New studies seek horse health and welfare advances

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A simple blood test to help predict the injury risk of racehorses is among the study projects made possible by the inaugural Racing WA Research Fund grants.

Racing WA Head of Animal Welfare Dr Anna Smet announced two projects had secured funding: A study into WA racehorse health and research on injury prevention.

“We are delighted to support good research to ensure the racing community can make decisions for horses and racing which are based on cutting-edge science,” Dr Smet said.

“These are important projects covering injury prevention and nutrition for racehorses.”

The largest sum of around $120,000 over two years was allocated to research into predicting the risk of bone and joint injury in thoroughbred racehorses.

Researchers are looking for higher concentrations of a biomarker in the blood samples of racehorses with abnormal bone scans, such as hairline fractures, compared to horses with normal bone scans.

“Predicting and preventing injuries is the Holy Grail for sport,” Dr Smet said.

“It could transform racing and equestrian competition if the researchers find a link between the results of bone scans and a biomarker in blood samples which can then be developed into a management tool.

“It opens the exciting possibility of vets being able to reliably identify horses most at risk of catastrophic fracture based on blood test results and provide vital advice on training programs and rest periods.”

Lead Researcher Dr Dominique Blache, left, Racing WA Head of Animal Welfare Dr Anna Smet, second left, and Chief Racing Officer David Hunter, right, at TeleMedVET

The lead researcher is University of Western Australia associate professor Dr Dominique Blache, who will be working with TeleMedVET Health Services, Murdoch University and Charles Sturt University.

Early and minimally invasive detection of bone issues promises to enable preventive care and improved racehorse welfare.

The research also offers the potential for training improvements based on scientific understanding of how bone damage may develop over a horse’s racing career.

In a separate research project, Ascot Equine Vet Director Dr Annemarie Cullimore has teamed up with Murdoch University and the University of Western Australia to investigate vitamin and mineral levels in racehorses with the help of a $10,000 grant.

Dr Smet said analysis of selenium and vitamin E deficiencies would better inform the use of supplements to boost horse welfare and performance.

“Racehorses may be at risk of deficiencies of such essential nutrients because of unique factors that may be more pronounced in WA,” she said.

“Getting the levels right is not only essential for horses to reach peak performance but, more importantly, stay in good health.”

Funding for a third research project focused on rehoming and post-racing careers is to be confirmed.

Susan de Ruyter