Monday, January 24, 2022

Monitoring recumbency as equine welfare indicator

 Although horses can doze standing up, they have to lie down to experience deep (rapid eye
movement - REM) sleep, because of the profound muscle relaxation that occurs in REM sleep.

Normally, horses will spend about 30 minutes a day in REM sleep. They may become sleep deprived if they are unable or unwilling to lie down – for example because of insecurity, or orthopaedic problems. Such horses may lapse into REM sleep while standing and then collapse. 


Zsofia Kelemen and co-workers at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna conducted a study to investigate the effect of age and orthopaedic problems on the time spent lying down.  A report of the work is published in the journal Animals.


A total of eighty-three horses, ages ranging from two to 32 years old, with or without orthopaedic problems, were involved in the study.


The research team used wearable automated motion sensors to monitor the time the horses spent lying, moving, and standing. Horses were tracked continuously for 60-hour sessions. Horses with abnormal recumbency patterns were monitored more often and for longer.


Eight horses, all with chronic orthopaedic disease, showed signs of REM sleep deficit. They were either seen to collapse, or had abrasions over their knees presumed to be due to falling onto the knees. These horses spent significantly less time lying down.


However, in this study, neither age nor lameness due to chronic orthopaedic disease significantly influenced the time spent lying down.


The authors conclude that wearable sensor technology can be used to identify horses with low recumbency times at risk for REM sleep deficiency and to assess and monitor equine welfare objectively. 



For more details, see: 


Recumbency as an Equine Welfare Indicator in Geriatric Horses and Horses with Chronic Orthopaedic Disease. 

Kelemen Z, Grimm H, Long M, Auer U, Jenner F. 

Animals. 2021; 11(11):3189.

Sunday, January 23, 2022

Study highlights factors influencing risk of eventing falls

A recent study has identified factors associated with an increased risk of falls during the cross-country phase of eventing, and has suggested modifications that could reduce the risk of injury – making it safer for horse and rider.

Higher-level events, longer courses, more starters in the cross-country phase and less experienced horses and athletes all showed an increased risk.Identifying these risk factors allows riders and event organisers to assess the level of risk for individual horse, rider and event combinations. 


The research, published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, recommends simple improvements such as adjusting minimum eligibility requirements (MERs) to ensure horses and riders always compete at a level appropriate to their ability.


The study, led by Bristol Veterinary School’s Dr Euan Bennet and Professor Tim Parkin, with Dr Heather Cameron-Whytock of Nottingham Trent University, was funded by Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI).


It included data from every horse start worldwide in all International, Championship, Olympics and World Equestrian Games competitions between January 2008 and December 2018. Information from National Federation events was not included. 


Of 202,771 horse starts during this period, 187,602 started the cross-country phase. Of these, 1.5 per cent recorded a fallen horse and 3.5 per cent had an unseated rider.


At least 50 riders and 109 horses have died since 2000 across all levels of competition worldwide.


Bristol Veterinary School’s Dr Euan Bennet said: “Eventing is an exciting equestrian sport, but horses and riders sometimes get injured during competitions. Occasionally they are very seriously injured, even fatally. We have gained a detailed understanding of the risk factors that make horses more likely to fall, so that we can provide actionable advice to governing bodies on how to reduce the number of horse falls, and therefore injuries and fatalities among horses and riders.


“This data is about probabilities and we would never say don’t ride because you’re going to have a fall, but we might say what we can see is according to your risk profile you’re in the top 5% at risk of a fall.”


The study identified the following factors as contributing to a fall:


  • Horses competing at higher levels.
  • Horses competing over longer cross-country course distances.
  • A higher number of starters at the cross-country phase.
  • Mares were at increased odds compared with geldings.
  • Horses whose previous start was longer than 60 days ago.
  • Horses who had previously made fewer starts at the level of their current event.
  • At the human athlete level, male athletes were at increased odds of experiencing a fall, compared with female athletes.
  • Younger athletes were at increased odds compared with older athletes.
  • Less experienced athletes were more likely to fall than their more experienced counterparts.
  • Athletes whose previous start was more than 30 days ago were at increased odds compared with athletes who last started within 30 days.
  • Athletes who did not finish their previous event, for any reason, were at increased odds compared with those who successfully finished their previous event.
  • Horse-athlete combinations who recorded a score in the dressage phase that was higher than 50 (i.e. poor performance) were at increased odds of falling during the cross-country phase compared with combinations who recorded a dressage score of 50 or less.


The researchers now hope the FEI will use this new evidence to implement evidence-based rules for eventing which protect the safety of athletes and horses without compromising on competitiveness.



For more details, see:


Fédération Equestre Internationale eventing: Risk factors for horse falls and unseated riders during the cross-country phase (2008-2018)

Euan D. Bennet, Heather Cameron-Whytock, Tim D. H. Parkin

Equine Veterinary Journal (2021) 13522

Friday, January 21, 2022

Sustainability in British racing

Concerned about the impact of climate change on equine welfare in the racing industry? Here’s your chance to have a say. 

An online questionnaire, open to anyone involved in racing, has opened to help identify environmental activity, expertise and interest across British racing and breeding.


The questionnaire forms part of a wider assessment of progress on environmental sustainability, commissioned last year by industry leaders and initiated and funded by the Racing Foundation.


The work aims to build a clearer overall picture of current environmental activities and expertise across racing and breeding. It is hoped that this will identify some of the key issues, risks, and opportunities for British racing, and make recommendations about what steps the industry could take to start embedding environmental sustainability in its long-term planning.


In a statement, Brant Dunshea, British Horseracing Authority Chief Regulatory Officer, said: “Climate change and sustainability are major challenges for our sport, given how dependent we are on the environment, transportation, and the use of essential resources.

“There is a real opportunity here for British racing to lead progress in this area, taking positive action to find effective solutions to the challenges we face – and crucially grasp some of the opportunities.


Rob Hezel, Chief Executive of the Racing Foundation, said: “A large amount of work has already been carried out across the industry, ranging from decarbonisation efforts to grassland management and waste reduction, so this work will help build an overall picture of where we are and where we want to be.


To complete the questionnaire, which runs until 14th February, go to:

Monday, January 17, 2022

Free online Horse Management Seminar from Rutgers Equine Science Center

Rutgers University Equine Science Center’s annual Horse Management Seminar will be held in a virtual format this year over three Tuesday evenings: February 8th, 15th, and 22nd. Each evening the event will start at 6:30PM (EST) and conclude at 8:30PM (EST) and is free to attend.


The first, on February 8th, will cover recent advances in veterinary medicine with an emphasis on equine diseases and rehabilitation and conditioning with Drs. Mark Crisman and Sarah Gold.


On February 15th, Drs. Samantha Brooks and Amanda Adams will cover genomics and equine metabolic syndrome.


The final evening will feature topics in equine nutrition with Dr. Weinert-Nelson, a recent Rutgers graduate, and Anna Draeger. 


For more details, and to reserve your virtual seat, go to :

Behaviour of retrained Thoroughbred racehorses

Thoroughbred racehorses have been bred with one purpose in mind – racing. It is often thought that their temperament may result in erratic or dangerous behaviour making them unsuited to other disciplines.


Lillian Hellmann, based at the Equine Genetics and Genomics Group at the University of Sydney, Australia, and colleagues conducted a study to see if such perceptions are justified.


The study assessed the behavioural differences, as noted by the owners, between thoroughbred horses bred for racing that entered an alternate discipline after retiring from racing and horses of other breeds. A full report is published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science.


The authors analysed data from 313 horses compiled using an online questionnaire. 

Responses were received from a total of 25 countries, with the majority coming from Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.


Horses included in the study were used in four main disciplines: dressage, eventing, show jumping and recreational riding.


The analysis revealed few significant differences in behaviour reported by the owners between horses bred for racing and those bred for other pursuits. 


Interestingly, and perhaps surprisingly, the researchers reported that where differences did occur, it was generally the thoroughbreds that were thought to behave more favourably. 


They report that owners considered Thoroughbreds showed more “dominance / aggression” than horses bred for other disciplines. Despite that, Thoroughbreds were seen as more social and were reported to show higher levels of “self-control.”


They suggest that as the average age of a racing thoroughbred is well below that of horses competing in other disciplines, perhaps the dangerous reputation of thoroughbreds is more a reflection of their youth and relative inexperience rather than purely breed predisposition.


They conclude: “Although this study does suggest some potential distinctions between the behaviors of thoroughbreds and horses bred for other disciplines, the notion that thoroughbreds may be unsuitable for certain disciplines based solely on their behavior and associated temperament is not supported.”


For more detail, see:


Owner-perceived behaviour in thoroughbred horses in secondary careers – A pilot study

Lillian Hellmann, Natasha A.Hamilton, Elizabeth A.Staiger, Marina Solé, Brandon D.Velie

Applied Animal Behaviour Science (2021) Vol 244, 105480

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Brush up on your nutrition and laminitis knowledge with free webinar

Horse owners can take advantage of a series of free nutrition-themed webinars, thanks to SPILLERS™.

The first webinar, to be held on 20th January 2022 at 8pm (GMT), will be hosted by SPILLERS™ nutritionist Gina Burgoyne, and is entitiled “Tips for winter weight gain.” It will cover forage, calories, fibre and oil diets and practical advice.


On Thursday 10th February, 8pm, Gina Burgoyne will present a webinar on “Tips for horses prone to gastric ulcers.” The discussion will cover: who is at risk; what to look out for; how nutrition plays a role; and forage.


The third webinar, on Thursday 3rd March, 8pm, “Managing your laminitic horse” will be hosted by Isabel Harker and Sarah Nelson. Topics will include: who is at risk; symptoms; how nutrition plays a role; body condition; and grazing tips.

“Whether you have a horse or a pony, and whether you are looking for safe weight gain, weight loss or a maintenance diet these webinars are for you,” said Clare Barfoot RNutr, Marketing and Research and Development Director at Mars Horsecare UK, home of the SPILLERS brand. 

“The webinars incorporate answers to many of the questions we receive via our Care-Line, together with the latest in equine nutrition science, making them highly relevant for every level of horse owner. And the best news is they are free and accessible to all.”

The webinars will be hosted on Microsoft Teams. Each session is free of charge and will last for approximately one hour. 


If you would like to join, sign up at:


 A link to join the webinar will then be emailed to you the day before the session.

Pilot study suggests role for IL-2 in sarcoid treatment.

 Sarcoids are the most common skin tumour in horses. It is estimated that 6-7% of horses in the United Kingdom are affected. 

Currently there is no universally effective treatment for sarcoids and if treatment fails, the sarcoids will often come back worse than they were in the first place. Although the disease is rarely life threatening, many horses with sarcoids are euthanased because the condition is untreatable or because the horse is unsellable. 


A study by Johanna Loschelder-Ostrowski and colleagues assessed the use of canarypox expressing feline Interleukin-2 (IL-2) in the treatment of equine sarcoids.


Interleukin (IL)-2 is one of the key cytokines (proteins involved in cell signalling). It stimulates cell mediated immunity, activating a range of T-cells. IL-2 is used in human medicine, including for treating cancerous conditions such as metastatic renal cell carcinomas and metastatic melanoma.


A canarypox virus vector, which has been genetically modified to contain a gene to make it produce IL-2, was used in the study. (A licenced product is available for use in the treatment of fibrosarcoma in cats.) The canarypox virus does not spread or multiply in cats or other mammals.


The technology is widely used in the production of vaccines for horses and other species (such as some equine influenza and West Nile virus vaccines).


Firstly, the research team carried out a safety trial in four healthy horses. None of the horses showed significant adverse effects after two treatments.


They then assessed its use to treat 20 horses with sarcoids. The sarcoids were injected twice seven days apart, using the recombinant canarypox virus expressing feline IL-2.


None of the horses with equine sarcoids showed significant adverse effects after intratumoural treatment.


The researchers report that “complete regression was achieved in eight horses (40%) and partial regression in two horses (10%). No change in sarcoid size was observed in two horses (10%) and the disease progressed in five horses (25%). Sarcoids of three horses (15%) showed initial response followed by tumour growth.”


However, they noticed a long delay between the first injection and the beginning of tumour remission. “Of the 68% of sarcoids that did show remission after 23 months, remission started after a median time of 30.4 ± 5.4 weeks.” 


Reporting their work in the journal Veterinary Dermatology, the authors conclude: “In summary, in this clinical pilot study, the treatment of equine sarcoids with canarypox virus locally expressing IL-2 was easy and safe for both user and horse. Equine sarcoids injected with canarypox virus expressing feline IL-2 showed a reduction in tumour size or a complete remission of the tumour in 50% of cases.”


They add: “Further studies are necessary to research vector and feline IL-2 effects in horses, establish an optimal treatment regime for equines and verify the results in a larger population of patients.”


For more details, see:


Treatment of equine sarcoids using recombinant poxviruses expressing feline interleukin-2

Johanna Loschelder-Ostrowski, Judith Christine Winter, Roswitha Merle, Robert Klopfleisch, Heidrun Gehlen

Veterinary Dermatology (2021)