Saturday, December 26, 2009

Treating piroplasmosis

Research brings hope for horses with piroplasmosis. A drug used to treat protozoal infections in cattle has been shown to be effective against one form of the disease in horses when used at relatively high doses.

Piroplasmosis in horses is known to be caused by two blood-borne parasites, Babesia (Theileria) equi and Babesia caballi. The organisms infect the red blood cells and cause fever, anemia and jaundice.

Infected horses may remain carriers of the infection after recovering from the initial signs of disease. Such horses can transmit the disease even though the organisms can no longer be found in blood smears.

Now researchers at the Agricultural Research Service Animal Disease Research Unit in Pullman, Washington, led by Dr Don Knowles, have found that relatively high doses of imidocarb dipropionate are effective for treating horses infected with Babesia caballi.

Read the full story at

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Test for Fell Pony syndrome

Scientists have developed a test for the gene responsible for Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome (FIS).

FIS is more often known as Fell Pony Syndrome after the breed most commonly affected. However, the disease is not confined to the Fell Pony, and has been reported in the Dales Pony as well.

Affected foals become ill when they are a few weeks old. Signs include loss of condition, diarrhea, coughing and weight loss. As the condition progresses, they develop anemia, immune dysfunction, and wasting.

FIS is always fatal. Affected foals die or are euthanized, usually before reaching three months of age.

Researchers at New market’s Animal Health Trust (AHT) and Liverpool University have announced that a DNA-based test that should be available in February 2010.

Read the full story at

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Does work cause stereotypies?

Does the type of work that horses do make them more or less likely to adopt stereotypic behaviour? Recent studies in France suggest it could do.

Stereotypies are abnormal repetitive behaviours with no apparent function. They are sometimes referred to as stable vices. Examples include wind sucking, crib biting and head tossing.

Researchers at the Universit√© de Rennes 1, led by Dr Martine Hausberger, observed horses’ behaviour and related it to the type of work they performed.

Seventy-six French Saddlebred horses were divided into six groups according to their work: eventing; show jumping; advanced riding school; dressage; high school and voltige (a mixture of acrobatics and gymnastics on horseback.) All horses worked for only one hour a day and spent the remaining 23 hours in their stable.

The proportion of horses in each work group showing stereotypies was similar (between 81-100%). However, different types of work appeared to be associated with different stereotypies.

Dressage and high school horses were most likely to show stereotypic behaviours. Some of them showed more than one abnormal behaviour pattern. They were also more likely to display the more serious abnormalities such as cribbing, wind sucking and head tossing and nodding.

For more details see

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Scientists to study effect of exercise on laminitis.

The Laminitis Trust has awarded a grant of £134,425 to the Royal Veterinary College and the Laminitis Consortium to investigate the effects of exercise on horses and ponies that are predisposed to pasture-associated laminitis.

Lead investigator, Dr Menzies-Gow, explains: “This project will in part investigate whether exercise can reduce the level of chronic inflammation in laminitis-prone animals, which may then prove to be a simple and practical way of reducing the risk of future bouts of disease in susceptible animals.”

The grant commences in January 2010 and will run over two years. The Laminitis Consortium will provide regular updates on progress.

See for more details...

Friday, November 27, 2009

3D study of neck anatomy

Wobbler syndrome (Cervical Vertebral Malformation, CVM) is a common condition of Thoroughbred horses. Affected horses have a characteristic “wobbly” gait, caused by compression of the spinal cord.

In some cases, the signs of Wobbler Syndrome (Cervical Vertebral Malformation, CVM) have been linked to arthritic changes in the cervical articular process joints. These are the joints between adjacent vertebrae in the neck. They can become inflamed, which can result in soft tissue swelling, thickening of the joint capsule and new bone formation. The joints lie close to the spinal cord, so any increase in their size is a cause for concern.

Some “wobblers” have marked bony and soft tissue swelling around the joints. But does an increase in fluid in these joints result in spinal cord compression, even if no other bony of soft tissue changes are present? If so, it might be possible to prevent the disease progressing by detecting and treating the inflammation at an early stage.

Holly Claridge, working at the Royal Veterinary College, conducted a study using Computed Tomography to examine the structure of the horse’s neck. She found that the joints these joints do indeed extend towards, but do not actually touch, the spinal cord.

So, unless soft tissue or bony changes are also present, it seems unlikely that inflammation or swelling of these joints causes spinal cord compression.

More details...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Inner secrets of Rhodococcus equi

Work to understand the genetic structure of Rhodococcus equi may lead to new measures to control disease in foals. Understanding the complex mechanisms used by the bacteria to cause disease may reveal the microbe’s “Achilles heel” that could be targeted by vaccines and drugs.

“Among the virulence factors we have identified, we have found one in particular that we think might be a good target for a vaccine” says Professor Jose Vazquez-Boland of Edinburgh University. Pathogenic strains of the bacteria have long processes or “pili”, with which they attach to the host cells.

“We identified the genes responsible and produced antibodies against them.” These antibodies prevent the bacteria attaching to the cells and so prevent infection getting established. So this would be a good candidate for a vaccine.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How effective is your deworming program?

The importance of knowing that your worm control program is effective was emphasized by Professor Jacqui Matthews when she spoke at the Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding Seminar at Cheltenham.

The cyathostomins (small strongyles) are the most important group of intestinal parasites of the horse - both numerically, and through their ability to cause disease. They are becoming increasingly difficult to control as they develop resistance to the drugs used against them.

“Not enough of us are thinking about the level of burden individual horses have in terms of giving them worm treatments. When we treat horses with viral disease we don’t usually treat the whole group. And we don’t do that with antibiotics.” So why not just deworm the horses that need it?

In the spring and summer, fecal egg counts can be used to identify which horses to treat. But encysted worms in the gut wall in winter cannot be detected with fecal egg counts. So we also need to detect horses with high larval counts.

Prof Matthews’ team have been working to develop a blood test to measure the antibody response to proteins released by these encysted stages within the gut wall.

Detecting resistance is also vital. The research team at Edinburgh has just received funding to update and refine the fecal egg count reduction test (FECRT) that is used to detect resistance to anthelmintics. Hopefully this will lead to better thresholds for resistance levels to individual drugs.

They are looking for studs with large numbers of young horses to help in the research. The project will involve a questionnaire, treatment with ivermectin and a FECRT, which will be provided free of charge.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding Seminar

A panel of top equine researchers and veterinarians covered a range of subjects at the Thoroughbred Racing and Breeders Seminar. The event, now in its ninth year, was supported by the Horserace Betting Levy Board, Intervet Schering Plough Animal Health and cheltenham Racecourse.

The latest research on a variety of topics was presented.

More details...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Immunodeficiency/anaemia in a Dales pony.

Fell ponies are not the only breed to be affected with an immunodeficiency / anaemia syndrome.
Now a similar condition has been reported in a Dales pony

The report’s authors, based at the Animal Health Trust in Newmarket and the Liverpool Vet School, describe a female Dales pony foal with marked anaemia, diarrhoea and pneumonia, that failed to respond to treatment. The foal was euthanased at nearly 6 weeks of age. Post mortem signs were typical of Fell pony syndrome.

The scientists, who are already studying Fell pony syndrome, are now widening their scope to pay close attention to the Dales pony as well.

They suggest that, although there are other causes of anaemia in foals, the anaemia/immunodeficiency syndrome should be considered in any young foal with marked anaemia (PCV < 20%) and relevant clinical signs.

They urge owners, breeders and veterinarians dealing with Dales ponies to be aware of the disease, and ask that any suspect cases be referred to the research team at the Animal Health Trust or the Liverpool University Veterinary School.

More details...

Monday, October 26, 2009

Benefits of Bitless Bridle

Traditionally, bitted bridles have provided the main means of controlling ridden horses. The metal bit applies focused pressure on areas of sensitive tissue within the horse's mouth.

According to Dr Robert Cook, Surgery Professor Emeritus at Tuft's University in Massachusetts, the bit is to blame for numerous problems in the horse, including headshaking and upper respiratory obstruction.

For the past ten years Dr Cook has been researching the adverse effects of the bit and the advantages of communicating without using a bit. He developed a new type of bitless bridle that differs from hackamores and other traditional bitless bridles in being painless and incorporating a crossunder principle.

Is the bitless bridle as effective as Dr Cook would have us believe? Two small-scale studies have looked at how horses behave and perform in bitless or bitted bridles.

Read more..

Thursday, October 22, 2009

British racing whips microchipped

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has announced that a modified whip will be made available to British jockeys over the next few months. Initially, the new whips will be supplied to flat jockeys, followed by jump jockeys.

The new whip, which is a modification of the existing cushioned whip, will include a microchip of the same type used to identify racehorses. This will allow the Authority to monitor how the whips wear. Of particular interest is how well the cushioning properties last.

The cushioned whip was introduced in 2004 for Jump racing and in 2007 for Flat racing. Its success has been shown by the widespread international adoption of the principle of cushioned whips in horseracing and other equine sports.

Tim Morris, Director of Equine Science and Welfare for the Authority, said:

“At present we do not know if the cushioning effect is sustained over time. Identification of individual whips via the microchip will allow objective assessment of whip age, allow estimates of the number in races where it has been used and ultimately avoid any whip wear that might affect horse welfare.


Days numbered for hot iron branding?

A recent study found that hot iron branding inflicts more pain than does inserting a microchip and concluded that the practice should be abandoned wherever possible.

The study, carried out at the University of Copenhagen, in Denmark, compared the behavioral and physiological responses of seven horses that were subjected to both hot iron branding and microchip insertion.

The researchers found that the horses showed significantly more signs of aversive behavior after hot iron branding than they did after microchip injection.

Also, hot iron branding caused significantly greater skin sensitivity around the treatment site compared with microchip injection. For 48 hours, there was significantly more heat and swelling of the skin where the hot iron branding was carried out than there was at the site of the microchip injection.

Heart rate increased at the time of branding or injection, but returned to normal quickly after the microchip injection. It remained high for five minutes after hot iron branding.

The researchers conclude that hot iron branding caused more pain than microchip injection. They recommend that hot iron branding should be abandoned if possible.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Saving the Suffolk Punch.

Researchers at the Animal Health Trust, based in Suffolk, England, are working with the Suffolk Horse Society to develop a breeding program to help safeguard the future of their local native breed.

The Suffolk Punch, an ancient draught breed is on the Rare Breed Survival Trust's "critical" list. At the last count there were fewer than 300 breeding animals left in the UK.

With such limited numbers, inbreeding risks limiting genetic diversity. Eventually this could lead to health problems.

Dr Sarah Blott, leading the research in the Department of Genetics, said " Our project aims to help breeders make the best use of the genetic knowledge in their quest to conserve the breed."

More details...

Monday, October 05, 2009

Body condition scores fail to detect weight loss

Existing body condition scoring systems may not be sufficiently accurate for monitoring weight loss in dieting ponies according to researchers at the Liverpool Vet School.

This was one of the findings to come out of a study into the use of a restricted diet for producing weight loss.

For twelve weeks, overweight ponies were fed a chaff-based complete diet, with their intake limited to 1% of body weight.

The ponies achieved the desired weight loss. Their girth measurements decreased over time, as did measurements of subcutaneous fat. However, body condition scores remained unchanged.

As a result of the study the research group is developing a new condition scoring system designed specifically for ponies.

Read the full article in Equine Science Update

Monday, September 28, 2009

Method developed to diagnose overtraining syndrome.

Researchers at Utrecht University in the Netherlands have succeeded in diagnosing equine overtraining syndrome by measuring nocturnal growth hormone secretion.

Dr Ellen de Graaf-Roelfsema and colleagues conducted the study in conjunction with researchers at Maastricht University, the Free University of Brussels and the University of Virginia (USA).

The study involved twelve Standardbred geldings (average 20 months old) - trained in pairs. Both horses in the pair were managed identically apart from their exercise regime. One was trained normally, the other received an intensified training schedule.

“The intensively trained group clearly showed a loss of performance, indicative for over-reaching or maybe even over training.” Dr Graaf-Roelfsema reports.

"We were able to distinguish between overtrained and control horses by evaluation of their nocturnal GH secretion pattern. However, it is a very labor intensive method and not very practical to use for the individual patient. We are working on that right now."


Friday, September 25, 2009

Search for new approach to equine stereotypies.

Pharmaceutical manufacturer CEVA Animal Health is looking to develop an equine pheromone to be used in the control of stereotypies, and is asking horse owners for help.

Pheromones are substances secreted by the body that have an effect on the behaviour of other animals of the same species. Lactating female mammals release substances called appeasing pheromones. Their function is to calm, and provide reassurance to the offspring, especially in unknown situations. They contribute to the foal bonding with the mare.

Equine appeasing pheromone has been shown to help calm horses in stressful situations. Could it also have a place in modifying stereotypies such as weaving and cribbing?

CEVA Animal Health already markets behaviour modifying produtcs based on pheromones for cats and dogs. These products reproduce natural pheromones that provide a feeling of comfort and help prevent or reduce stress-related behaviours such as urine spraying in cats and firework fears in dogs.

The company is working in partnership with the University of Nottingham’s Veterinary School to carry out initial research in the UK. They are asking owners of horses that display any type of stereotypical behaviour such a crib biting, weaving or box walking to complete a simple online survey about their horse and their management regime.

Liz Mossop BVM&S MRCVS at Nottingham Vet School said “Equine stereotypical behaviour, such as crib biting and weaving, is a difficult problem to manage for many owners. Nottingham Vet School is delighted to be involved with this project which should help to provide some new ideas and answers for both owners and the veterinary surgeons dealing with their horses and ponies. Pheromones have been shown to be very effective in supporting behaviour management of dogs and cats and we hope that an equine pheromone would prove equally useful.”

If you would like to take part please go to and click on the survey link. It should take no more than 15 minutes of your time to complete the survey and your involvement would be very much appreciated.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Iris scanning to identify horses.

Tattoos, brands, passport pictures and microchips may all become obsolete if a project to develop a portable iris scanner for horses is successful.

In the future, it could be that all a horse has to do to have its identity confirmed would be to glance at an iris scanner. The technology is already up and runnning for use in people. Airports throughout the world have started using iris cameras for passenger screening and immigration control as an alternative to checking passports.

The iris has a delicate pattern and, like a fingerprint, each one is unique. No two individuals have the same iris patterns - not even identical twins.

The Sarnoff Corporation has been commissioned to develop the first portable equine iris capture and identification system to help identify and track horses.

Mark Clifton, Sarnoff Corporation’s Vice President for Products and Services, said that the system would allow users to identify horses quickly and accurately, and without undue stress on the animal.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding Seminar

I have just received news of the programme for this year's Thoroughbred Racing and Breeding Seminar, which will be held at Cheltenham Racecourse on 12th November.

The Seminar presents the latest research and thinking on horse health and welfare. It offers owners, trainers and breeders the chance to hear about the latest scientific work and learn how the findings can be applied to the day-to-day management of their horses.

Although it is aimed at Thoroughbred breeders and trainers, most horse owners will find the information relevant and useful.

The morning session looks at infectious diseases. Professor Jose Vasquez-Boland discusses advances in understanding Rhodococcus equi - the cause of a particularly troublesome pneumonia in foals. Professor Jacqui Matthews considers the growing problem of anthelmintic resistance.

The morning finishes with a veterinary student, deemed to be a rising star in the field of equine research, giving a short presentation of their recent project.

In the afternoon, attention turns to jet lag and how it affects the horse's performance. Dr Domingo Tortonese explains the work carried out at Bristol University. Dr Richard Piercy will consider practical and state of the art approaches to diagnosis and treatment of setfast and other muscle disorders. The final speaker, Professor Stephen May, describes the use of the different imaging techniques used to resolve complex musculoskeletal problems.

There is plenty of opportunity to ask questions during the day including, just before lunch, an "Ask the panel" session, which is always lively and often contentious.

For more details see:

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Welfare of European horses transported for slaughter.

A recent study highlights concerns about the welfare of horses transported long distances by road for slaughter.

The study was carried out between March and September 2008. Groups of horses were inspected in Romania before being transported to Italy. Other horses were inspected on arrival at slaughterhouses in Italy. A few horses were observed both before and after transportation.

Many of the horses observed in the study, either at the start of their journey, or on arrival at the slaughterhouse, showed evidence of poor health and welfare.

The researchers observed 1519 horses being loaded onto lorries in Romania. They judged that fourteen percent of the animals were not fit to travel in accordance with EU Council Regulation 1/2005 on the Welfare of Animals during Transport. Both recent and long-term injuries were seen. Lameness was common.

1271 horses were observed on arrival in Italy. Of those, the observers considered that 37% were not fit to travel. Many horses showed clear signs of disease, including coughing and nasal discharge, which would have rendered them unsuitable to enter into the human food chain. One in 3 had recent injuries that were likely to have arisen on the journey.

More details...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Diagnostic deworming for tapeworm.

Scientists in Japan have been looking for a more reliable way of diagnosing tapeworm infections in horses.

They have found that fecal exmination the day after deworming provides a reliable way of detecting tapeworm eggs.

A pilot study of 12 horses examined fecal samples before and one day after treating with bithionol. All horses had a higher tapeworm egg count the day after treatment.

In a further study they found that tapeworm egg counts were dramatically higher on the first day after treatment. By the second day they had fallen back to pretreatment levels.

See more details..

Friday, August 28, 2009

Jockey’s posture has dramatic effect on speed.

Research carried out at the Structure and Motion Laboratory at London's Royal Veterinary College explains how the familiar crouched racing posture adopted by the jockey improves the speed of the horse.

By crouching in the saddle, jockeys isolate themselves from the motion of the horse. This reduces the energy that the horse needs to expend to carry the jockey, and so enhances performance.

Read more about it here...

Botox as laminitis treatment.

Dr Daniel W Carter and Dr J Ben Renfroe have patented a technique using botulinum toxin to reduce the tension in the deep digital flexor tendon of horses with laminitis.

Increased tension is one of the factors thought to contribute to rotation of the pedal bone. So relieving the tension may limit the deleterious changes in the foot.

The technique involves injecting a diluted solution of Botox (Botulinum toxin type A) into the deep digital flexor tendon in several places. The toxin blocks the release of the neuro- transmitter (acetylcholine) from the nerve endings. This temporarily prevents the muscle contracting.

Read more about it here

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Night vision in horses.

Research at the Equine Research Foundation shows that horses can distinguish simple geometrical shapes under low light conditions.

Horses were trained to choose between two shapes - a circle and a triangle. The next step was to see if they could still distinguish the shapes in conditions of increasing darkness. The lighting was controlled to give conditions ranging from the equivalent of twilight to a moonless night in a dense forest.

The study showed that the horses could see at very low light levels. They were able to choose between the two shapes in almost complete darkness. Only when it was as dark as a moonless night in dense forest were they unable to differentiatebetween the two shapes.

Read more here

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nervous humans worry horses.

Recent research has confirmed that horses react to nervousness in their rider or handler.

The project, led by Linda Keeling, Professor of Animal Welfare at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, looked at how the heart rates of horses and riders responded to the rider anticipating a threatening situation.

More details...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Microchipping horses.

Should owners expect any adverse effects from having their horse implanted with a microchip?

A project at the Pennsylvania State University Department of Dairy and Agricultural Science, assessed the inflammatory response to microchip insertion - and whether the chips migrated after having been inserted.


Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy

Four clinical syndromes have been attributed to Equine herpes virus-1 (EHV-1): respiratory disease in younger horses, abortion in pregnant mares, stillbirth or weakness in newborn foals and paralysis ( equine herpes virus myeloencephalopathy (EHM)).

EHM has been identified more frequently in recent years. Knowledge gained in dealing with outbreaks of the disease is now available in a 74 page report published by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, Centers for Epidemiology and Animal Health.

The report, Equine Herpesvirus Myeloencephalopathy: Mitigation Experiences, Lessons Learned, and Future Needs is based on interviews with 18 veterinarians or state equine program managers who worked to control recent outbreaks of the disease. You can download a copy here.

Also available is an educational brochure about EHM produced by USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service: Veterinary Services. Equine Herpesvirus (EHV) Myeloencephalopathy: A Guide to Understanding the Neurologic Form of EHV Infection is available here.

Read more.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Laminitis: value of soaking hay?

Soaking hay before feeding cannot be relied on to make it safe for laminitis-prone horses, according to a recent study.

One of the factors that has been recognised as increasing the risk of laminitis is the over consumption of water soluble carbohydrates (WSC). It has been recommended that obese animals and those at risk of laminitis should be fed hay with a non-structural carbohydrate (WSC and starch) content of less than 10%. Soaking hay in water before being fed has been suggested in order to reduce the WSC.

The study, conducted by the Laminitis Consortium, examined the loss of water-soluble carbohydrates from different hays submerged in water for up to 16 hours. The nine different hay samples were analysed for WSC and then soaked in cold water. The soaked samples were subsequently analysed after 20 minutes, 40 minutes, three hours and 16 hours.

“The results showed a highly variable leaching of WSC and substantially less leaching than reported previously for chopped hay soaked for 30 minutes” explained Clare Barfoot. “Very few samples reached below 10% WSC, despite prolonged soaking. The concern is that this strongly suggests that soaking may not be sufficient to render some hays safe to feed to horses and ponies prone to laminitis.”


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Changes to UK horse passport rules

The UK's horse passport rules have been tightened up from the begining of July 2009. The horse's owner or keeper is responsible for making sure that each horse has a passport, and that it is available for inspection at all times. You don't need to have the passport with you when the horse is grazing or being moved on foot - but you do have to show it to an inspector within three hours of being asked.

With very few exceptions, all horses have to have a passport. Both the owner, and the main keeper, is responsible for making sure the horse is correctly identified - but only the owner can apply for the passport.

The big change is that to be issued with a passport now horses must be microchipped. As a consequence, the diagram (silhouette) of the horse is no longer compulsory. However, many breed societies and passport issuing authorities still require a silhouette at this time.

For more details see:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Treating aural plaques

#Aural plaques are whitish lesions on the inner surface of the ear. They are slightly raised, with a scaly appearance. One or both ears may be affected.

They are thought to be caused by infection with a papilloma (wart) virus and may be spread by biting flies. Aural plaques do not go away on their own and respond poorly to treatment.

But now research at the University of Minnesota suggests imiquimod can help clear the aural plaques and make the ears less sensitive.


Friday, June 26, 2009

Hope for headshakers.

A new procedure may bring relief for headshaking horses.

Surgeons at the Philip Leverhulme Equine Hospital at the University of Liverpool have developed a technique that uses small coils implanted alongside the nerves in the side of the face.


Effect of exercise on behaviour

Effect of exercise on behaviour

Is one type of exercise better than another for reducing unwanted behaviour in stabled horses?

Stabling reduces the opportunity for exercise. Horses confined to stables may become difficult to manage. And they often show a burst of activity when eventually turned out -trotting, cantering and bucking - (known as the “rebound effect”).

A recent study conducted at the Equine Centre at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, Australia assessed the influence of exercise on stabled horses’ behaviour.