What Do Horse Owners Care About Most?

Morris Animal Foundation funds research into the topics that are of most concern to horse owners. Here's a look at the studies they are currently supporting.
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Morris Animal Foundation has been funding equine research for more than five decades. 

Morris Animal Foundation has been funding equine research for more than five decades. 

What do horse owners care about when it comes to the health and welfare of their equine companions and competitors? The list is long and might differ from owner to owner. However, a sampling could include behavior, colic, metabolic syndrome, insect bite allergies, PPID (Cushing’s disease), lameness, OCD in joints and the microbiome of the gut. Or an owner might be concerned about cancer, heart issues, better use and understanding of stem cell treatments, equine obesity, equine asthma, deadly viruses and/or pain management.

What is interesting about the above list is that all of these topics have been supported through research grants by Morris Animal Foundation. As part of its mission, the funds research to improve the lives of horses and those who care for them.

Current Research

Morris Animal Foundation has been funding equine research since 1950. The nonprofit has invested more than $20 million into more than 500 equine studies at 70+ research institutions around the world.

The following are topics currently being addressed to help veterinarians and horse owners better care for horses, donkeys and mules:

Understanding How Diet Composition Influences Insulin Response in Horses with Equine Metabolic Syndrome, University of Kentucky. Researchers are studying how diet composition affects insulin levels in horses with equine metabolic syndrome as a step toward improving dietary recommendations to control this condition.

Studying Hormonal Disorder and Novel Treatment Strategy, University of Georgia. Researchers are investigating how the immune system impacts the development of the pituitary pars intermedia dysfunction and determine if antioxidant treatments might slow or prevent this hormonal disorder in horses and ponies.

Looking for Genetic Risk Factors for Osteochondrosis, University of Illinois. Researchers are looking for genetic variants associated with the orthopedic disease osteochondrosis as a first step to developing a risk assessment model for horses.

Improving Immunotherapy for Insect Bite Allergies, University of Bern, Switzerland. Researchers are working to improve immunotherapy (allergy shots) as a treatment and preventive for insect-bite hypersensitivity in horses.

Studying Hormonal Disorder and Novel Treatment Strategy, University of Illinois. Researchers are looking for genetic variants associated with the orthopedic disease osteochondrosis as a first step to developing a risk assessment model for horses.

Developing Health and Well-being Guidelines for Air-Transported Horses, University of Bologna, Italy. Researchers are investigating how horses are managed when transported by air to optimize their welfare; identifying factors that increase or decrease the risk of health and behavioral problems.

Understanding Changes in Gut Microbiome and Health, University of Calgary, Canada. Researchers are studying gut microbiome variation as it relates to the health and wellness of a well-studied group of feral horses living on Sable Island, Canada.

Evaluating a Novel Treatment for Eye Cancer, Colorado State University. Researchers are investigating the efficacy of a novel treatment for ocular surface squamous neoplasia, a type of eye cancer in horses.

Working Toward a Genetic Test for Heart Arrhythmias, University of Minnesota. Researchers are investigating if genetic variants can help identify horses at high risk of developing potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmias.

Improving the Quality and Efficacy of Stem Cell Therapies, Cornell University. Researchers are studying variations in widely used stem cell types to help improve regenerative therapies for horses.

Studying the Effect of Obesity on Reproductive Health, Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia, Chile. Researchers are determining if being overweight or obese decreases fertility in stallions.

Creating Drug Discovery Tools for Deadly Equine Viruses, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, South Africa. Researchers are establishing a drug discovery process to treat deadly equine viruses, including African horse sickness.

Providing Safer Anesthesia for Endangered Horses, Toronto Zoo, Canada. Researchers are investigating the development of a safer anesthetic technique for endangered Przewalski’s horses, the last surviving species of wild horse.

Improving Pain Management for Donkeys, Ross University, St. Kitts. Researchers are establishing appropriate administration and dosing of morphine to improve pain relief and management for donkeys.

Equid Behavior

Research on horse behavior is something you didn’t hear much about in the past. However, in recent years the equine ethogram and other behavior studies are showing how observing and measuring behavior can assist veterinarians and horse owners with pain management, lameness and other issues.

Currrent research funded by Morris Animal Foundation in the areas of equine behavior includes:

“Validating a Pain Assessment Tool for Osteoarthritis (OA).” In this study at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, researchers are validating an owner questionnaire designed to help owners recognize and monitor the signs of chronic osteoarthritis pain in horses to improve care for horses suffering from the condition. If validated, this tool could help owners (and their veterinarians) monitor treatment effectiveness and pain progression over time.

As an aging trail riding community seeks a more reliable and comfortable equid companion, more owners are turning to mules. But there is little information in detecting pain in mules, especially following common surgical procedures such as castration. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, will use a Smart HalterÔ to monitor heart rate, respiration and other signs in combination with facial expressions (a grimace scale) to help improve pain management and veterinary care.

Take-Home Message

Horse owners are hungry to know what is “new” and what is being developed that might be able to help their horses. Talk to your veterinarian to see what she/he might know about a topic and where it is being researched, and follow study findings from respectable universities, institutes and foundations.

Sometimes it is a comfort to horse owners just to know that a problem is being researched and progress is being made toward helping our horses live longer, happier, healthier lives.

To learn more about Morris Animal Foundation or to become involved in funding equine research, visit https://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org.

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