As powerful as a horse may be, it is interesting to note that we still have not cracked the potential of the equine athlete in any of its sporting disciplines. Similar to human athletes, horses are also affected by the pressures of a sporting event. In a review published today in BMC Veterinary Research, Dr Sebastian McBride from the Royal Agricultural College and Prof Danny Mills from the University of Lincoln discuss the influencing factors that affect the psychology of the performance horse. This review addresses in detail how such psychological parameters need to be considered when determining the optimal training strategy for the horse, including behavioral modification techniques, which can be applied to improve performance at competition level. Creating the perfect equine athlete is in itself a fine art; however, both authors note that there is still further research to be done to fully realize the athletic capabilities of these creatures.
In addition to psychological factors, physiological irregularities can also be hugely debilitating, not only to the performance of a horse, but can also cause severe pain and long term damage. Laminitis is known throughout the equestrian world as one such debilitating disease. It is thought that there are several causes to laminitis; one being an increase in gut acidity due to ingestion of food substances that have accumulated excess non-structural carbohydrates. The increase in gut acidity can kill beneficial bacteria, and the resulting endotoxins and exotoxins may be absorbed into the bloodstream causing body-wide inflammation, particularly in the lamina of the hoof. Inflammation of tissue within the hoof has no place to expand without injury to other structures, and in severe laminitic cases, rotation of the underlying pedal bone away from the hoof wall may occur.
In another manuscript published today in BMC Veterinary Research, Dr Samantha Steelman and Prof Bhanu Chowdhary from the College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University, identify several differences in plasma proteome between horses with and without chronic laminitis. Interestingly, they noted that the anti-inflammatory intestinal protein apolipoprotein A-IV (APAO-IV) was increased in horses with chronic laminitis. Such findings suggest that localized dermal inflammation may be linked to systematic changes in immune regulation, which are not confined to the hoof. These findings go towards reaching a better understanding of the physiological processes of laminitis, and ultimately reducing inflammation and associated pain in horses suffering this disease.
Read more about this research, including an interview with our Press team, here.