oil, though.

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  6. THANK YOU for this post!!! When I was in school we spent literal hours learning how to evaluate “scientific studies” and separate out the legit from the pseudo and company sponsored.

    These days with the internet it’s so easy to sell anything as “proven to work”.

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  7. I have a slightly different take on Fairfax studies.

    Because, unlike every single other manufacturer out there who is relying on “BNR or BNT said it worked for them!”, they are ACTUALLY DOING STUDIES. If you read the abstract on the girths (I don’t have access to the full article), the values they are measuring (pressure, forelimb and hindlimb movement) are pretty logical. They DO look at p size, effect size, and they have a fairly decent sample size. Could the study be better? Sure, and we can pick apart any study all day long. AT LEAST THERE IS A STUDY.

    I mean. Did you buy a special half pad because someone said it made their horse better under saddle and you were hoping it would work for yours too? Probably you did. Did you buy your saddle based on “how your horse felt/went”? Probably you did. Does your bridle have a special crownpiece or did you buy a special girth because it’s “ergonomic” or “supposed to be” more comfortable for the horse? Probably so. And probably most of us have done so because we want our horses to be as comfortable as possible. But ALL of those products and purchases are based on subjective “feel,” either yours or someone else’s, and not on any kind of research whatsoever.

    H&H certainly didn’t do a very good job in their reporting of the study. But at least give Fairfax credit for trying to get some data behind their products. At least we now have some very interesting information about where the pressure points are on girths and bridles, how it differs from one side to the other, and how something as small as a number on your bridle can affect the horse.

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    1. This is a really, really good point. At least they are doing some research. And you are absolutely correct about my trying products based on my own bias or feel!! So there is that. (I’ll email you the girth study.)

      However, my interpretation of their research is that it is still inherently biased. They work with only one research group, with independent validation. They conduct fishing expeditions testing hundreds of variables that obviously lead to *some* significant results (because if you measure enough things, something will be significant just by chance). I would love love love to see a case controlled trial with even a small number of horses on any of these topics.

      What offends me about it is that they seem to be using this research to lend credibility to themselves. Lots of companies do this – feed companies for example. They just never publish the negative results (and may or may not change their feed formulations).

      I’m not sure how to feel. On the one hand I’m glad that they are doing the research. On the other I’m irritated that they are passing off bad research as good research…. It’s complicated!

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      1. Interesting point on the “fishing expeditions”… I’m actually glad they tried a bunch of different things to see what had an effect. I mean… if you don’t test elastic vs non elastic and how many pounds of pressure in which areas based on certain adjustment, how will you ever know? We really don’t even have a basis for most of these variables, or really even know what those variables are to begin with! I mean, I never would have thought that something so small as a bridle number might cause a difference in the horse’s gait. How cool is that?

        I agree that when research is done for profit, it is inherently biased. Unfortunately, that happens in everything from human pharmaceuticals on down. In an ideal world there would be independently funded large-scale studies done … but of course, you need the funding, etc. etc. I have actually wondered about using something like an Equisense or Pixio to track variables like stride length, symmetry, jump technique, etc, and using crowd-sourcing to compare data amongst a wide sample of horses and riders. Or design a special pressure-mat girth sleeve that could be sent round to lots of different riders, or or or… and there I go down the research rabbit hole! Must be Friday 😉

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  8. I mostly just skimmed the article, so I may have missed it. But was there no mention of what breastplates, martingales, etc they used and how they were adjusted?

    Is that not imperative to a study to inform people of said things….

    When I first saw this article I didn’t even read it because I knew it would be one of those annoying “brand said this, so its true” kind of things. I guess I wasn’t really wrong with my initial thought!

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  9. But it’s science! Haha. I think very few equestrian companies use real science. Benefab by Sore-No-More that I feel like does, so I’d be interested on your take if you ever dove into that topic at all.

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