The Future Of Equine Genetics?

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Thanks to innovations in science over the past several decades, genomic testing and profiling has become accessible to the masses. Services like 23andMe and Ancestry.com allow customers to learn about their ethnicity, pre-dispositions to disease, biologic tendencies and more, simply by submitting a saliva sample via mail or at a doctor’s office.

Stop and think for a moment how useful, and in many ways life-changing, this has become for humans. We now have the ability, if we so choose, to identify our susceptibility to devastating diseases, allowing us to take a more proactive and informed approach to our health.

Now, imagine what this could mean for horses, specifically Thoroughbreds, of both the on and off-track variety.

With horses, we can take this one step further. Not only could genetic profiling help horse owners know what disease and trait predispositions to plan and manage for in their horses, but such information could play a significant role in breeding decisions all together.

“Federal funding [for genomic research] has played a major role in the advancement of this science, as it is of great benefit to people’s health. The same is true for animals in food production, such as cows, pigs, chickens, and other animals we eat, again because it can be of significant benefit to our health as humans,” said Dr. Paul Szauter, a researcher with a focus on both human and equine genetics. “It looks bad to use federal funding for genomic testing on horses, mainly because there would be no direct benefit to our health. Therefore, funding for such animals falls to the private sector, and as a result, comparatively very little has been done. Compared to the more than 5,000 identified conditions that can be tested for in human genes, there have only been 16 identified in horses.”

That last sentence should end with, “so far,” as Szauter and his team are well on their way to changing that.
Szauter is the chief scientific officer at EquiSeq, a start-up biotechnology firm that analyzes the genetic material of horses to offer valuable genetically-based matings insight and ultimately improve breeding results. He and his team are currently looking for owners of Thoroughbred and Arabian horses to take part in a genetic testing study aimed at identifying genetic markers for a number of conditions, most notably Recurrent Exertional Rhabdomyolysis (RER), or “tying up.”

“Tying up happens most often in Thoroughbreds and Arabians and we are looking at a genetic variant that is associated with the condition,” explained Szauter, who said Thoroughbreds are of particular interest because their breeding records are so carefully documented.

“Owners who agree to take part in the study will receive a kit, which contains a detailed list of questions about the horse’s health, a tube in which to collect a small blood sample and a consent form for the owner to sign. Every DNA sample we get is useful because they either have an absolutely clean bill of health or they are in the five-to-ten percent of horses that have experienced an episode of RER or are pre-disposed to it.”

Every owner that takes part in the study will, within six to eight weeks, receive a link to a genetic profile of their horse and can choose to make the horse’s profile public.

The more horses Szauter and his team add to their study, the more markers they will be able to identify in horses.

“Within a few years we hope to have hundreds, if not thousands, of samples from Thoroughbreds, which will allow us to identify many more markers,” said Szauter, who added that as new markers for traits and health conditions are identified, the online genetic profiles of horses within the study will be updated.

“The amount of information available on each horse’s online genetic profile will grow over time and be updated retroactively. These people are going through the trouble of getting us the DNA and information, so we want to provide them something in return,” said Szauter. read more…

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Your #Horse – vaccinate against Eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE)

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“Triple E is a mosquito-borne disease that causes inflammation or swelling of the brain and spinal cord in equine and is usually fatal,” Troxler said. “The disease is preventable by vaccination.”

A viral disease, EEE affects the central nervous system and is transmitted to horses by infected mosquitoes. Clinical signs of EEE include moderate to high fever, depression, lack of appetite, cranial nerve deficits (facial paralysis, tongue weakness, difficulty swallowing), behavioral changes (aggression, self-mutilation, or drowsiness), gait abnormalities, or severe central nervous system signs, such as head-pressing, circling, blindness, and seizures. The course of EEE can be swift, with death occurring two to three days after onset of clinical signs despite intensive care. Horses that survive might have long-lasting impairments and neurologic problems.

“If your horses or other equine animals exhibit any symptoms of EEE, contact your veterinarian immediately,” Meckes said.

Meckes also recommends that owners consult their veterinarians about an effective vaccination protocol to protect horses from EEE and another mosquito-borne disease, West Nile virus. Previously vaccinated horses will need a booster shot at least annually. However, if an owner did not vaccinate their animal in previous years, the horse will need the two-shot vaccination series within a three- to six-week period. Meckes recommends a booster shot every six months for North Carolina horses.

In addition to vaccinations, horse owners also need to reduce the mosquito populations and their possible breeding areas. Recommendations include removing stagnant water sources, keeping animals inside during the bugs’ feeding times, which are typically early in the morning and evening, and using mosquito repellents. read more…

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Tips for managing cool-season pastures during the warm summer months

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Mow only as needed.

Many farms mow pastures on a regular schedule, maybe every two weeks. Rigid schedules might simplify planning and labor needs, but can cost money in wasted labor and resources and lost forage production. Healthy pastures with minimal weeds should only be mowed to maintain quality, not aesthetics. As grasses mature, they produce a seed head which, while it’s needed for plant reproduction, reduces both forage quality and palatability. Mowing pastures to remove seed heads improves forage quality and encourages plants to fill in bare areas by tillering out. Once seed heads are removed from cool-season grasses, they will not grow again during the year. Also plan to mow when pastures are more than 10 inches tall, when horses are grazing unevenly, or when undesirable weeds are producing seed heads.

Remember: Fertilizers feed weeds, too.

Fertile soil is essential for good pasture health; however, weeds also benefit from fertilizers, particularly nitrogen. This means you must plan fertilizer applications carefully. Nitrogen applied during the fall or early spring encourages cool-season grass growth. However, warm-season weeds will flourish with summer nitrogen applications and are more likely to compete with desirable grasses. Prevent competition by not applying nitrogen to pastures dominated by cool-season grasses during the summer months. Other fertilizers such as phosphorous, potassium, and lime can be applied any time, weather-permitting, based on soil test recommendations.

Know your summer annuals.

Summer welcomes a host of new plants in pastures that might be unfamiliar to some horse owners. Many farm managers recognize ragweed and spiny amaranth (pigweed), for example, as common warm-season annual weeds that frequent pastures, but some warm-season annual grasses, such as crabgrass and yellow foxtail, might be less familiar. Crabgrass can be a blessing or a curse for horse pastures. Many pastures overgrazed in the spring and fall can support horses in the summer months because of crabgrass’ high yield and excellent forage quality. However, these pastures will be bare again in the fall once frost kills the crabgrass. Foxtail, on the other hand, has very poor forage quality and the seed head can cause significant irritations in the horse’s mouth. Because both forages are grasses, few, if any, herbicides can effectively eliminate them from a pasture while leaving desirable cool-season grasses in place. Learn to identify these grasses and, if they are prevalent in pastures this summer, consider renovating pastures in fall to eliminate them. read more…

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Get Your Horse Fit For The Riding Season

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If you’re a regular rider, you’ll know the difference that a good fitness regime can have on the quality of your experience. Whilst horse riding has plenty of fitness benefits on it’s own, getting fit and healthy prior to riding means you’ll have improved posture, balance and endurance, along with a decreased risk of injury. While it’s important to get yourself fit before riding, however, it’s crucial that you make time to ensure your horse is regularly trained and ready for the riding season too. If you’ve been slacking on exercise lately and need to prepare a fitness plan for you and your horse, take a look at these great tips.

Stamina

The stamina of you and your horse is an important part of riding. You’ll want to have the capacity to ride for lengthy amounts of time without tiring out or slowing down, and luckily there are some exercises that you and your horse can do to combat this.

Your horse 

Start to get your horse ready for riding by taking them for regular walks. If your horse hasn’t been very active in a while, begin with shorter walks of half an hour, steadily increasing the length of the walk up to about 2 hours. After walking your horse for 2 or 3 weeks, take them for rides in 15 minute intervals, before increasing to an hour. Doing this training should ensure your horse is prepared for a successful and healthy riding season ahead.

Diet

Adequate nutrition and diet should be a top priority for you and your horse before riding. Find out about some of the foods you should eat when it comes to keeping both of your health and energy levels high.

Your horse

Similar to yourself, a balanced horse diet is essential to keep your four legged friend fighting fit. An inappropriate diet could lead to your horse developing a range of negative health conditions, which could include colic, laminitis and obesity – among other things.

Ad-lib forage should be the foundation of all horses’ diets. However some animals are prone to overeating and gaining weight, so Regular Body Condition Score assessments will help you to monitor weight changes and take action to adjust their diet as necessary.

If your horse gains weight a lower calorie forage may be needed but never restrict it to less than 1.5% (dry weight) of his bodyweight per day, and speak to a nutritionist about adding balanced horse feeds to ensure he gets the intake of nutrients.

Flexibility

Flexibility plays a large role in performance when riding, particularly in the pelvis and hips. Prepare yourself and your horse for riding season with some useful, targeted stretches.

Your horse

A regular stretching routine is vital for your horse to prevent the risk of pulled muscles and improve circulation. Stretching can be done as part of your horse’s pre-ride warm up, and after rides to help the cool-down process. It’s important to remember to stretch your horse in an easy, relaxed way, avoiding excessive pressure on the muscles and joints and making sure they’re kept comfortable.

read more to see how you keep your stamina up

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Sacroiliac disease can affect any #horse

overall-healthSigns of a Sacroiliac Joint Pain in Horses

So how do you know a horse has SI pain? While only a veterinarian can diagnose it, a few signs should raise red flags.

Lameness, interestingly, is not really one of them. Horses can be lame from SI disease, our sources say. But most of them are not.

Perhaps the most common sign—which is also a sign of many conditions—is reduced performance. “A lot of these horses just don’t want to go forward,” van Wessum says. “Or they’ll be uneven in or have decreased capacity for certain exercises, or they’ll be less symmetrical than before, like in pirouettes or when turning.” Read more…

 

Risk for Ulcers in Horses

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Now that the show season is at hand, owners’ are probably aware of their competitive partner’s risk for developing gastric ulcers. With two out of three performance horses affected, it’s important to ensure equine athletes are at peak health. But don’t forget about the horses that stay home. Even horses that don’t travel or compete are at risk for ulcers.

“Wherever there is stress, there can be stomach ulcers,” says Hoyt Cheramie, DVM, MS, manager of Merial Large Animal Veterinary Services. “Horses may be stressed by everyday situations that don’t seem stressful to us, like spending large amounts of time in a stall or when their friends leave the barn.”

He says some situations that can cause them include:

  • Light training;
  • Short-term travel;
  • Trailering;
  • Change in routine;
  • Change in feed schedule;
  • Limited turnout or grazing;
  • Lay-up due to sickness or injury; or
  • Social regrouping.

Cheramie notes that removing horses from social groups could be one of the major contributing factors to an increased incidence of stomach ulcers in those left at home.

“Off-site training and showing can cause a disruption in social groupings and can be anxiety-provoking for some,” he says. “Horses form strong emotional bonds with their stable-mates so when they are separated, it can be very upsetting for both horses.”

Social grouping disruptions are also more common when spring arrives, as it often heralds a busy time for everyone, es

pecially those with broodmares. Foaling season means additional stress not only on mares and foals, but also for other horses, as well, due to increased activity in the barn at irregular hours.

Know the Signs of Ulcer Presence

“Stomach ulcers are prevalent across all breeds, disciplines, and ages,” Cheramie says, adding that they can develop in as litt

le as five days. “Because it is not so much the behavior but rather the change in behavior that signals the possibility of a physical problem, horse owners need to know what is normal for their horse and what is not.”

Watch out for clinical signs of ulcers, which include:

  • Decreased appetite;
  • Weight loss or poor body condition;
  • Change in attitude for the worse;
  • Recurrent colic;
  • Dull hair coat; and
  • Less-than-optimal (poor) performance, resistance to work, or difficulty training.

Read more…

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A Hidden Threat to Your Horse’s Health – Equine Leptospirosis

equine-lWhile not as well-recognized, the effects of equine leptospirosis can be devastating. Leptospirosis, an infectious bacterial disease, can affect mammals, including wildlife, cattle, dogs, horses and even humans.

“My mare, Patty, had a spot on her eye. I had our veterinarian examine her, and he conducted a titer test,” explained Beth Parker Woodliff, a horse owner from North Carolina in October 2016. “Patty lost her sight in that eye, and then a uveitis spot appeared in her other eye. She became totally blind, and we ended up having her put down as she wasn’t adjusting well to losing her sight. It was heartbreaking.”

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The bacteria which cause leptospirosis are found in the environment across the United States. In horses, Leptospira interrogans serovar Pomona, or L. pomona, is the most common pathogen associated with disease.

Facts About Leptospires

Leptospirosis is a leading cause of equine recurrent uveitis (ERU).1 It’s estimated that up to 70 percent of all uveitis cases are associated with leptospires.
Leptospires can cause late-term abortion in mares. A study showed that 13 percent of bacterial abortions are caused by L. pomona, the most common leptospiral serovar found in horses.
Leptospires can colonize in the kidneys, and the horse can become septicemic, potentially leading to acute renal failure.

Urine from infected animals serves as the primary source of infection for equine leptospirosis. Spirochetes penetrate mucous membranes or exposed skin. Bacteria then enter the bloodstream, replicate and travel to the kidneys, eyes and reproductive tract.1 Infected or carrier horses can shed the bacteria in the urine.4,5 The Leptospira bacteria can survive for weeks in warm, moist environments.

Horses often become infected with Leptospira when exposed to:

Contaminated soil, bedding, feed and drinking water
Stagnant or slow-moving water
Maintenance hosts such as skunks, white-tailed deer, raccoons and opossums
Aborted or stillborn fetuses or vaginal discharges

read more…

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