Monday, March 28, 2022

Factors associated with laminitis in donkeys

Recent research suggests that guidelines for laminitis treatment and prevention in horses cannot necessarily be extrapolated to donkeys.

The study found that laminitis is common in donkeys, but factors associated with laminitis in donkeys differ from those reported in horses.


Nicola Menzies-Gow and colleagues checked the medical records of all 707 donkeys living on eleven farms run by the Donkey Sanctuary in the south-west of the UK. They found that over a period of 42 months, nearly half (48.5%) of donkeys experienced at least one bout of laminitis. Most (65%) of these episodes involved chronic laminitis.


The researchers compared the medical records of donkeys that did or did not experience laminitis, to identify factors that differed between the groups.


They found that affected animals were: 


1) less likely to have had concentrate food

2) less likely to have another medical condition

3) less likely to have undergone dental work, diagnostic imaging or surgery in the month before developing laminitis

4) more likely to be younger when they first had laminitis


A full report of the research is published in the Equine Veterinary Journal. 


The authors conclude that factors associated with laminitis in donkeys cannot necessarily be extrapolated from horse and pony studies. 

However, they caution that these results may not apply to the wider donkey population and they suggest the need for further investigation in animals kept under different management conditions.


For more details, see:


Cross-sectional study to identify the prevalence of and factors associated with laminitis in UK donkeys

Nicola J. Menzies-Gow, Frederica Wakeel, Holly Little, Jesus Buil, Karen Rickards

Equine Veterinary Journal (2021)

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Male jockeys have no more influence over the racehorse performance than female jockeys

 Experts from the University of Nottingham have found that the sex of a jockey doesn’t influence any
aspect of racehorse physiology and performance.

Currently, more than 90% of jockeys, in most racing nations, are men. This is likely due to an unconscious bias toward male jockeys being, on average, physically ‘stronger’, able to push horses harder, and thus performing better in races than female jockeys. Studies assessing the effect of the sex of a rider on racehorse performance and physiology during training have not been reported, mostly due to the lack of available data for female participants within the sport.


This decade has seen a marked increase in participation of female jockeys at an elite level in the racing industry. Irish jockey Rachael Blackmore made history in 2021 by winning several high-profile races, and has gone on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup this year. 


Success stories like this are challenging the public’s attitude to the ability of male or female jockeys to win big races. In the UK and Ireland, previous research had suggested an underestimation of the ability of female jockeys to win races, as measured in betting behaviour. 


In racing, a competitive advantage may lie in the ability of a jockey to control the horse, and/or less weight carried by the horse (i.e. weight of jockey plus saddle). Hence, jockeys are weighed out before, and weighed in after, races. Certain races are ‘handicapped’ by weight carried and according to predicted ability. 


If all other factors were equal, would a racehorse working-out at racing speed perform any differently when ridden by either a female or male jockey? Would that racehorse be more or less likely to win a race?


Researchers from the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science at the University of Nottingham, worked to answer some of these questions, collaborating with Dr Guillaume Dubois, (Scientific Director at Arioneo Ltd– a company that developed Equimetre©, an exercise tracking device for horses); and Dr Emmanuelle van Erck-Westergren of the Equine Sports Medicine Practice, Belgium.


They monitored 530 thoroughbred racehorses, ridden by 103 different work riders (66 male, 37 female) over a total of 3,568 work-outs at Ciaron Maher’s racing yard in Victoria, Australia. Variables such as speed, stride length and frequency, horses heart rate and rate of recovery were recorded with the EquimetreTM


This tracker was specifically designed to monitor horses during their daily training routines, simultaneously recording cardiovascular and biomechanical parameters at various exercise intensities (slow canter to hard gallop).


The investigators found no effect of sex of the jockey on any objectively measured outcome variable, measured from slow-canter to hard, race-pace gallops. But would this lack of effect of sex of jockey in training, also translate to actual race results, where many other variables come into play?


The research team analysed results from 52,464 races, and found that female jockeys had a similar win percentage (of total race starts) as male jockeys in the UK (female, 10.7% vs. male, 11.3%). In Australia, male jockeys had a slightly higher win percentage (11.0 vs. 9.9%), but this was negated when considering a top three race finish.


Taken together, the researchers found minimal effect of the sex of the jockey on both training and race outcomes. A report of the study is published at Research Square.


Some curious effects were observed. For example, recovery of racehorse heart rate after exercise appeared influenced by sex of the rider, but only when the usual training intensity on each track surface (grass or sand) was reversed.


The researchers suggest that perhaps male work-riders, more so than female, anticipated the ‘expected’ training-intensity (e.g. gallop on grass) and their proposed anticipation was transmitted faithfully to the horse, who responded with higher or lower heart rate. Further work is needed, however, to confirm this effect. When considered across all training sessions, then no difference in expected recovery rates of racehorses were noted between male and female jockeys.


“Our study is the first to objectively assess whether the sex of a jockey has an influence on any aspect of racehorse physiology and performance. The data convincingly suggest the answer is no and offers a new perspective on the possible balance of elite male and female jockeys on the start line of races” said Ms Charlotte Schrurs, PhD student and lead author with Professor David S Gardner. 


“Efforts to favour a more ‘inclusive environment’ would greatly contribute towards equal opportunities and the promotion of fair competition within this highly popular and fascinating sport.” 


For more details, see:


Does sex of the jockey influence racehorse physiology and performance, (2022). 

Charlotte Schrurs, Guillaume Dubois, Emmanuelle van Erck-Westergren, David S Gardner

Research Square (2022)

 DOI: 10.21203/



More details of the EquimetreTM

Thursday, March 17, 2022

App to help monitor equine body condition

 A new Equine Body Condition Scoring app has been produced by scientists at the University of

Obesity in equines is not a new problem. However, the increasing number of obese horses and ponies, predominantly in the leisure industry, has now become a globally recognised welfare concern.  


Carrying excess weight contributes to various problems: it increases the stress on the horse’s skeletal system, can limit reproductive performance, adversely affect athletic performance and may lead to an increased risk of laminitis, osteoarthritis, heat intolerance and certain types of colic. 

The Equi-BCS app was developed by Katie Williams, an equine nutritionist, as part of her PhD research at the University.

The app lets owners record and share their horse’s weight data, which should make it easier for professionals to help horse owners keep their horse’s weight on track. This feature also supports horses that are not holding their weight, so health issues can be spotted early.

Ms Williams said: “One of the toughest challenges for any horse owner is keeping weight off their horse, and previous studies have shown that horse owners tend to underestimate their horse’s body condition score.

“To succeed, a collaborative approach is required including vets, nutritionists and farriers working together with horse owners.”

The app contains detailed images and instructions to help horse owners score their horse accurately and photos can be uploaded and stored so that horse owners can remind themselves of how their horse has looked in the past.

Research in human weight tracking apps has shown that frequency of use correlates with greater success and so an important feature of the app is that it will notify users when they are due to assess their horse again.

Ms Williams added: “It is incredible how quickly a horse can change and so monitoring regularly, ideally every two weeks, is key. Receiving a reminder will provide the prompt that many people need to ensure they take time to assess their horse and either make adjustments to the ration, or seek advice from their vet or nutritionist.”

The Equi-BCS app can be downloaded for free from Apple’s app store or Google Play

Sunday, March 13, 2022

USA horse transport survey

 Do you transport horses in the United States? If so, researchers at the University of Kentucky would appreciate your help in a survey about equine transportation.

The research team comprises Dr. Amanda Adams (University of Kentucky), Dr. C. Jill Stowe (University of Kentucky), Dr. Patricia Harris (WALTHAM™ Equine Studies Group), Dr. Bridget McIntosh (MARS EQUESTRIAN™), and Erica Jacquay M.S., Ph.D. Student (University of Kentucky).


They hope that the survey will help them gain a better understanding of common types of journeys taken, as well as different management practices involved in transporting horses. 


To participate, you must be at least 18 years old and own, lease, or be in the full care of at least one horse or pony that resides in the USA. This survey will take approximately 15-20 minutes to complete. Your response is anonymous which means no names, IP addresses, email addresses, or any other identifying information will be collected with the survey responses.

Participants will have the option of entering a drawing for an ETHEL M® Chocolates prize basket courtesy of MARS EQUESTRIAN (Your email address will be recorded separately from your survey responses so that your survey answers remain anonymous.)


To ensure your responses are included, you should complete the survey by April 1, 2022.


For further information, go to:

Tuesday, March 01, 2022

Changing the colour of Jump racing

 A new era of National Hunt (jump) racing begins in the United Kingdom on 14th March when the colour of the obstacles starts to change. The transformation, starting at Stratford upon Avon, will be gradually phased in over ten months, and will see an estimated 368 fences and 2,132 hurdle panels across 40 racecourses change markings from the traditional orange to white.

The project follows research carried out by Exeter University during 2017-2018 into equine vision, commissioned by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and backed by The Racing Foundation.


The study, conducted by Dr. Sarah Paul and Professor Martin Stevens of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation, University of Exeter, looked at the visibility to horses of a range of colours, and then examined the horses’ response to the presence of different colours on racecourse fences.


They analysed 131 obstacles across 11 UK racecourses using cutting-edge camera equipment to establish which colours would be most visible to a horse. They compared the traditional orange with possible alternatives: yellow, blue and white. 


Horses see colours differently from humans. Humans and other primates have three types of light-responsive cells (cones) in their eyes, giving what is called trichromatic colour vision. Normal human eyes detect four basic colours: red, green, yellow and blue. They can also differentiate up to 100 subtle variations in hue. Humans with red-green colour vision defects can only see two basic colours - yellow and blue.


Horses, as with other non-primate mammals, have only two types of cone, giving them dichromatic vision. The colours seen by the horse are likely to be like those seen by humans with red-green colour blindness. They see mainly hues we would perceive as blue and yellow, and are unable to tell apart shades of red, green, and orange.  


The study found that changing the wood and vinyl padding of take-off boards, guard rails and top boards to white provided increased contrast and visibility for horses, leading to improved jumping performance. Highly luminant whites or blues at the base of the fence (take-off board) gave the best contrast, while fluorescent yellow gave the greatest contrast against the main fence body (i.e. when used for midrail colour) in different light and weather conditions.


Once they had identified the most appropriate colours, researchers tested behavioural responses with 14 horses from Richard Phillips’ training yard in Adlestrop, Gloucestershire. They found that the colour of the fences could influence both the angle that horses jump a fence and the length of the jump. Horses adjusted their jump angles with colours other than orange, and white tended to produce a longer total jump distance.


In response to the study, a recommendation was approved by the sport's Racecourse Committee for a trial using fluorescent yellow for all hurdles and guard-rails, and fluorescent white for take-off boards at fences. However further tests found that fluorescent yellow faded rapidly, so white was the chosen colour.


A phased roll-out of new white markings will begin from March 2022 with courses carrying out the work after the close of their season. Nine courses will make the change during the first six months (March – August) with all jumps tracks having made the switch by December 2022. Point to point courses will follow for the 2022/23 season.


The new white markings are already being introduced at racing’s main schooling grounds and will be in use throughout the summer jumping season.


Barry Johnson, Chair of the Horse Welfare Board, said: “This important project is an example of how British racing uses advanced scientific and veterinary research to constantly improve racehorse welfare. Looking through the eyes of the horse to understand how they perceive their world, and making changes because of this new knowledge, shows how racing is continuously striving to increase the safety of all participants in our sport, both human and equine.”


For more details, see:


Horse vision and obstacle visibility in horseracing.

Paul SC, Stevens M.

Appl Anim Behav Sci. 2020:104882.