The Science Bit: Equine Health Notes from Around the World

Kathy Carter brings us a roundup of new developments in veterinary, nutrition and sports science. This week she examines injury rates, deep littered straw, equine life spans, traumatic injuries caused by transport and the Unwanted Horse Coalition’s “Operation Gelding.”

Horse transport and traumatic injuries

A brand new Australian study in a peer-reviewed open-access journal sought to determine associations between horse transport and injuries and found that traumatic injuries were the most common transport-related problem.

Other notes from the study: Younger care-givers (<40 years old) caring for large numbers of horses (>30 in a week) were more likely to report transport-related injuries. Injury risk was also linked to the use of tranquilizers prior to transport and checking horses after journeys. Diarrhea and heat stroke were reported more by amateur than professional horse carers. An increased risk of heat stroke was linked to the restriction of hay and water prior to transportation. Muscular problems appeared to be exacerbated when horse health was not assessed before the journey, whilst the risk of laminitis was three fold greater when post-transport recovery strategies were not applied.

While this was just a localised, specific study, it does emphasise the importance of management practices in safe equine transportation, and the employment of experienced, well-trained grooms.

Management practices are key in the safe transportation of horses. Photo by Kathy Carter.

Management practices are key in the safe transportation of horses. Photo by Kathy Carter.

Injury rates examined

Young horse competitions may have their detractors; however, in some equestrian disciplines, this could increase competitive longevity.

The Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, held in June 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky, used Equine Injury Database data. Speaker Tim Parkin, an epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine, proposed in his presentation that racing horses at a young age notably reduced the chance of fatal injury or fracture.

“The number of starts by 2-year-olds increased [at the same time] as fatality rates dropped,” Mr. Parkin reported. “In addition, a lower risk of fatal injury was found with horses that stay longer with the same trainer, have more time off between races and race further than six furlongs.”

He noted that surface conditions played a part: “If traction is limited, then so is balance.”

While of course this refers to Thoroughbred racing and there were no specific conclusions as to why racing horses at a young age reduced long-term injury rates, there could be factors relevant to eventing — notably staying with the same trainer, having appropriate lengths of time off between competitions and training and riding on suitable surfaces.

Can horse sport learn anything from research into racehorse risk factors for injury? Photo by Kathy Carter.

Can horse sport learn anything from research into racehorse risk factors for injury? Photo by Kathy Carter.

 NO to deep littered straw

A study published in the excitingly-named “Parasites and Vectors,” an open-access journal, has found that wet straw bedding allows small redworm to proliferate. Researchers reported that: “No infective larvae were recovered from any of the plots containing dry straw. However, infective cyathostomine larvae were first detected on day eight from plots containing moist straw, and were detected in 18 of the 24 samples.”

“The level of larval infectivity generally increased from week to week, except when the straw bedding was removed and replaced.”

The learning outcome? Deep littered straw beds are a ‘no-no,’ in terms of preventing parasitic infestation.

Healthier aternatives to straw are widely available. Photo by Kathy Carter.

Healthier aternatives to straw are widely available. Photo by Kathy Carter.

Horses are living longer, with more ‘co-occurring’ diseases

In a new study, the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine has reported that as horses are aging, the number of them suffering from multiple chronic conditions is also going up. The large-scale analysis of horse health found that the average age of horses in the UK appears to be on the increase.

The study is the first large-scale analysis of horse health in the UK and probably represents similar situations world-wide in communities of horses managed similarly to Great Britain. The researchers found that ‘co-occurrences’ of multiple diseases are common, notably laminitis, PPID (Equine Cushing’s Disease), neoplasia (growths and tumours) and osteoarthritis.

Life expectancy continues to increase for horses born more recently, surely a reflection of veterinary developments and preventative measures by owners? Researchers hope that the studies will help vets and owners ‘formulate appropriate management strategies.’

Horses are living longer. Photo by the UK's Veteran Horse Society.

Horses are living longer. Photo by the UK’s Veteran Horse Society.

Funding for gelding clinics increases

America’s Unwanted Horse Coalition is increasing funding — the ‘Operation Gelding’ program will fund clinics to the tune of $100 per horse gelded and will also offer a voucher option from 2017, aiming to reduce the number of unwanted horses.

If you have an interesting veterinary story or case study to share, tweet the author @kathysirenia.

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