Jean-Marie Denoix: horses from every angle

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Thursday 21 February - 11h19 | Ian Clayton

Jean-Marie Denoix: horses from every angle

"Horses don’t speak, but if you know how to read them, they are real chatterboxes," observed Jean-Louis Brochet, the late French farrier who collaborated with Jean-Marie Denoix, a world-renowned specialist of the equine musculoskeletal system. And today Denoix, founder of France’s CIRALE institute, president of the International Society of Equine Locomotor Pathology and one of Grand Prix's 50 influential people in the equestrian world in 2018, never misses an opportunity to share his own knowledge on how to read horses' communication. Below, as part of a recent look at vets, a profile of the globe-trotting expert originally published in print last year.

 - Jean-Marie Denoix: horses from every angle

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To get an idea of ​​Jean-Marie Denoix’s work and why the French vet is considered the world’s leading expert of the equine musculoskeletal system and diagnostic imaging, one can check out his online lecture, "The biomechanics of sport horses (based on very high frequency image analysis)", recorded in 2012 in Paris. The presentation neatly ties together the three main activities of the Centre for Imaging and Research in Equine Locomotor Disorders (CIRALE), founded by the professor in 1999 in Normandy, France: research, diagnosis and teaching. 
Standing behind his laptop – one can almost imagine him amidst his students at the institute, affiliated with the country’s National Veterinary School – the now 60-something launches into a fascinating explanation of the biomechanics of horses in action, specifically the pressures exerted on their joints, muscles, tendons and bones.
To illustrate his French language commentary, the professor plays universally understandable slow-motion excerpts from videos filmed at competitions in France and the United States. "What interests me, since I'm mainly interested in locomotive pathologies, is to see how horses are moving and what constraints they are experiencing," explains the researcher and award-winning author. While horses of different disciplines prance, sprint and soar across the screen, Jean-Marie Denoix highlights the vulnerabilities in their limbs and the different parts of the body engaged: "You can see here the extension of the shoulder. Look at the hind legs, the joint flexions… the mechanics in front – the width of the strides to cover the terrain...” Later, the veterinarian notes "a hyper-extension" of a joint aggravated by a badly-fitting horseshoe on an endurance horse in a 160 km race. Indeed, Denoix is particularly interested in horseshoes due to his collaboration with the late orthopedic farrier Jean-Louis Brochet. Continued below.

A journey from cows to horses

A journey from cows to horses - Jean-Marie Denoix: horses from every angle

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While today he observes horses from every angle, Jean-Marie Denoix grew up surrounded by cows in Bonnevent, a village located near Besançon in the Haute-Saône region of eastern France. And his current career can be traced back to local Dr. Duroy, an eventing fan. Having developed a passion for horses, Denoix studied at the Veterinary School of Lyon, specializing in equine imaging. In 1994, while teaching at the national veterinary school, a regional administrator in Normandy made him an offer that was hard to refuse, as he recounted in an article in the Ouest France newspaper: "We have 18 million francs for advanced research on horses," he was told. "Interested?” 

That project led to the birth of CIRALE, which opened in 1999. Since then, Jean-Marie Denoix has worked with thousands of horses around the world, and organized seminars for international visitors on subjects such as ultrasound techniques. Today, the centre is equipped with cutting-edge technology to examine osteo-articular and musculotendinous pathologies in his patients. While radiology is the imaging technique of choice for the diagnosis of lesions in bones and joints, ultrasound allows for an examination of soft tissues, including tendons and ligaments, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) offers 3D views of the interior of the body, and scintigraphy relies on intravenous injection of a (very weakly) radioactive product. 

The institute Denoix created also has a high-speed equine treadmill to perform exams of horses in motion. Indeed, as a major research partner of the French Hippolia network dedicated to the equine sector, the CIRALE has been a pioneer in the use of new diagnostic imaging tools for horses. And for his part, the professor has co-directed several theses, including "Video analysis of locomotive disorders in Trotting Horses” and "Video analysis of show jumping horses", while also working on lameness problems at competitions such as the FEI World Equestrian Games. Nevertheless, as the veterinarian said in an interview with the magazine Science and the Future, "No technology can ever completely replace a practical exam.... Properly observing horses is indispensable. Imagery can not find everything and is only of interest after a good clinical examination."

By 2020, the entire equine section of Maisons-Alfort, the national veterinary school created by Louis XV in 1765, was projected to be transferred to CIRALE, creating a campus of 170 students in Normandy. And in this region where the horse is king, Jean-Marie Denoix himself practices the sport of trotting, as well as sculpting the animals he has come to know intimately over decades, selling some of the works to raise money for equine research. A perfect way to combine work and pleasure.

Further reading...