The aim of our study was to explore the association between dominance rank and body condition in outdoor group-living domestic horses, Equus caballus. Social interactions were recorded using a video camera during a feeding test, applied to 203 horses in 42 herds. Dominance rank was assigned to 194 individuals. The outcome variable body condition score (BCS) was recorded using a 9-point scale. The variables age and height were recorded and considered as potential confounders or effect modifiers. Results were analysed using multivariable linear and logistic regression techniques, controlling for herd group as a random effect. More dominant (p = 0.001) individuals generally had a higher body condition score (p = 0.001) and this association was entirely independent of age and height. In addition, a greater proportion of dominant individuals fell into the obese category (BCS ≥ 7/9, p = 0.005). There were more displacement encounters and a greater level of interactivity in herds that had less variation in age and height, lending strength to the hypothesis that phenotypic variation may aid cohesion in group-living species. In addition there was a strong quadratic relationship between age and dominance rank (p < 0.001), where middle-aged individuals were most likely to be dominant. These results are the first to link behavioural predictors to body condition and obesity status in horses and should prompt the future consideration of behavioural and social factors when evaluating clinical disease risk in group-living animals.
Equine internal parasites, mostly cyathostomins, affect both horse welfare and performance. The appearance of anthelmintic-resistant parasites creates a pressing need for optimizing drenching schemes. This optimization may be achieved by identifying genetic markers associated with host susceptibility to infection and then to drench carriers of these markers. The aim of our study was to characterize the genetics of horse resistance to strongyle infection by estimating heritability of this trait in an Arabian pure blood population. A population of 789 Arabian pure blood horses from the Michałów stud farm, Poland were measured for strongyle egg excretion twice a year, over 8 years. Low repeatability values were found for faecal egg counts. Our analyses showed that less than 10% of the observed variation for strongyle faecal egg counts in this population had a genetic origin. However, additional analyses highlighted an age-dependent increase in heritability which was 0.04 (± 0.02) in young horses (up to 3 years of age) but 0.21 (± 0.04) in older ones. These results suggest that a significant part of the inter-individual variation has a genetic origin. This paves the way to a genomic dissection of horse-nematode interactions which might provide predictive markers of susceptibility, allowing individualised drenching schemes.
‘The invisible horse’ was the central topic discussed at a conference organised by the equine charity World Horse Welfare in London last month. Gill Harris reports.
Intense selective pressures applied over short evolutionary time have resulted in homogeneity within, but substantial variation among, horse breeds. Utilizing this population structure, 744 individuals from 33 breeds, and a 54,000 SNP genotyping array, breed-specific targets of selection were identified using an F(ST)-based statistic calculated in 500-kb windows across the genome. A 5.5-Mb region of ECA18, in which the myostatin (MSTN) gene was centered, contained the highest signature of selection in both the Paint and Quarter Horse. Gene sequencing and histological analysis of gluteal muscle biopsies showed a promoter variant and intronic SNP of MSTN were each significantly associated with higher Type 2B and lower Type 1 muscle fiber proportions in the Quarter Horse, demonstrating a functional consequence of selection at this locus. Signatures of selection on ECA23 in all gaited breeds in the sample led to the identification of a shared, 186-kb haplotype including two doublesex related mab transcription factor genes (DMRT2 and 3). The recent identification of a DMRT3 mutation within this haplotype, which appears necessary for the ability to perform alternative gaits, provides further evidence for selection at this locus. Finally, putative loci for the determination of size were identified in the draft breeds and the Miniature horse on ECA11, as well as when signatures of selection surrounding candidate genes at other loci were examined. This work provides further evidence of the importance of MSTN in racing breeds, provides strong evidence for selection upon gait and size, and illustrates the potential for population-based techniques to find genomic regions driving important phenotypes in the modern horse.
Equine transportation is associated with a variety of serious health disorders causing economic losses. However; statistics on horse transport are limited and epidemiological data on transport related diseases are available only for horses transported to abattoirs for slaughter. This study analysed reports of transport related health problems identified by drivers and horse owners for 180 journeys of an Australian horse transport company transporting horses between Perth and Sydney (~4000 km) in 2013-2015. Records showed that 97.2% (1604/1650) of the horses arrived at their destination with no clinical signs of disease or injury. Based on the veterinary reports of the affected horses; the most common issues were respiratory problems (27%); gastrointestinal problems (27%); pyrexia (19%); traumatic injuries (15%); and death (12%). Journey duration and season had a significant effect on the distribution of transport related issues ( p < 0.05); with a marked increase of the proportion of the most severe problems ( i.e. , gastrointestinal; respiratory problems and death) in spring and after 20 h in transit. Although not statistically significant; elevated disease rate predictions were seen for stallions/colts; horses aged over 10 years; and Thoroughbreds. Overall; the data demonstrate that long haul transportation is a risk for horse health and welfare and requires appropriate management to minimize transport stress.
An 18-year-old American Miniature Horse mare was presented with a complaint of a scleral swelling affecting the right eye and a history of suspected trauma 6 weeks prior to evaluation. Clinical findings included severe blepharospasm, a bulbous swelling of the dorsotemporal bulbar conjunctiva, and phthisis bulbi. Ocular ultrasound was recommended but declined. Enucleation was elected for the blind, painful eye and was performed standing. Gross and histopathologic examinations of the globe were consistent with extrusion of the lens to the episcleral space, which is classified as a traumatic phacocele when associated with naturally occurring trauma. The location of lens entrapment suggested globe rupture occurred at the limbus, which is described as one of the weakest points of the equine globe. Subconjunctival dislocation of the lens and development of a traumatic phacocele should be considered as a differential diagnosis for horses presenting with subconjunctival masses, apparent aphakia, and historical trauma.
To describe the association of clinical and ultrasonographic (US) findings in horses affected by visual impairments, to estimate the most frequent ultrasonographic alteration as well importance and limits of US as a part of ophthalmic evaluation in equine patients.
Ponies and sometimes draft horses are often used as experimental models for horses although size and metabolic parameters are known to vary between horse breeds. So far, there is little information about differences of placental structure and no information about differences of placental function between breeds. The aim of this study was to investigate differences in placental size, structure and function at birth in relation to foal size and weight in ponies, Saddlebred and draft horses. Pony, Saddlebred and draft horse pregnancies were obtained by artificial insemination over 2 successive breeding seasons. Foals and total fetal membranes (TFM) were weighed and placentas measured for surface area at term. Placentas were sampled above the umbilical cord insertion. Surface density and volume fraction of the different cellular components of the placenta were measured on histological sections using stereology. The expression of genes involved in growth and development, nutrient transfer and vascularization was compared between groups. Foals and TFM were lighter at birth in ponies than Saddlebred horses, and both were lighter compared to draft horses. The surface density and volume fraction of microcotyledonary vessels was increased in pony compared to Saddlebred placentas. The relative expression of genes involved in growth and development was different between breeds and increased with maternal, fetal and placental weight. Primiparous dams produced lighter foals and smaller placentas, associated with a decreased volume fraction of microcotyledonary vessels and genes involved in growth and development and vascularization. Foal sex had little effect on placental structure and function as the expression of only one gene differed according to sex, with EGFR expression being decreased in placentas of females compared to males. In conclusion, foal and placental weight, as well as placental expression of genes involved in growth and development were correlated with maternal size. Placental structure also differed between breeds, with a stronger difference between ponies and both breeds of horses.
The mortality rate of horses undergoing general anaesthesia is high when compared to humans or small animal patients. One of the most critical periods during equine anaesthesia is recovery, as the horse attempts to regain a standing position. This study was performed in a private equine practice in Belgium that uses a purpose-designed one-man (head and tail) rope recovery system to assist the horse during the standing process.The main purpose of the retrospective study was to report and analyse complications and the mortality rate in horses during recovery from anaesthesia using the described recovery system. Information retrieved from the medical records included patient signalment, anaesthetic protocol, duration of anaesthesia, ASA grade, type of surgery, recovery time and complications during recovery. Sedation was administered to all horses prior to recovery with the rope system. Complications were divided into major complications in which the horse was euthanized and minor complications where the horse survived. Major complications were further subdivided into those where the rope system did not contribute to the recovery complication (Group 1) and those where it was not possible to determine if the rope system was of any benefit (Group 2).
The Hungarian draft is a horse breed with a recent mixed ancestry created in the 1920s by crossing local mares with draught horses imported from France and Belgium. The interest in its conservation and characterization has increased over the last few years. The aim of this work is to contribute to the characterization of the endangered Hungarian heavy draft horse populations in order to obtain useful information to implement conservation strategies for these genetic stocks.