Monday, September 25, 2023

Call for abstracts for the 2024 ISES conference

(c) Lifeontheside
 What constitutes a “Good Life” for a horse and why is it necessary, or indeed possible? How can we ensure every horse enjoys a fulfilling life?

These questions will be the focus of the forthcoming annual conference of the International Society for Equitation Science, scheduled to take place in New Zealand next year.


The ISES 2024 Scientific Committee eagerly awaits pertinent contributions and insights that align with the following themes:

  • Measuring the impact of Tack and Equipment
  • New directions in Training and Riding
  • What happens in the ‘Other 23 Hours’ (Outside of Competition and Training)
  • Understanding Equine Emotions
  • Safe Human-Horse Interactions
  • Setting the Horse up for Success (Early experiences, weaning, a second life)
  • Sustainable Equine Management and Practice
For more details, see:

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Does bit-chewing promote gut motility?

 Giving horses a bit to chew may provide a simple and inexpensive way of promoting gut motility in horses with ileus, according to a recent study.

Ileus is a disorder where the normal rhythmic contractions that move food and waste through the intestines are disrupted, without an identifiable physical obstruction. It is a potentially life-threatening problem for horses and may be seen especially after abdominal surgery. 


Studies in human patients with ileus, have shown that sham feeding, such as giving the patient gum to chew, may improve clinical signs and promote gastrointestinal motility. 


Bit chewing, a form of sham feeding adapted for horses, has shown positive effects by reducing gastrointestinal total transit time (TTT). However, previous research has mainly focused on the large intestine; the impact of bit chewing on the small intestine relatively unexplored.


In a prospective crossover study, Molly Patton and colleagues compared gastrointestinal motility in horses under both bit-chewing conditions and control conditions (with no bit chewing)


Reporting the work in the journal Animals, they write: “Our objective in this study was to investigate whether bit chewing could effectively reduce gastric emptying time (GET), small intestinal transit time (SITT), and total orocecal transit time (OCTT) in clinically normal horses.” 


Nine healthy horses participated in the study. The researchers evaluated gastrointestinal motility using a dual approach: employing self-contained videoendoscopy capsules known as ALICAM® and monitoring acetaminophen absorption. ALICAM® capsules, designed for single-use, captured video images stored in their onboard memory as they traversed the digestive tract. These capsules, accompanied by acetaminophen, were introduced into the stomach using a naso-gastric tube.


To carry out the study, the horses were randomly divided into two groups: one group with a bit and the other without a bit. This allocation was reversed a month later, ensuring each horse served as its own control.


Acetaminophen serum samples were used as a marker to gauge gastric emptying time (GET). Additionally, ALICAM capsules helped in determining not only GET but also small intestinal transit time (SITT) and overall orocecal transit time (OCTT).


The research findings indicate a significant reduction in orocecal transit time following bit chewing, without any observed adverse effects.


“The findings from our study not only revealed no adverse effects associated with bit chewing but also demonstrated a significant reduction in OCTT following this activity.”


They conclude: “This suggests that bit chewing could provide a safe, cost-effective, and efficient treatment to enhance small intestinal motility in horses. These results hold promising implications for improving the management and treatment of ileus in equine patients, potentially leading to better outcomes and enhanced overall well-being for these animals.”


For more details, see:


"Effects of Bit Chewing on Gastric Emptying, Small Intestinal Transit, and Orocecal Transit Times in Clinically Normal Horses" 

Molly E. Patton, Frank M. Andrews, Sophie H. Bogers, David Wong, Harold C. McKenzie, III, Stephen R. Werre, and Christopher R. Byron. 

Animals (2023) 13, no. 15: 2518.

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Herd dynamics in a multilevel society of Przewalski’s horses

Photo: Katalin Ozagány
 A team of researchers from the Hungarian Research Network (HUN-REN), the University of Debrecen
(UD), Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), and the Hortobágy National Park Directorate studied the social system of the Przewalski's horse herd in Hortobágy. The research involved a combination of drone-based movement analysis and long-term population monitoring data.

The researchers used drones to monitor the 278 Przewalski's horses, individually identifying most of them, and found that these wild horses, like humans, live in a complex, multilevel society. They used high-resolution aerial videos to understand the structure of this society and its past and future group changes.


The research is published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.


Studying the social behaviour of a large group of animals using traditional methods is time-consuming. Nevertheless, this study shows that collecting high-resolution data, even just a few minutes of animal movement footage, can yield sufficient information to understand the population's social structure and make predictions about its past and future dynamics.


"We wanted to investigate the group movements of the Przewalski’s horse herd in Hortobágy, Hungary. However, observing nearly 300 horses at the same time is not an easy task," says Katalin Ozogány, the first author of the study, member of the HUN-REN–UD Behavioural Ecology Research Group of the Hungarian Research Network and the University of Debrecen (Hungary). 


"We took aerial videos of the herd using drones while they were moving around the reserve, and based on the footage, we determined the movement routes of all the individuals of the herd with high spatio-temporal resolution."


They used two drones to record the herd’s movements.  One recorded a wide-angle view to track the movement of all individuals in the herd. A second drone scanned through the herd providing close-up views to allow identification of individual animals.


In the past, wild horses ranged across the vast expanses of the Eurasian steppes, but today, they are confined to just a few national parks. The Przewalski's horse, classified as endangered, represents the sole surviving sub-species, with a worldwide population numbering less than 3,000 individuals. 


Przewalski’s horses have been living in Hortobágy since 1997, in the Pentezug reserve. In the first years after founding the population, the harems (each consisting of a stallion and a group of breeding mares) lived in their own home ranges and rarely interacted with each other. Now, for over a decade, the harems have grouped together to form a large herd, in which harems can still be distinguished, but they move together in the reserve. 


Such a multilevel social structure, characteristic of humans, is uncommon in animals. It is mainly found in primates, but also occurs in cetaceans, elephants, and some ungulates. 


Analysis of the herd’s movements yielded surprising results. "The individuals of the group coordinate their movements and align with each other, and by detecting these fine interactions between the individuals, it turned out that we can assess the herd's social network based on the group movements," explains lead author Máté Nagy, head of the Collective Behaviour 'Lendület' Research Group of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and Eötvös Loránd University (Hungary).


The researchers combined the short-term movement observations of a few minutes with long-term population data going back two decades. allowing them to reconstruct the development of the harem groups over more than 20 years. 


Since the establishment of the reserve, the wild horses have been individually recognized by the park staff who regularly collected data on population changes. "Thanks to population monitoring, we know the parentage of the animals, which we also confirm with genetic sampling, as well as their place in the social system, that is, we regularly record which individual belongs to which harem," says co-author Viola Kerekes, project leader of the Hortobágy National Park Directorate.


The analyses showed that the social relations of wild horses are related to kinship and familiarity of the animals. For example, mares are closer to each other in the social network if they have been harem mates for a longer time. Kinship may play a significant role in the organization of harems into herds since harems of sibling stallions are closer to each other in the social network than harems of unrelated stallions. Between the closer harems, at the same time, the dispersal of mares was greater, which also contributes to the relations between harems through familiarity.


"It is an exceptional opportunity to explore the social network of an entire population and its dynamics," explains co-author Attila Fülöp, a researcher at the Babeş-Bolyai University (Romania) and the HUN-REN–UD Behavioural Ecology Research Group. It turned out that older and larger harems, which typically belong to older and more experienced stallions, occupy more central locations in the herd’s social network. A possible explanation is that harem stallions form an alliance to protect their harems more effectively against the bachelor males. Harems moved as cohesive units within the herd, while bachelor males were typically found on the outer margins of the herd.


"One of the surprising outcomes of the study is that we can infer future group dynamics by observing current movement," adds Zoltán Barta, lead author, head of the Department of Evolutionary Zoology of the University of Debrecen and the HUN-REN–UD Behavioural Ecology Research Group. The researchers showed that mares that lived in different harems at the time of the aerial observations but became harem mates within two years after the observations, were already moving in more similar routes than the other mares. So, through the movement analysis, it was also possible to conclude which mares will leave their harem in the next two years and which harem they will transfer to.


"Not only did we learn new, previously unknown details about the social life of Przewalski's horses, but we highlighted that drone observations, which can be applied even in wild populations, can provide very detailed information."


For more details, see:


Fine-scale collective movements reveal present, past and future dynamics of a multilevel society in Przewalski’s horses

Katalin Ozogány, Viola Kerekes, Attila Fülöp, Zoltán Barta & Máté Nagy 

Nature Communications (2023) vol 14, Article number: 5096 (2023)

Study into management of riding lesson horses in Canada

(c) Lajos Sidlovsky
If you are involved in providing riding lessons in Canada, researchers at the University of Guelph would like your help. 

Dr. Katrina Merkies, the project supervisor, and Caleigh Copelin, a master's student, are conducting research with the goal of investigating the prevalent management practices employed for riding lesson horses in Canada. Additionally, the study aims to shed light on the demographics of lesson facility owners and managers and the overall state of the Canadian riding lesson industry.


They invite you to take part in this study by completing a questionnaire specifically designed for riding lesson facilities. They suggest that the questionnaire is expected to require approximately 20-25 minutes of your time.

To be eligible to participate, individuals must hold the role of owner, manager, or riding coach at a riding lesson facility where one or more horses are actively involved in riding lessons, and financial compensation is received for these services. Participants should play a direct role in management decisions or have regular oversight of the care provided to these lesson horses. It is important to note that the researchers require only one response per facility.


The outcomes of this research will be communicated through various channels. Findings will be made available in lay magazines to reach a broader audience, presented at scientific conferences to engage with experts in the field, and submitted as a manuscript to a peer-reviewed scientific journal to ensure rigorous evaluation and dissemination within the academic community. 


For more details, see:

Insulin Dysregulation: not limited to overweight ponies


Body condition score alone does not reliably predict the risk of a pony developing laminitis
according to recent research. 


The study, by Edd Knowles, Post-doctoral researcher at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and Internal Medicine Specialist at Bell Equine Veterinary Clinic. with colleagues at the RVC, and Pat Harris of the Waltham Equine Studies Group, is published in the Equine Veterinary Journal.


The findings show that insulin dysregulation (ID), which is linked to an increased risk of laminitis, may occur in ponies across a wide range of body conditions, ages and levels of exercise, not just in those that are overweight. The study also showed that ID was less common in ponies that undertook more exercise, including low-intensity activities.


Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. The release of insulin is the signal for cells, largely in muscle and liver tissue to absorb glucose (sugar) from the blood. Insulin dysregulation (ID) is a term that includes a high basal or ‘resting’ insulin (in the blood), an exaggerated insulin response to consuming starch and/ or sugar and tissue insulin resistance (a failure of cells to respond to insulin). 


An association between ID and laminitis is well-established, and early detection of ID is likely to be useful in helping to prevent the disease.


In this study, the concentration of insulin was measured in the blood of ponies before and sixty minutes after they were given, orally, a sugar syrup (an oral sugar test (OST)). 


A total of 1763 OSTs were taken from 367 non-laminitic ponies over four years. The ponies were visited and tested in the Spring and Autumn unless they developed laminitis. Various physical parameters were recorded at the time of each OST including weight, height, body length, neck length, heart girth, belly girth, body condition score and cresty neck score. Owners/carers were asked to complete a questionnaire concerning the specific characteristics, diet, management, duration and intensity of exercise and health for each pony at each visit. 


The study concluded that associations between InsulinT60 and physical and owner-reported variables were limited. Season, owner-reported and physical features only explained 10%– 27% of the differences in InsulinT60 risk status in the study population.


The findings support previous work that suggested body condition scoring alone was not sufficient to determine insulin dysregulation (ID) status and emphasises the value of using an oral sugar test to screen for ID status.


Lead author Edd Knowles stated: “Our work has shown that while physical and owner-reported features can be used to identify ponies with a higher risk of ID, veterinarians should not limit testing for ID to ponies in which these risk factors are present. Doing so would miss identifying ponies at moderate to high risk of laminitis.” 


The study also indicates that relatively small increments in equine exercise routines may be beneficial. 18% of samples from ponies that were reported to do no trotting exercise were in the high-risk InsulinT60 category compared with only 9% of samples from those reported to undertake 1–2 h of trotting per week. 


This finding supports earlier research, on the benefits of low intensity exercise, conducted in collaboration with the WALTHAM® Equine Studies Group, which provides the science behind SPILLERS®,


“This work confirms that while body condition is a useful indicator, we can’t simply assume that ponies with obvious physically apparent attributes such as excess weight are the only group likely to have ID,” said Sarah Nelson, Product Manager at Mars Horsecare, home of the SPILLERS brand. 


“We must consider multiple variables when targeting ponies for ID screening, in order not to miss those potentially at increased risk of laminitis, who may have a ‘healthy’ body condition score.” 


“The association with even low-level exercise is also an important practical management message for horse owners” she added.


For more details, see:


EJ Knowles, PA Harris, J Elliott, Y-M Chang, NJ Menzies-Gow.

Factors associated with insulin responses to oral sugars in a mixed-breed cohort of ponies. Equine Vet J. 2023.

Friday, September 15, 2023

Chance to influence forthcoming NAHMS study

 Horse enthusiasts in the United States are urged to take part in a survey that can help shape the next NAHMS Equine study.

The National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) is responsible for nationwide research on animal health and management, including horses, and has conducted studies in 1998, 2005, and 2015. It has also published important reports on issues like EHV-1 and piroplasmosis.


Now, NAHMS is planning its fourth U.S. national equine industry study, tentatively scheduled for 2026. 


At this stage, your involvement will ensure that the study addresses your interests and concerns, allowing you to have a say in what you'd like to learn about the equine industry.


You can contribute by completing a quick 10-minute survey, available until October 1, 2023.

Go to: