Monday, September 27, 2021

Switching from racehorse to therapy horse

 How do you turn a highly tuned racehorse into a calm therapy horse? What characteristics do you look for to identify those horses suited to a new career in equine assisted therapy? 

Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) could include work with a diverse group of people, from veterans and disabled children to those struggling with mental health issues.


New research, led by academics at the University of Bristol’s Veterinary School, will examine the selection, training, and welfare of thoroughbred horses as they retire from racing and retrain to become therapy horses.


The three-year PhD study, run in collaboration with Racing to Relate, aims to develop a recognised global welfare standard for former racehorses who are moving into Equine Assisted Therapy. It is hoped this will help the racing industry improve welfare support for off-track racehorses going into a career in EAT. 


Little research has been carried out so far on the welfare of horses within EAT programmes, and especially on the impact it may have on their wellbeing. 


This new project will analyse the current selection and training methods within the sector and identify specific characteristics of the thoroughbred that are suited to EAT. It will also explore details of the life and routine of equines within equine assisted therapy programmes, and consider welfare outcomes for both the horses and the people who work with them.


The research, being funded by the John Pearce Foundation, is thought to be the first of its kind to study EAT across many countries.  It will look at practices in the UK, USA, France and Ireland, to understand the impact of EAT on the horses.


Claire Neveux, Bristol Vet School PhD student for the project, said: "I have worked with thoroughbreds for about 20 years, mainly with broodmares and young horses, and I have always been amazed by their high reactivity and sensitivity. I'm also fascinated by the human-horse relationship. I had a few opportunities to participate in Equine Assisted Therapy programmes as an intern during my graduate studies. That's why, when I met Jennifer Twomey from Racing to Relate, I took the opportunity to be part of this pioneering and collaborative project, and I'm thrilled to contribute to this research. I'm convinced that a better understanding of the thoroughbred personality traits and suitability of horses for EAT is essential for equine and human welfare."


For more details, see:

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Equine rehabilitation survey

Which practical skills and knowledge are most useful for a lay individual (non-veterinarian) in the equine rehabilitation industry?

Researchers at the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources at the University of Connecticut have launched a survey to assess industry needs in equine rehabilitation management. 


Sarah Reed, PhD, associate professor of animal science, who is leading the research said:

“The field of equine sports medicine and rehabilitation is rapidly expanding, and there are increasing opportunities for non-veterinarians to operate equine rehabilitation facilities. However, throughout the United States, there are limited educational opportunities for undergraduate students to prepare for these high potential careers. The goal of the study is to determine what practical skills and theoretical knowledge are deemed most useful for employment in this industry, so we can build a curriculum to meet these needs.”

The survey should take less than 10 minutes to complete, and can be found here:

Do horses recognise themselves in mirrors?

Recognising that the individual appearing in the mirror in front of you is actually you is considered to be a sign of self-
awareness (known as “Mirror self-recognition” or MSR).

Scientists can investigate this behaviour by using a “mark test”. A coloured (visible) or colourless (invisible) mark is placed on the face – somewhere that can only be seen by the animal looking at a reflection in a mirror.  Then they watch to see if the subject pays more attention (touching or scratching) to the part of the body with the visible mark than it does to the part with the invisible mark. If it does, this suggests the animal recognizes its reflection.


Mirror self-recognition is rare in animals other than apes but has been reported in dolphins and Asian elephants.


Recent research by researchers in Italy found evidence of self-recognition in horses. The study, by Paolo Baragli of the University of Pisa, and colleagues, used the “mark test” to investigate horses’ response to their reflection.


Fourteen horses took part in the experiment. The research team drew a cross shape on the horses’ cheeks using either coloured or colourless ultrasound gel and compared the horse’s response.


The researchers wanted to know if the horses were more interested in the coloured visible marks than in the clear invisible ones.


They found that the horses spent about five times longer scratching their faces in front of the mirror when they had a visible mark compared with one made with a colourless marker.


The research team concluded that it wasn’t the sensation of the marker gel on the skin that prompted the horses to scratch, but rather that they scratched because they could see the coloured mark. 


They concluded that the horses saw the marks in the mirror, understood that those marks were on their own faces, and were trying to remove them. In other words, they recognized their reflections.


For more details, see:


Paolo Baragli, Chiara Scopa, Veronica Maglieri & Elisabetta Palagi 

If horses had toes: demonstrating mirror self-recognition at group level in Equus caballus. 

Animal Cognition.

Paolo Baragli, Chiara Scopa, Veronica Maglieri & Elisabetta Palagi 

Animal Cognition (2021) vol  24, pages 1099–1108


DOI: 10.1007/s10071-021-01502-7 


See also this article in the Conversation:

Irish horse census on the horizon


The first Irish annual equine census has been announced. Anyone keeping horses will be required to complete a census return.  


“The undertaking of this first equine census in November 2021 is one of a series of measures I propose to initiate to support the welfare of equidae” said Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Charlie McConalogue.  “It is also in keeping with my commitment to review and enhance the equine identification and traceability system”


A profile of all equines present on a holding on that date will be created on the Department’s Animal Identification and Movement (AIM) system, which houses the central equine database. 

Equine census details will be submitted online by equine keepers via Keepers who do not already have an account must register at to obtain personal login details to submit their census information. 


“The census will provide important information in the event of an equine disease outbreak, in addressing public health concerns and in dealing with lost, straying or stolen horses.”

For more details, see:

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Equine Seminar Series from Cornell University

Cornell’s Equine Hospital has announced a series of equine seminars to run from October to December.

The monthly talks (on Zoom) cover important equine health and management topics and are free to attend and open to the public.


The topic for the first seminar presented by Dr Tate Morris on October 19, is “The Colic Workup Explained”.

More details:

Monday, September 20, 2021

Thoracic asymmetry in ridden horses

 Muscle asymmetry in the thoracic region has implications for saddle fitting. If the muscle on one side of the withers is more developed than the other, this will affect saddle fit, potentially causing pain and discomfort. 

A study, led by assistant professor Dr. Katrina Merkies, at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada looked at muscular symmetry at the withers. 


Undergraduate students in the Department of Animal Biosciences, Julia Alebrand, Bethany Harwood,  Katharine Labarge and Laura Scott conducted a retrospective study of  490 horses. They studied withers measurements, taken with a flexible withers tracing tool, that had been recorded by a saddle fitting company.


Horses of various breeds (from Arabs and Thoroughbreds to stocky Warmbloods and Drafts) and a range of disciplines (dressage, hunter/jumper, recreational pursuits) were included in the study.


They found that almost 60% of horses had more muscle on the left side. 


In this population of horses, wither measurements were not significantly affected by horse breed, age, sex, height or level of training. Rider age, gender, height, weight and level of training did not affect wither measurements either.


The work is reported in Comparative Exercise Physiology. The authors report that horses in their study were asymmetric in their thoracic structure with most being larger on their left side than the right. They suggest that this asymmetry may be due to genetics, environment, or training. Importantly, it should be considered when fitting a saddle to the horse.


For more details see:


Investigation into thoracic asymmetry in ridden horses

K. Merkies; J. Alebrand; B. Harwood; K. LaBarge; L. Scott.

Comparative Exercise Physiology (2020), Vol 16, 1, pp. 55-62(8)


To find out more about the study, watch a video interview with Dr. Merkies

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Infectious disease surveillance service

The Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) has announced steps towards re-establishing on a long-term basis the essential equine infectious disease surveillance provision that had been performed by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) until its closure in July 2020.

Acting on the recommendations of an industry-wide committee set up to assess options for the future, HBLB has concluded an agreement from August 2021 with Rossdales Ltd to provide the diagnostic microbiology testing capacity, in conjunction with the epidemiological surveillance and monitoring unit that will now be based at the University of Cambridge Veterinary School.

The former AHT team, headed by Dr Richard Newton, will be employed by Cambridge University under the new agreement and will continue to respond to disease outbreak incidents and to produce daily updates on infectious disease reports worldwide for the benefit of the health of all horses, Thoroughbred and non-Thoroughbred.  

Dr Alastair Foote, director of Rossdales Laboratories, added: “We are delighted to have been awarded the tender, and to be able to provide continuity of the former AHT services that were critical to the equine industry, maintaining essential diagnostic testing and surveillance work.  Our recent major investment in new laboratory facilities at our Newmarket site has meant we have been able to rapidly accommodate the required testing requirements, with new tissue culture and virus isolation facilities, and we look forward to working alongside the surveillance and research team at Cambridge.”

For more details, see: