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Equine Science

The Equine Department at Askham Bryan College undertakes standalone research in the Equine Industry and is also part of the Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence (AESE) initiative.

Welfare, ethics and behaviour are pivotal within the core values of research undertaken in the equine department at Askham Bryan College. The research undertaken aims to promote improvements in the welfare of domesticated horses. Performance is linked to behavioural processes and has numerous welfare and ethical implications. Our research in equine and rider performance aims to consolidate and build upon the fundamental principles of ethical equitation.

Advancing Equine Scientific Excellence (AESE) is an established initiative operating as a Committee of the British Equestrian Federation (BEF) which was formed as a collaboration between BEF and the British Society of Animal Science (BSAS).

AESE is revolutionising the way in which the horse industry integrates with academic establishments. Our undergraduate degree students and Research staff are involved in research projects which will help to inform the horse industry.


Project Staff:

Dr Tim Whitaker, Campus Principal
Loni Loftus, Head of Equine Research
Dr Anna Riach, Lecturer in Animal Management and Equine

Emma Jones – AESE Research coordinator
Fiona Harrison – Research Staff

 

Current Staff Research


Monty Roberts’ Public Demonstrations: Preliminary Report on the Heart Rate and Heart Rate Variability of Horses Undergoing Training during Live Audience Events
Loni Loftus


Monty Roberts is a famous horse trainer, commonly referred to as a ‘horse whisperer’, who shares his training methods all over the world, including through large public audience events. These events have the potential to compromise the horse’s welfare. The aims of the project are:


• Measure HR and HRV of horses being trained at ‘live-audience’ events across the UK
• Measure behavioural indicators of stress in these horses
• Identify stress/no stress in these horses
• Compare data to that of other studies using other training techniques

The demonstrations were conducted at various UK land based colleges. Ten horses were used in final analysis. Polar RS800CX was used to measure heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV). Minimum (min), average (ave) and maximum (max) RR intervals (ms), standard deviation of the RR interval (SDRR), root mean square of successive RR differences (RMSSD) and the geometric means standard deviation 1 (SD1) and 2 (SD2) were calculated and timed to pair with training steps. In the frequency domain the program computed LF (0.04–0.15 Hz), HF (0.15–0.40 Hz) and LF/HF ratio, consistent with a range of papers studying frequency domain in horses. Generalized linear mixed models (GLMM) were used to determine the difference between stable and overall training and between Join-Up® and specific training. Horses were included as random effects, HR and HRV values as response variables and the variables of interest for comparison (e.g. location of the horse, training type, sex) as the explanatory variables.


R-R intervals during training were significantly lower (P=0.001) than studies in horses at rest but higher than horses anticipating competition highlighting a low HRV indicative of coping less or higher stress. Based on variables assessed PNS dominance was reduced during training compared to in the stable. Frequency-domain analysis was performed to better understand the sympathetic-parasympathetic balance. The LF/HF ratio was significantly higher in the stable compared to overall training, with no significant differences observed in the LF/HF ratio between Join-up® and specific training. The LF/HF ratio can, therefore, be used to indicate both sympathetic tone and cardiac sympathetic-parasympathetic balance.


Horses were under greater stress in training with an audience but less stress (arousal?) than when anticipating competition. There was no significant difference between join up and the rest of training. Further opportunistic studies encompassing different horsemanship styles and competitive disciplines would enable the generation of data which could complement that obtained during controlled scientific study.


Thoroughbred Racehorse Stereotypy, Progeny and Performance
Loni Loftus


There are currently over 14,000 Thoroughbred racehorses in training in the United Kingdom. These elite equines undergo intensive training and management schedules in order to produce optimum performance for owner, trainer, jockey and associates. The aims of the project are:


• To determine the prevalence of stereotypic behaviour performance in a cohort of TB racehorses over a 10 year period
• To elucidate (through official rating via Timeform) if horses performing stereotypic behaviours were rated higher or lower than their non-stereotypic counterparts and which stereotypic behaviours were linked to higher and lower performing horses.

This retrospective cohort study analysed computer records for all racehorses (n=1587) trained by a specific racehorse trainer over a ten year period. Data was recorded continually onto a management system (HOMS – Horse Owner Management System) and included veterinary records, race data, age, breed, sex and reproductive status data as well as training and management schedules. Records were also made of any observed incidences of stereotypic behaviour. Quantitative data was inputted from source and qualitative data was inputted then coded to allow for later analysis.


97 individual stereotypical behaviours recorded, with an overall prevalence of 6.1%. One horse performed three stereotypic behaviours (weaving, crib biting and wind sucking) whilst the remainder (n=70) performed one (n=46) or two (n=24) stereotypic behaviours. A significant difference (P=0.005) in ratings of non-stereotyping horses, wind suckers, box walkers, crib biters and weavers was identified using a one way ANOVA.


Incidence of SB is slightly lower than the 7-15% reported by some authors however this could be due to reporter/recording error. Weavers group (Locomotor) were the highest rated which supported the hypothesis however in contrast box walkers were rated much lower. Crib-biters (oral) reported an unexpectedly high rating however this could be due to the significant proportion of SB horses performing crib biting behaviours with some horses from highly rated bloodlines.  Wind suckers were below average rating as hypothesised.  Within the non-SB group there were a large proportion of non-rated horses (horses who have run less than 3 times) which may have affected the overall average rating for this group. Some sires were also identified as producing high numbers of SB progeny with particular combinations of predilections. Further work to address the potential link between sire and stereotypy development in relation to co-dependant variables such as maternal bloodline and management systems would be of value.

 

Introduction to Bayesian Networks
Loni Loftus


Bayesian nets (BN) are a network-based framework for representing and analysing models involving uncertainty. They are different from other knowledge-based systems tools because uncertainty is handled in mathematically rigorous yet efficient and simple way. They are also different from other probabilistic analysis tools because of network representation of problems, use of Bayesian statistics, and the synergy between these. Bayesian Nets are computed using R Studio software – most sensitive and complex.


Bayesian Networks consist of parent, spouse and child nodes connected by arcs. They represent the probable dependence and independence between variables. They are used following systematic review (often Cochrane protocol) and meta-analysis of data from prior research.


Bayesian Networks are useful to analyse “Fuzzy” data, mixed data and data sets with missing data and allow for the learning of causal relationships, prediction, diagnosis, sensitivity analysis and promote repeatable and transparent decision making.
In the current study they are being used to produce predictive models of stimuli which induce positive affect in horses and the sensitivity of both physiological and behavioural methods of measuring positive affect.

 

Staff Research

Project Title:
Efficacy of a natural eggshell membrane supplement on joint mobility and pain in a cohort of UK riding horses
 
Start Date:
January 2016
 
Project Lead Staff:
Loni Loftus
 
Project Partners:
Spanish supplement manufacturer and UK based animal feed manufacturer
 
Other Project Staff:
None
 
Project Aims and Overview:

This study encompasses a pilot study, currently ongoing, to identify palatability and dosage regimen of this nutritional supplement. Following this a full double blinded randomised controlled trial will be conducted (due to begin Autumn 2016) to measure the efficacy of the supplement.

It is hoped that the results of this study will identify whether this supplement may be a beneficial additive to equine feed preparations to aid joint health.
 

 

Project Title:
Wearable technology in equine sports
 
Start Date:
June 2016
 
Project Lead Staff:
Loni Loftus
 
Project Partners:
Science City York
 
Other Project Staff:
None
 
Project Aims and Overview:

This project is being undertaken to develop a new piece of wearable technology initially for the horseracing industry but also applicable to the equine sports industry as a whole.
The technology will primarily be aimed at advancing welfare and performance in the equine sports industry and engages with technological partners and the horse racing and equine sports industry to prototype an innovative and effective piece of equipment.

 

Project Title:
Ethological study of ridden, handling and stable related behaviour of horses in set management systems
 
Start Date:
April 2016
 
Project Lead Staff:
Loni Loftus
 
Project Partners:
Other Project Staff:
None
 
Project Aims and Overview:

This study aims to collate and analyse data relating to the behavioural repertoires of horses in a set management system to identify the relative time budgets of these horses compared with natural time budgets and identify behaviours unique to these domesticated time budgets.

It is hoped that the results will indicate where allocated time budgets are appropriate for domesticated equines and where measures could be put in place to enhance and modulate these time budgets to improve the welfare and behaviour of domesticated horses in set management regimes.
 


 

Askham Bryan College,
Askham Bryan,
York,
YO23 3FR
01904 772277
enquiries@askham-bryan.ac.uk