Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) are investigating whether mile-long trotting groups might protect foals from leg fractures later in life. Leg fractures can occur in any horse, but fractures of the lower leg are of greater concern in horses that race or jump competitively. Most fractures occur in horses between the ages of 2 and 10 years.
Dr. Annette McCoy, assistant professor of equine surgery in the UIUC College of Veterinary Medicine and a member of the research team, notes that light exercise early in life stimulates bone growth in horses—particularly in fracture-prone areas—although it is not fully understood how. McCoy will see if similarities can be drawn from human medical studies, which have shown that children who exercise are less likely to be injured than teens and adults. The bony changes that humans experience from exercise appear to persist over time.
McCoy and her team will be studying 12 Standardbred foals that have been placed on the university’s farm starting at eight weeks of age. Scientists will perform a baseline CT scan to measure the bone density and volume on the front legs of each foal. The foals will then be divided into two groups: one group will complete an eight-week exercise plan where they jog over 1,500 yards once a day, five days a week; The second group will act as the control and will not be exercised. In a previous study, McCoy found that foals living abroad were relatively inactive about 85% of the time.
At 16 weeks of age, the foal’s front legs will be checked again to compare bone growth. At 12 months of age, a final CT scan will be done. The computer model will predict the effects of exercise interventions on bone properties.
Read more on Horse Canada.
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