For many years scientists have been exploring the causes of high levels of obesity in horses. For example, many scientists, such as Charles H. Thiessen, have claimed the prevalence of obesity has been increasing in horse racing, while others, such as John W. Ruppel, have argued that it can not be the fault of horses.
In 2002 the US Department of Agriculture conducted a long term study to investigate the reasons why certain horses appear to gain more weight due to stress and medical conditions. Amongst the problems identified in the study were: stress hormones, such as cortisol and leptin, obesity, immune problems, arthritis, and poor eating habits. These factors can lead, in turn, to stress fractures and osteoporosis.
Many people also question the link between stress fractures and high metabolic rates. Some researchers speculate (based on studies done in the 1930’s) that obesity on top of high cortisol secretion (high insulin and/or leptin levels) leads to more stress fractures. On the other hand, others have suggested that obesity may be the result of stress hormones, such as cortisol, and leptin in excess.
The best way to measure and understand stressors is to take a closer look at the horses. One of the more comprehensive and detailed methods to measure stress is called the Equine Stress Testing (EST). EST can easily be used to compare horse strains to find out how stress is affecting the horses health.
EST consists of two steps:
– A thorough blood work-up, which takes place over 2 or 3 hours;
– A stress assessment, which takes place within the first 3 to 5 minutes of the test and lasts for at least 30 minutes. (It can be performed several times during a day).
EST is most commonly done on horses which weigh at least 40 pounds, which will result in an elevated stress score.
In an EST, a veterinarian measures blood glucose, triglycerides, and lipids from a sample of the horse’s urine, and a number of different variables are then recorded. An example of an EST can be found in the figure below:
EST is done on a horse for at least 4 days, and usually longer depending on the veterinarian (but usually 15 to 35 days). The test must last at least 30 minutes.
EST can be either a single test or a series. Generally the procedure involves the following steps:
-A thorough blood work-up takes place
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