Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Morris Animal Foundation invites funding requests

 Morris Animal Foundation, one of the largest non-profit animal health research organizations in the
world, is now inviting requests for funding for studies focusing on equine behavior and welfare.

“This call for proposals provides researchers the opportunity to take a closer look at behavior issues that impact the health of equid species,” said Dr. Janet Patterson-Kane, Morris Animal Foundation Chief Scientific Officer.

“We recognize the importance of behavior as a component of animal health and overall welfare. This call will advance our knowledge of equine behavior, with a particular emphasis on guiding interventions and improving well-being.”

Proposals should focus on improving the lives of horses by increasing our understanding of the behavioral domain. This includes areas such as cognition, learning, stereotypies, separation anxiety, affiliative behavior toward (bonding with) humans, equine psychopharmacology, and the effects of equine temperament on welfare. Proposals may involve domesticated or wild horses.

The maximum project duration is 12 months, and the budget cannot exceed $10,000 USD.

This Donor-Inspired Study grant is funded by long-time Morris Animal Foundation supporter, Dr. Wendy Koch. Dr. Koch, a veterinarian, has closely followed equine behavior and welfare research over the years and wanted to increase the amount of funding available for studies in these fields.

All proposals submitted to Morris Animal Foundation will be reviewed by a Scientific Advisory Board. Interested researchers can find additional information, including award types and funding levels at:

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Easing intramuscular injections

(c) Hvat10
Applying topical anaesthetic to the skin a couple of minutes before vaccinating horses can reduce signs of discomfort recent research has shown.

Puncturing the skin for Intramuscular injections and collecting blood samples are common procedures in equine medicine. However, many horses show signs of discomfort, and may become “needle shy”.

Catherine Torcivia  and Sue McDonnell at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center,  conducted a study to see if  applying topical anaesthetic before inserting the needle reduced the signs of discomfort..

They explain: “Our experience indicates that horses can begin to develop an injection aversion after only one uncomfortable experience. From that point forward, the typical progression for many horses involves increasingly aggressive handling techniques to attempt to restrain or punish increasingly animated avoidance behavior. This experience can quickly lead to conditioned fear that may generalize beyond injections, making those horses dangerously challenging to handle for other health care procedures.”

“If we can reduce the discomfort of injections, we may be able to avoid development of aversions to injections and other health care procedures, thereby improving welfare both at the time of vaccinations and lifelong.”

The study involved semi-feral ponies from the University’s herd. They were restrained in a holding pen while various management procedures were carried out – such as measuring height and weight with a girth tape, body condition scoring, palpating and estimating the size of testicles, and administering oral anthelmintic - as well as administering two intramuscular vaccinations.

Torcivia and McDonnell applied topical anaesthetic (5% an 10% lidocaine) or a  placebo to the injection site two minutes before injecting the ponies.  Each pony was given two vaccinations – one on either side of the neck, and the researchers, blinded to which concentration of ointment had been used, recorded the ponies’ responses at the moment of each injection

They found that reaction scores for both the 5% and 10% lidocaine groups were significantly lower ( ie showed less reaction) than for the control group. The difference between the 5% and 10% lidocaine groups was not significant. 

They conclude that applying topical anaesthetic can reduce the reaction of horses to intramuscular injection.

“Both the 5% and 10% lidocaine products commercially available for numbing human skin were effective when applied only two minutes before vaccination, making the procedure practical for routine use.”

They suggest that further work should be helpful in optimizing benefit from these and other topical numbing preparations.

For more details, see:

Efficacy of Lidocaine Topical Solution in Reducing Discomfort Reaction of Horses to Intramuscular Vaccination
Catherine Torcivia , Sue McDonnell 
Animals (Basel) (2022) 28;12(13):1659.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Strip grazing reduces eating but not moving, new study shows

Studies have already shown that strip grazing is an effective way of restricting grass intake in ponies.

Now, new work indicates the added benefit that eating less doesn’t automatically mean moving less.

Restricting grass intake is an essential part of many weight management programmes. Having shown in a previous study that strip grazed ponies gain significantly less weight than ponies with free access to restricted grazing over a 28-day period, SPILLERS and their research collaborators set out to discover whether eating less as a result of strip grazing also means moving less in the field. 

To evaluate the effects on ‘activity levels’ of ponies strip grazing individually, behavioural data from the previous study was analysed. In addition, a second study was evaluated, that had been carried out in collaboration with the Royal Veterinary College, to look at the effects of strip grazing on the behaviour of ponies turned out in groups.

In the second study 10 ponies were randomly assigned to one of two adjacent paddocks. Both paddocks were the same size, had been managed in the same way and subjectively had the same amount of very limited grazing available. Paddock B was divided into seven strips (using electric fencing) with ponies given access to one additional fresh strip of grazing every day; ponies in paddock A had access to the entire paddock for the duration of the study.

In both studies, behaviour and activity levels were assessed on several occasions using a combination of direct observation and activity monitors attached to the poll strap of the ponies’ headcollars. 

The research team found no significant difference in the over-all time strip grazed ponies spent grazing, standing, or moving regardless of whether a back fence was used or if they were turned out individually or as a group.

“The results of both studies showed that the strip grazed ponies moved just as much as the unrestricted ponies,” said Clare Barfoot RNutr, Marketing and Research and Development Director at Mars Horsecare UK, home of the SPILLERS brand. “Similar amounts of time were spent grazing, standing and locomoting (which included walking, trotting and cantering) within the different groups and encouragingly, performance of behaviours related to stress and frustration were low in both studies too.”

“While we were unsurprised to see that the strip grazed ponies preferred to graze the newly accessible grass and spent most time grazing in the four hours after the fence had been moved, we believe this finding could be useful when deciding if and how those prone to laminitis should have access to grass.”

The researchers are now looking into the effects of strip grazing on the water-soluble carbohydrate (WSC) or ‘sugar’ content of the grass as well as pasture recovery.

For more details, see:

The effect of strip grazing on physical activity and behaviour in ponies.
A Cameron, A Longland, T Pfau, S Pinnegar, I Brackston, J Hockenhull,  PA Harris, NJ Menzies-Gow. (2021).
Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, (2022) 110, 103745.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Effect of retraining racehorses on gait

(c) Donald Blais
 Retraining of Thoroughbred racehorses for use as saddle horses results in changes in gait more
suited to their new career, according to a study in Korea.

 The research, by Taewoon Jung and Hyoungjin Park, examined the effects of 12-week saddle horse conversion training on Thoroughbred gait.

 Twelve horses, six geldings and six mares, were involved in the study. Their gaits, at walk and canter, were motion-captured before and after saddle horse conversion training. 

 Describing their findings in Applied Sciences, the authors report:

 “The retraining program applied to the Thoroughbreds in this study induced significant changes in the kinematic parameters. After training, retired Thoroughbred racehorses had shorter stride lengths and a reduced center of mass displacement, center of head displacement, displacement between the center of the head and the center of the neck, and head–neck angles, bearing in mind that no significant differences in the duration of gaits and the center of mass and head velocities were observed.”

 “Although the effect of retraining was not statistically significant in the stride lengths, all stride lengths were reduced in both walk and canter.” Changes were more marked in the right fore and hind limbs than in the left limbs.

 All races on Korean tracks run in a counterclockwise direction. The authors suggest that the resulting asymmetry explains the greater changes in the stride lengths of the right compared with the left. “These changes mean that the retraining positively affected the imbalance of the horse’s body”

 They conclude: “Through saddle horse conversion training, the horse’s movement changes may be considered as the habitual movements in the life of a racehorse being gradually transformed into ideal movements for a saddle horse.”


For more details, see:

The Effect of 12 Weeks of Saddle Horse Conversion Training on Thoroughbred Horse Gait
Taewoon Jung and Hyoungjin Park
 Appl. Sci. 2022, 12(13), 6411;

Saturday, July 23, 2022

International Equitation Science Conference


The International Society for Equitation Science conference returns this year after missing 2020 and taking place
online last year,

Hartpury University and College, Gloucester, is set to host the 18th annual event from 10 - 12 August, with the title ‘Succeed with Science: Performance, Practice and Positive Partnerships’.

Delegates have the option to attend either in-person or online.

Over three days, the event aims to give delegates a fresh perspective on the current state of Equitation Science with thought-provoking plenaries, workshops, research presentations, keynotes, and research studies. Here’s a rundown of the key conference themes.

Performance: Dr Andrew Hemmings and Linda Greening will take a trip inside the horse’s mind with a head-first approach to equine management and training, while Dr David Marlin and Prof Tim Parkin will explore relationships between equine performance and welfare, by examining how we can define and measure performance, and the role science can play to enhance health and welfare – not just competitive success.

Practice: Dr Marc Pierard will showcase how learning theory can be applied in the ridden horse, while Christopher Bartle FBHS will discuss his personal philosophy for training horse and rider partnerships. Prof Lars Roepstroff and Dr Russell Mackechnie-Guire will consider how rider performance and horse and rider asymmetries can influence training and performance and affect quality of life for the ridden horse.

Positive Partnerships: The horse-human relationship is the foundation of positive partnerships, and the conference will consider this partnership from both the horse and the human perspective. Dr Natalie Waran will explore how this knowledge can underpin and promote ethical equitation practices and positive relationships alongside Dr Hayley Randle and Dr Jane Williams..

Professor Natalie Waran, Chair of Trustees at ISES and Executive Dean and Professor (One Welfare) at the Eastern University of Technology (EIT) New Zealand, said:

“It’s important that we remember that a partnership is a two-way exchange, with both parties enjoying the benefits resulting from the interaction. If we are to be certain that horses can enjoy a positive experience when being handled, trained, ridden, driven and in performance, we need to ensure that we know what is positive from the horse’s perspective, and how we provide for this in practice.

“This year’s ISES conference theme ‘Succeed with Science’ will provide an opportunity for scientists, students, and practitioners to engage with a rich mix of the latest equitation science research and advanced practice, as well as showcase how technology can be harnessed to further our knowledge about how to ensure that the horse-human partnership is mutually rewarding.”

For more details, see: