Researchers present findings at “Evening of Science and Celebration”
Humans and horses may not be so different, according to a new study. When humans suffer from arthritis, doctors advise exercise to reduce inflammation and bolster health. Horses, as it turns out, can also benefit from the same advice.
A new study by the Rutgers Equine Science Center suggests that increased exercise and different methods of grazing may help reduce inflammation in horses.
David Horohov, chair of the Gluck Equine Research Center at the University of Kentucky, said damage from bone micro-fractures can actually allow for body conditioning.
The Rutgers Equine Science Center hosted its 24th “Annual Evening of Science and Celebration” last night at the Cook Student Center. The ESC funds various projects that are discussed at the “Evenings of Science,” said Karyn Malinowski, director of the ESC.
“We are very proud at the Equine Science Center [for] taking the research we do in our labs and translating it into language people can understand,” she said.
Thomas Gianfagna, a professor in the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, discovered a way to create better grass for grazing, she said.
His findings could be applicable to farmers and the general public in addition to horse owners, she said.
Laura Kenny, a student in the Graduate School of New Brunswick, presented the potential benefits of rotational grazing versus continuous grazing.
Continuous grazing is when a group of horses is dropped into a large pasture and allowed to eat until they are done, she said.
“Rotational grazing is more managed,” she said. “You split up the big pasture area into smaller pasture areas and you let them graze one at a time. The pastures get a chance to rest and regrow.”
The amount of time spent grazing is the same under both systems, she said. The environmental impact should be much lower with rotational grazing.
Two years were spent preparing for the study, she said. Horses began grazing in August and applicable data is expected in another two years.
Horohov discussed how exercise and its inflammatory responses affected racehorses. While he initially searched for an indicator of injury, he found a marker for inflammation instead.
“We got into the work because we were interested in finding ways to reduce the amount of injuries that occur,” he said. “We were really looking for a marker [to indicate potential] injury.”
According to Horohov, blood samples are collected from the horses shortly before they exercise in order to compare with further blood samples collected several hours after they exercise.
Blood collected immediately post-exercise does not show any rise in inflammatory mediators, or molecules that appear around localized muscle damage, he said.
Similar to how damage from exercise occurs with humans, young and untrained horses also experience this phenomenon, he said. The inflammatory response is directly caused by that damage.
“As you then train, or as the horse trains and increases its fitness over time, what will happen is [that] there will be a reduction in the inflammation that occurs,” he said. “That’s primarily due to the strengthening of the bones and the muscles.”
Micro-fractures in bones, as well as lactic acid buildup in the muscles, can cause this damage. As the body heals itself, these bones and muscles are strengthened, he said. Every subsequent damage and healing cycle further conditions the body.
Horohov said an “anti-inflammatory state” is induced in horses in which the body produces fewer inflammatory mediators.
The reduction in the inflammatory mediators was used to gauge the efficacy of the training, he said. Considering how this work began at Rutgers, untrained horses could be observed for comparison.
Horohov said some horses were observed running on treadmills, and he used that opportunity to look at horses with no conditioning.
The research was continued at the University of Kentucky, he said. Thoroughbred 2-year-old horses were trained and studied over extended periods of time. While only 23 horses were initially in the program, there are now more than 40.
The Rutgers study was adapted and taken further by bringing the horses to an actual racetrack. The results were unexpected, he said.
“We were surprised to see that the conditioning effect and anti-inflammatory effect was as strong as it was,” he said. “The [horse] trainers were interested just from the standpoint that we could see how conditioned they were.”