Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Equine Herpesvirus research planned

 Equine herpesvirus type-1 (EHV-1) is a global concern with a significant impact on both animal
health and the equine economy. Recent years have witnessed major EHV-1 outbreaks in the USA and Europe, sometimes leading to the neurological form of the disease, Equine Herpes Myeloencephalopathy (EHM).

EHV-1/EHM outbreaks not only jeopardise equine health, but they also necessitate strict biosecurity and quarantine measures that restrict horse transportation, racing, and competitions. As a result, the equine industry incurs significant economic losses, including costs related to horse ownership, equine businesses, and the industry as a whole. Moreover, the loss of severely affected horses only exacerbates the financial impact.


To tackle this issue, the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation has announced funding for two research projects. 


Gisela Soboll Hussey of Michigan State University will receive a grant to study the use of nucleic acid vaccines to protect from EHV-1 / EHM.  


“This proposal is to develop a novel mRNA-based equine herpesvirus (EHV) vaccine that protects horses from EHV-1 myeloencephalopathy and will also likely cross-protect against other equine herpesviruses” she explains. 


She adds:”The goal of this application is to exploit innovations in RNA vaccine technology that have come about during the COVID-19 pandemic and are currently the first line of defense. We propose to refine this mRNA vaccine technology for immunization of horses. Based on our extensive preliminary data, we will test vaccines containing the parts of EHV-1 that are important for inducing protective immunity in horses.”


In separate research, Bettina Wagner and Diego Diel at Cornell University aim to develop an effective DNA vaccine for equine herpesvirus to protect horses against infection and disease and to prevent EHV outbreaks. 

“We are combining our expertise in equine immunology and EHV-1 research (Dr. Wagner) and virology and vaccine design (Dr. Diel) to first perform a comprehensive analysis of the best DNA vaccine candidate and then test the optimized vaccine candidate for its protective effects in horses. The DNA vaccine platform that we are testing in this project has already been used successfully for induction of immunity and protection from infectious disease in other species.”

For more details, see:

Monday, April 24, 2023

Does equine facilitated therapy help chronic low back pain?

(c) Jordi Mora Igual
Equine-facilitated therapy (EFT) could help patients dealing with chronic low back pain, according to a
recent study conducted at the University of Eastern Finland.


In Finland, equine-facilitated therapy as a form of medical rehabilitation has been subsidised by the country’s Social Insurance Institution since 2019. In the rehabilitation of musculoskeletal disorders, however, equine-facilitated therapy is less well established.


The research, published recently in Frontiers in Veterinary Science, found that individuals who participated in EFT for 12 weeks experienced a decrease in perceived pain and an improvement in their ability to carry out daily tasks. 


The study, which included 22 participants dealing with low back pain, assessed the impact of EFT on physical performance, pain levels, pain acceptance, anxiety, depression, and overall quality of life. Lead researcher was Sanna Mattila-Rautiainen, who has more than 20 years of experience of using EFT in the rehabilitation of patients with back pain, working in close collaboration with regional social welfare and healthcare authorities in the Kainuu region, Finland.


The intervention consisted of 12 weekly EFT sessions. The first four sessions lasted 10 minutes each. They increased to 20 minutes for the next four weeks and 30 minutes for the final four weeks.


Through the 12-week study, the researchers observed that EFT had the potential to enhance individuals' daily lives. Significant improvements were noted in several activities, including the ability to sleep, reach and bend forward, and stand for extended periods of time. 

They also noted that EFT could help reduce the amount of pain perceived by the patients, increase their participation in social activities, and improve their psychological well-being. 

During a six-month follow-up, only two of the chronic pain patients returned to the clinic due to pain. 


In follow-up interviews, patients highlighted physical, psychological and social effects of EFT, showing that the intervention had a comprehensive impact on their rehabilitation.

The researchers also observed significant improvement in mental health. During the intervention, they found that patients’ social functioning improved and their depression decreased – something that was also emphasised in the interviews: “The created group effect was a positive experience.”  


Sitting on a horse to 100 walk-like movements per minute was found to be beneficial. Comments from participants included:“The movement felt good - the horse moved me correctly” and “There is no other way to exercise like this.”


However, matching the patient to the horse was important: “One horse felt good and other made my pain worse.” 


“Chronic back pain is a multidimensional experience involving not only physical pain but also learned thinking patterns and emotional reactions” says Mattila-Rautiainen.


  “Traditionally, physical therapy has been recommended for the rehabilitation of patients with chronic pain, as physical exercise has been found to be the most effective way to treat spinal pain.”


She points out that Equine-facilitated therapy brought relief to patients with chronic pain who had been incapable for work for several years.


Incorrect movement maintains a vicious circle of pain and affects people’s physical, psychological and social well-being. The compatibility of the patient with the horse’s movements, along with a suitable exercise load, played a key role in the intervention. The exercise load was gradually increased, within the limits of pain. Patients’ opinions were also considered regarding the choice of their horse and equipment.


“Patients with chronic pain tend to avoid the sensation of pain that comes from moving the affected part of their body. However, when sitting on a moving horse, a person with low back pain will end up moving to the gait of the horse, which encourages the right kind of lumbar movement,” Mattila-Rautiainen says.


These findings suggest that EFT could be a valuable therapeutic option for those experiencing difficulties due to chronic low back pain.



For more details, see:

The impact on physical performance, pain and psychological wellbeing of chronic low back pain patients during 12-weeks of equine-facilitated therapy intervention.

Sanna Mattila-Rautiainen, Mika Venoj√§rvi, Heta Rautiainen and Alice Keski-Valkama

Front. Vet. Sci., (2023) vol 10

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Investigating the impact of drones on horse behaviour

(c) Howell et al   (CC BY 4.0)
Over the past few years, the use of drones, also known as small unmanned aerial vehicles(sUAV), has become increasingly prevalent across various industries, including agriculture. Their use has been advocated as a means of improving efficiency, productivity, and cost-effectiveness. However, the implementation of drones has sparked concerns among horse owners and ranchers who rely on grazing horses.


To address this issue, researchers at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, have conducted a study to investigate the impact of drones on grazing horses. The team's findings have been published in the journal Rangelands, with lead author Ryan Howell and his colleagues hoping that their research can be used to inform both private livestock managers and public agencies that manage horse populations about the potential uses of drones.


The study involved observing horses owned by private individuals on various properties in Utah, with the horses' responses to drones approaching at different heights above ground level (AGL) being assessed. Some drone flights focused on individual horses, while others involved groups of up to ten horses.


Before the drone flight, the research team used binoculars to observe the horses from a distance. Video footage was also available from the on-board camera. The drone was launched well away from the horses, and the researchers classified their behaviour into categories such as walking, trotting, grazing, laying down, standing, and vigilance.


The researchers monitored the horses' behaviour before the drone was launched, and then at 5-second intervals as the drone approached at three different heights above ground level: 3m, 15m, and 33m. The recording continued while the drone hovered over the horses before departing.


The study found that prior to the drone's launch, grazing was the most common "at ease" behaviour exhibited by the horses. However, once the drone approached, grazing decreased significantly and was replaced primarily by vigilance, followed by walking.


“No animals were observed grazing after 50 seconds and did not return to grazing throughout the duration of the observation period.”


They observed “a downward trend in grazing and subsequent increased tendencies toward evasive movement and vigilance demonstrated by our study horses.” 


They add: “This may suggest that horse foraging can be impaired with drone activity, and overall heath, stress, and diet could be compromised by fear induced from drone activities and their flight patterns.”


For more details, see:


Ryan G. Howell, Kaylee Draughon, Haley Johnston, Melissa Myrick, Val J. Anderson, Dennis L. Eggett, Steven L. Petersen,

Evaluating changes in horse behavior as a response to small unmanned aerial vehicles,

Rangelands (2022) Vol 44, (2), pp 121-128.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Risk factors for heat stress in UK racehorses

(c) Viacheslav Nemyrivskyi
 New research suggests that a Thoroughbred racehorse's likelihood of experiencing exertional heat illness (EHI) can be influenced by hotter, more humid weather conditions and a history of overheating. The findings, based on data from British racecourses, have implications for mitigating the risk of EHI in racehorses, particularly considering the warming climate and increasing frequency of hot race days.

During racing, Thoroughbred racehorses are at risk of overheating due to the exertion required, which can result in exhaustion and even death in extreme cases. Racing authorities in countries such as Japan and Australia, where temperatures are often high, have explored various factors that contribute to EHI, but no conclusive evidence has been found to predict which horses are at greatest risk.


Dr. Leah Trigg from the Bristol Veterinary School, Professor Siobhan Mullan, of the University College Dublin School of Veterinary Medicine and colleagues at the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), examined data on 704,434 runners at British racecourses recorded in the BHA database between July 2010 and April 2018. 


The research is published in Scientific Reports.


There were 702 EHI incidents (defined in the database as either heat stress or heat exhaustion), accounting for 0.1% of runners. 


The authors modelled the probability that a racehorse would present with EHI based on factors including age, whether the horse had had a previous EHI incident, race distance, race start time, ground conditions (going), average temperature in the five days prior to a race, and a measure of weather conditions (based on temperature, humidity, windspeed, and solar radiation) called wet bulb globe temperature index (WBGT).


Overall, the model correctly predicted 83.5% of EHI events, although the authors cautioned it produced a high number of false positives. Longer race distances increased the probability of EHI – the odds of a horse developing EHI in a two-mile race was 5.66 times higher than in a one-mile race. WBGT was also a predictive factor, with a horse running when it was 30 degrees Celsius 10.14 times more likely to develop EHI than a horse running at 20 degrees.


However, higher temperatures during the five days preceding a race were associated with reduced risk of EHI – the odds of EHI were 0.33 times lower when the preceding temperature averaged 25 degrees compared to 15 degrees. This suggests that horses may acclimatise to ongoing warmer temperatures and lose heat more effectively when they come to race.


Horses that had experienced previous EHI incidents were 18.59 times more likely to present with EHI, compared to horses who had not experienced EHI previously. Running on soft or heavy ground or in races before 5pm also increased the risk of EHI. 


The research findings highlight the significance of ensuring that adequate cooling facilities are available, as well as identifying horses with a history of EHI to allow for early intervention if required. The authors of the study emphasize that these results are particularly relevant given the evolving climate, which is characterized by more frequent and intense periods of hot weather, and the need for the sport to address this challenge.


Dr Trigg, Honorary Research Fellow at the Bristol Veterinary School, said: "Racecourse officials should monitor WBGT at race meetings to help decide whether racing should go ahead, or if it does go ahead whether additional resources such as extra cool down areas should be provided. This data should be used to develop evidence-based policy to protect the welfare of racehorses in current and future climates."


For more details, see:


Risk factors for, and prediction of, exertional heat illness in Thoroughbred racehorses at British racecourses

Leah E Trigg, Sally Lyons & Siobhan Mullan 

Scientific Reports (2023) vol 13, Article number: 3063

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Foundation for the Horse research grants

(c) Livingsee

Funding proposals are currently being accepted by The Foundation for the Horse until May 31st for its two equine research grant programs. 


One program aims to support emerging researchers, while the other is intended for established investigators. Both programs strive to drive medical advancements in equine health. 


Although proposals on any subject will be considered, the Foundation has a particular interest in musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, respiratory, and endocrine diseases, as well as laminitis, and methods to enhance racing safety. 


Young Investigators Research Grants worth up to $20,000 are available to

graduate students, fellows and residents. Pilot studies or preliminary studies that are part of a major study or which will lead to a major project are of particular interest; small standalone projects will also be considered.  


Innovation and Discovery Research Grants are available to individuals with a background in equine research and a previous record of research publication. A minimum of two projects will each receive up to $50,000 in funding in 2023.


For more details, see:

Young Investigators Research Grants


Innovation and Discovery Research Grants 

Sunday, April 02, 2023

Investigating umbilical cord torsion as a cause of abortion

Approximately 1 in 25 Thoroughbred pregnancies in the UK result in pregnancy loss during mid to late gestation, a statistic that has not shown any significant improvement in the past three decades. 

In the UK, umbilical cord torsion (UCT) is recognised as the primary cause of this phenomenon, accounting for almost half of the cases that are sent for laboratory analysis. 


UCT occurs when there is excessive twisting of the umbilical cord, which restricts the blood supply to the foetus and eventually causes its death.


Interestingly, in all other countries (except Australia), the proportion of pregnancy loss attributed to UCT is much lower. In North America, the occurrence of UCT is one tenth of that in the UK. The rate of abortion attributed to umbilical torsion varies from 2.4% to 6.0% in studies conducted in the United States, while it reaches 35.7% in the United Kingdom. 


Umbilical cords from torsion cases tend to be longer than 85 cm on average. The reasons why certain pregnancies are more prone to develop long or excessively twisted umbilical cords, as well as the dramatic geographic variation in occurrence, are not well understood. 


Researchers at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) are leading a collaboration with colleagues at Cornell University, Rossdales Laboratories and Hagyard Equine Medical Institute to explore the reason why the umbilical cord twists excessively mid-pregnancy. The research, funded by the Alborada Trust, continues the first ever comprehensive study of UCT in the world. Together, the research team hope to establish new ways of detecting the twisting prior to the pregnancy being aborted.


They will also characterise subcomponents and key proteins of the umbilical cord in both normal and diseased cords to identify any potential regions of the cord that could be monitored clinically. These areas will then be examined using ultrasonography in mid-gestation to assess the diagnostic potential for mares that are at risk of UCT abortion.

The researchers hope to develop novel diagnostic tools that will enable veterinarians to predict mares at risk of suffering a UCT pregnancy loss and monitor the efficacy of novel treatments for the condition. Ultimately, the findings from this project will push forward the understanding of this cause of equine pregnancy loss, and abortion more widely.    


Jessica Roach, Research Fellow at the RVC, said: “The generous funding from The Alborada Trust will allow us to build on our understanding of umbilical cord torsion, which is such a frustrating cause of abortion to breeders and veterinarians alike. This project brings together researchers who are leading their field and I hope that this will allow us to forward our understanding of this condition. Our aim is to develop novel diagnostic tools to identify pregnancies with a torsed umbilical cord, and ultimately prevent or decrease the risk of pregnancy loss.”


For more information on the study, see :