Equine Research News and Highlights – July 2015

Zoom! Racehorses are getting faster!

In the racing industry, the general consensus was that the maximum speed of racehorses had reached a plateau. After all, years of selective breeding, perfecting training regimes and providing the best quality care and nutrition can only do so much. So surely it was inevitable that the Thoroughbred would reach the limit of its athletic gifts?

Recent research conducted by Patrick Sharman and Alastair Wilson at the University of Exeter has found that racehorses are actually getting faster. Analysis of a large data set of 616,084 flat race times run by 70,083 Thoroughbred racehorses showed that race times have greatly improved since 1850 and data analysed from 1997-2012 showed that improvement is continuing, with horses improving more quickly over shorter distances.

Of course racing will always have its stars such as Frankel, who was unbeaten during his career but the general improvement is really interesting. Now the challenge is to find out why racehorses are faster and it’s possible genetic variation and selection plays role. There’s conflicting evidence as to what level athletic performance is inherited in the Thoroughbred so further genetic research is needed in this area in order to determine the effect of selective breeding on the turf.

Frankel. Image: bloodhorse.com

Potential New Treatment for Equine Headshaking

There are many reasons why horses develop headshaking behaviour. Sensitivity of the trigeminal nerve can be one of these reasons and is notoriously difficult to treat, with horses often becoming very distressed due to neuropathic pain. Our understanding of the disease is limited and currently, there are no treatment options which work consistently to treat trigeminal-mediated headshaking.

A new study performed at the University of Bristol tested Percutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (PENS) as a new treatment option for horses with this disease. PENS is currently used to treat human neuropathic pain and involves subcutaneous insertion of a disposable probe, near to the nerve, under ultra-sonographic guidance followed by electrical stimulation for twenty-five minutes. The technique was performed in 7 horses diagnosed with trigeminal-mediated headshaking with treatment repeated upon recurrence of headshaking behaviour. After the first treatment 86% of horses showed improvement with 71% continuing to respond.

The study concluded that PENS is a safe and effective short to medium term treatment option for trigeminal-mediated equine headshaking that also has the added benefit of being minimally invasive. Although a small number of horses were involved in this preliminary study and further work is needed, results are encouraging and it may provide light at the end of the tunnel for frustrated horse owners struggling to manage this condition.

Image:horsetalk.co.nz

Assessing pain in working donkeys

Research carried out recently by The University of Bristol and funded by The Brooke examined clinical abnormalities and their association with behavioural abnormalities in 133 male adult working donkeys. Pain can be difficult to identify in donkeys and working equids support some of the world’s poorest communities, so it is vital that painful diseases are identified and treated both for the working donkeys themselves and the people depending on them. Veterinary equipment is often sparse in these areas and so quick recognition of pain-related behaviours and diseases associated with them is important.

All donkeys underwent a clinical examination by a veterinary surgeon and behavioural observation ten minutes before and after a one hour rest period. The study found that disease was highly prevalent in working donkeys with lameness affecting 98% of donkeys. Significant associations were made between behaviour and systemic, ocular and musculoskeletal disease. These behaviours could be very useful for owners and keepers to assess for presence of pain and disease in their donkeys as well as response to treatment, improving donkey welfare.

Image: The Brooke
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