2017 in Horse Science
 By Saferaphus   •   16th Dec 2017   •   156 views   •   0 comments
Scientific research helps us look after our horses better, become better riders, and unveils some of the secrets about the history of the modern horse. Much of the research is most relevant to other researchers and veterinarians. But some of it is interesting for those of us who want to look after our horses the best we can. Here’s what we have learned in 2017.

Human research into the effectiveness of aromatherapy has shown that it can reduce pain, alleviate depression and anxiety, and improve sleep.1 A limited study of eight horses suggests there may be similar benefits for horses.2 Each horse was taken for two fifteen minute trailer trips. During one trip, the horses were exposed to lavender essential oil. On the other trip, distilled water was exposed to the horses in the same way. The researcher felt that there was a marked reduction in stress on the horses when they were exposed to the lavender oil.

A study of eight horses is by no means conclusive. And the abstract does not mention if the horses were exposed to the lavender oil on the first or second trailer ride. If they were exposed to lavender oil on the second trip, the reduction of stress could be because the horses were already familiar with the trailer and route. A lot more research has to be done, and if you want to try this at home, it’s wise not to randomly sprinkle essential oils around or on your horse, as their olfactory sense is much more sensitive than ours, and some oils can cause irritation.

Therapeutic Riding Does Not Stress Horses Unduly
Therapeutic riding for PSTD sufferers gets some criticism as some people feel that the stress of the riders may transfer to the horse. But, recent studies prove that it does not. Using blood samples to assess the presence of stress hormones researchers found there was only a small difference between the horses tacked up and ridden by experienced and new rides with PSTD.3 In fact, the horses were found to be slightly more stressed with experienced riders, possibly because more was being asked of them. This is good news both for those with PSTD who benefit in many ways from the experience and for the horses, many of which are older schoolmasters that might not otherwise have a job.

Horses Have Facial Expressions
This could almost go under the ‘well, duh...’ category, but for a lot of people, the fact that horses have distinct facial expressions is somewhat of a surprise. Those of us who have spent time with horses know what an eager or hard eye means, or the pulling up of the nostrils that our horses do to show their disgust. The research resulted in charts and photos that define the specifics of which facial muscles are responsible for each expression.4 It is up to the observer to interpret exactly what the horse is expressing, but it’s a step in the right direction to recognize that it happens at all.

Insights Into Domestication and Evolution
There has been a lot of research done on the evolution and domestication of the modern horse. Genetic research information released last summer reveal that all domestic horses came from two middle-eastern lineages “Arabian horses from the Arabian Peninsula and the now-extinct Turkoman horses from the Eurasian Steppe”.5

Research into bone density has given us some idea of why horses have only one toe.6 As the animal evolved with a larger, and larger body mass, the bones of the foot adapted in response to the stress of the weight. The other toes receded because they weren’t doing anything.

Genetic research has shown that domestication has changed the genetic makeup of modern horses.7 Ancient people selectively bred horses suited to their needs, beyond providing meat. The genes that have been manipulated control characteristics like gait, size and behavior. The genetic material was sampled from horse fossils “2,300-2,700 years old” and one sample taken from a horse preserved in permafrost over 4000 years ago.

Therapies That Could Aid Unsoundness
There are many studies ongoing and completed that examine the internal workings of a horse from biomechanics to levels of different chemicals in the blood. These are mainly of use to veterinarians dealing with problems like mineral imbalances, tying up and digestive issues. Researchers have found “Injecting DNA into injured horse tendons and ligaments can cure lameness”.8 This gene therapy results in much faster healing times, and potentially, less chance of reinjury. Not only is this good news for horses, but it could also mean that similar therapies could be used on humans.

Laminitis, a painful inflammation in a horse’s hooves, may be treated with blood plasma.9 The platelet-rich plasma contains anti-inflammatories, growth factors and other substances that could aid in the treatment of a laminitic hoof. These substances speed the healing. The blood is harvested from the horse, and the Platelet Rich Plasma is concentrated by spinning it at high speed. The PRP is then injected back into the horse at the treatment site. This process is also beneficial in the treatment of tendon, ligament and joint injuries.

Horses Help Kids
And no surprise here, but horses are good for kids. A study done in Japan suggests that there are many benefits to horseback riding, and one of them is the improvement in learning abilities.10 Riding a horse helps a child learn self-control and how to determine appropriate actions. Children studied were found to have an improved ability to solve arithmetic problems. The study looked at 106 children aged 10 to 12 years old. The study suggests that different horses, depending on their gait, may actually influence the young riders to a greater or lesser degree.

1 Mayo Clinic - Aromatherapy
2 Science Daily - Aromatherapy
3 Science Daily - Therapeutic Riding Stress
4 PLOS Journals - Equine Facial Action Coding System
5 Science Magazine - Ancient Horse Lineages
6 Science Magazine - Why Modern Horses Have Only One Toe
7 Forbes - How Domestication Altered The Horse Genome
8 Science Daily - Positive Long-term Colic Surgery
9 Journal EVS - Clinical Treatment for Horses With Laminitis
10 Frontiers In Public Health - Horseback Riding Improves...
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