Katherine Cooper, a member of the USEA Board of Governors, and Chair of the USEA Equine Medical Research Committee talks about the USEA grant funding and the projects that were funded through the Morris Animal Foundation. Dr. Carey Williams, Equine Extension Specialist at Rutgers, the State University explains the findings from research on equine nutrition in the event horse that was carried out over two years.
Chris: This is the United States Eventing Association's official podcast. Hello and welcome to the program. I'm Chris Stafford. On this week's episode, we hear from Dr. Carey Williams, an equine extension specialist at Rutgers State University, where she has recently completed some research on equine nutrition among eventers, but we begin by hearing about the work of the USEA Equine Medical Research Committee. Katherine Cooper, who is the chair of the USEA Equine Medical Research Committee ... She's also a member of the USEA's Board of Governors ... is joining us now to talk about the various projects and also to give us an overview of the work of the Committee. Katherine, welcome to the program.
Katherine: Yep, thank you for having me on.
Chris: Well, let's explain what the Committee does, first of all, Katherine.
Katherine: Well, about two years ago, we started the Equine Medical Research Committee, and the Board of Governors approved a new one dollar per starter fee that would be dedicated to equine medical research, so the Committee is in charge of evaluating different programs and determining where that money will go each year. This year, which is our first year of having a full allotment ... and that's from the 2014 competition season ... We are in charge of recommending to the Board of Governors an allocation of approximately $40,000.
Chris: All right. Well, let's talk about the projects then, that are are going on right now.
Katherine: Okay, one of the things that was really important to the Board when we decided to go forward with this initiative, was to make sure that the money we were spending was spent properly, and because it's really time involved and also requires some expertise to select grants and to monitor them, we decided to partner with Morris Animal Fund, to have them help us with the studies that we fund. They've been established for decades and have groups of veterinarians who follow the research trends for various animals. They have an intensive review process to select grants each year, and they also have a really robust process for following up and making sure that the money is spent correctly.
We have partnered with them, and in the first year of the program, we donated approximately $20,000 and we funded four different grants. One was from a Swiss research university, one at the Veterinary College of London, one at the University of Kentucky and one at the University of Michigan, so those were the initial grants and they covered ... We decided to do two grants that dealt with true sport horse issues. They were more osteo focused; cartilage regeneration, and then two that were general welfare, so one dealt with creating a test that could be used by veterinarians in the field to monitor blood sugar levels and I'm drawing a blank on the other one right now, but I'll probably remember in just a minute.
Chris: Tell us what the process is then, to apply for a grant and who on the Committee; who works with you on the Committee and how do you share this work?
Katherine: Anyone who wants to apply for a grant should apply through Morris Animal Foundation, and then Morris will choose. In general, they do approximately a million dollars a year of equine funding. Then what happens is they send us their list of approved grants and we select from that list which ones we plan to fund, so we don't do any direct grant review or selection ourselves; we do it all through our partnership with Morris.
Chris: Okay. Tell us a little bit about who else is on the Committee with you then.
Katherine: The Committee members include Kevin Baumgardner, the former USEA President and the current Chair of the Endowment Trust; Mike Van Noy, who actually was the person responsible for this idea, and he is with Auburn Labs, the APF product that so many people use and have success with. We also have Janet Horton, who's on the Board of Governors; also Kyra Stuart, another former President of the USEA and former Chair of the Endowment Trust.
Chris: Not to put you on the spot, but we can find the full list on the website, I'm sure, but it speaks to the diversity of this group, though, doesn't it, Katherine, and the expertise that they bring to it.
Katherine: Yes, and also, we have James Atkinson, course designer and rider, who is Canadian, but resides in California and new this year on the Committee is an FDI veterinarian from actually here in the [inaudible 05:25] area.
Chris: What else does this Committee do then, apart from this grant process in partnership with the Morris Animal Foundation, and what kind of things would you like to do with it, going forward?
Katherine: Well, the other thing that is possible to use the money for is if we do have projects in the future, such as the equine cardiovascular study that's been running for several years; we could potentially use this money to fund something like that, that the USEA is doing itself. Each year, we take a look at the amount of money we have and then we'll decide what to do with it. Right now, the last two years, we have chosen studies through our partnership with Morris, but in the future, if, for example, the cardiovascular study did need additional funding, we could certainly fund that, or other projects that might come up down the road. There is some flexibility there.
Chris: There is some flexibility there, right. All right, well, lots of opportunities then, I think, within this Committee. It must be pretty exciting work to do, when you think of the impact this is going to have on the sport and benefit the horses.
Katherine: Yes, and the thing about this: I mean, when I first started working on this issue, I really had no idea the appalling lack of funding for equine medical research. I was under the assumption that the USDA funded things, that the big drug companies were investing in equine medical research, but that's simply not true. Most of the animal drug companies do quite a bit of research for dogs and cats, but they really don't focus on horses, and that's primarily because there are so many more dogs and cats. There are about fifty million dogs and fifty-five million cats in the US, compared with about nine million horses, so we're just a small market share and the USDA doesn't fund equine research because we don't eat horses in this country, so it's really important for owners and organizations like the USEA to step up and donate money for the care for our horses because they certainly deserve it, for the work that they do for us.
Chris: A wonderful way to give back to the horses. Well, thank you very much indeed for coming on the program and explaining the work of the Committee and the grants that are available.
Katherine: Yeah, well, thank you for having me, and the final member of the Committee is Anne Baskett.
Chris: As Katherine said, you can find more information about this Committee on the website at useventing.com. Well, Dr. Carey Williams is an Equine Extension Specialist at Rutgers State University and has been instrumental in the Jersey Fresh International Rutgers Research Trial. Carey, welcome to the program.
Carey: Hi, thank you for inviting me.
Chris: Well, this is a complex topic and it was a trial that lasted over a couple of years, so give us an overview, Carey, of what the intention was when you started off.
Carey: Okay. Well, it did go over two years, or it's actually during two different years of the Jersey Fresh International in 2006 and 2007, and myself and a colleague of mine actually, Dr. Amy Burk, at the University of Maryland, we got together and we brainstormed that since I'm actually on the Jersey Fresh organizing committee, it's a great population of riders and horses to do some testing with.
My background is in supplementation to the performance horse; specifically looking at antioxidants, how oxidated stress affects the body during exercise, during competition, etc., so we wanted to take this population of horses for several reasons: One, it's a two star and a three star level; they are almost to the top of their game and the top of their performance level, and it really showed a great ... It was a great venue to see where the horses were stressed the most, and then to look at dietary interactions as well, because there's so much that diet affects with these horses and with the stress that they're under at this time.
We had the level of diet, the level of the antioxidants, and we also did some inflammation and inflammatory markers in the horses during this time as well, and we did that over the two years of the study; great participation by the riders. I was so thrilled and absolutely excited that they were more than happy to help us out. It was great, and if any of the riders that did participate in the study are listening, I can't say thank you enough. We couldn't have done it without them, obviously, but it was totally voluntary. We asked for, at the rider's briefing, we asked for volunteers who wanted to do one of two things actually. First, we had to talk to them about their horses' nutritional management: What were they feeding? How much were they feeding? When were they feeding it? A pretty detailed questionnaire.
Then from there, we actually needed three blood samples from their horses. We took the first blood sample right after they completed their first veterinary inspection and then we did another blood sample in the vet box right after cross-country, so we gave them about twenty, thirty minutes to calm down a little bit, then we grabbed another blood sample, and then we took the third blood sample right after the second jog on the last day of competition, but definitely before stadium jumping.
Chris: How many riders took part in this survey, Carey?
Carey: We had about fifty percent of the total riders on both years, so in 2006 ... Actually, both of these years, they were only running the CCI two star and three star, so just the CIC levels. We had about forty riders both years; I think there was thirty-five one year and forty-two the next, so it was right about forty riders out of the total eighty competitors, which was way more than I expected, but it was a good problem to have as well. We have a lot of horses: now what? But we made it work with my team of research students from both Rutgers and from Maryland, so it was great.
Chris: Now, what about the findings then? How did you process those and evaluate them?
Carey: Okay, so like I said, we had the three areas, and right now, all the data is published, but they're published in scientific journals. Nothing really has been published yet for the lay person, I guess, but I'm definitely trying to organize some more things so that it can be useful for the average, every day eventer, etc.
We have the dietary portion, which we had oodles and oodles of data dealing with what the horses are being fed and the levels, so we looked at different dietary supplements; what supplements were they on? We weighed the amount of hay that they were getting fed, along with the amount of grain. We asked them how they changed their nutritional management before and after cross-country, and before and after transport to the event.
All of that data, we came out with a couple of key findings, I guess. The first one is that the horses overall, on average, were getting four different nutritional supplements. By supplements, we're talking like electrolytes, white salt, any joint product, digestive product, vitamin/mineral supplement; anything in addition to the grain and the hay that they would be getting. We saw that the number one supplement out there is electrolytes, which is not surprising, because these horses are intensively working and they're sweating, so the only time you need to supplement electrolytes is when they're sweating, so that was actually reassuring, I guess, to see, that they were being fed the electrolytes. I'm just looking at some numbers now. We had between eighty and ninety percent of all of the horses were getting electrolyte supplement during the course of the competition.
The second supplement, the most common, was salt, which makes sense, too. Some just did it as a salt block, some with loose salt, some did both. That goes along, I guess, with the electrolytes as well. Then the third most common supplement was a joint product; some sort of joint supplement. We didn't get specific, but it could have been glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, MSM; any one of those types of products.
The other interesting thing was that we asked them, "Well, did the horse have a joint problem and was that the reason for giving the joint supplement?" Only two of the horses that we asked actually had joint problems, so many of these horses were just given the supplement, just to, I guess, help possibly prevent that problem from occurring, and that was just in one-on-one talking with the riders, or the grooms or their owners.
Chris: Did you get the sense, Carey, of over time, whether they're increasing the supplements, whether there's a change in their regime as new products come on the market? What was the general consensus over that time span?
Carey: I don't have true data on that, but I will say one of the things that, just from general talking with the riders, was it seemed like a lot of it was ... At least for some of the higher level riders ... due to sponsorship, because a lot of these riders were sponsored by several of the companies that produced the supplements, so therefore, they were feeding those supplements. Some of the other riders actually dealt with nutritionists, whether it was nutritionists from feed companies or outside consultant nutritionists, so a couple of them just followed the recommendations there.
We also found that a lot of the two star riders had the three star riders as their trainers, and a lot of them just followed what their trainers did, so granted, that was just from talking to them and getting the feel for it. A lot of them were oh, if ... I won't name any names, but rider X is at the top of his or her game and winning all the four star competitions, and they got wind that oh, this rider is feeding, say papaya juice, and then all of a sudden, a lot of the other riders would start feeding papaya juice. That was just one example, so I think the trend does come from some of the more well known upper level riders and what they're doing at the time.
Chris: All right, so peer influence then, and again, marketing; does that come into it, to the extent that you would expect when it comes to the use of supplements and again, what the leading riders are using?
Carey: Yeah, I believe that it does. I think their marketing, as well as sponsorships, which I guess go with marketing as well; you know, some of the events are sponsored by certain companies and things as well, so I'm sure that does have an effect. I will say though, that most of the management practices, whether it's withholding feed before cross-country, or doing those sorts of things upon cool out after cross-country, were following research recommended practices, so you know, we say feed at least two to three times a day, and a majority of the riders were doing that. Granted, there were some feeding more and some feeding less, but a lot of the practices were research based recommendations, but then again, there was a few others that weren't. Bran mashes are one thing that we usually don't recommend. Not because there are negative consequences or they have any negative consequences; just because they're really pretty benign. They really don't have any sort of purpose in the horse's diet. That was the major findings with that portion of the study.
Chris: Did this depend on the area that you were covering, where these riders were based and their natural resources and how much they spent at pasture?
Carey: The geographic location of where they were definitely did affect the pasture. Also, their training setting at home. This was nationwide; we even had some Canadian riders participate, and we had riders from all over the place, so a lot of the riders that had full access to pasture, say in areas like Maryland or Virginia, they were definitely on pasture more than some of the riders either out West, that might have just been more rangeland, or maybe had limited space.
The pasture intake definitely did, and when we took the blood samples, we did look at some of the vitamins and some of the antioxidants that pasture affects; beta-carotene is a good example. The horses that were on pasture more often before they got to competition had higher levels of beta-carotene and Vitamin A in their system, and they also had higher levels of Vitamin E in their system as well, so pasture affects those antioxidants, and therefore, the antioxidants then affect the levels of the free radicals and things that are in the system. We did see a trickle down with the levels of their diet and the levels of their distress in the system.
Chris: Where will we see this work published, Carey?
Carey: There's a couple of different areas. Well, first off, I just want to say that if anybody is having trouble accessing any of them, they can feel free to send me an email, and I'd be happy to provide them with a copy of the research. My email is cwilliams and that's @aesop.rutgers.edu. They can also Google me; I'm all over the internet, but they can email me and I can send them any copies that they have. There's three different journals where the work has been published. Comparative Exercise Psychiology is where all of the dietary information is. The Equine Veterinary Journal is where we publish the inflammatory markers dealing with the dietary intakes.
Then we have Cellular Oxidative Metabolism and Cellular Longevity, is where we have the other one for the antioxidant capacity. Those are all definitely research articles. I've given a couple of interviews to The Horse Magazine and things like that, with some of the results, but they're not as in detail, either. I'm always more than happy to talk to anybody and hopefully, I'll be putting together an article soon, too, on all the data and make it useful for the horse owner.
Chris: In summary then, Carey, if you had one message to give to riders from this research, what would it be?
Carey: Definitely that as much as you can get your horse out on pasture, eating that nice green grass helps increase the antioxidant levels in their horses, and definitely is good for the upper level eventers, because it will help decrease their stress levels; that was one of the big correlations that we saw, so pasture and antioxidants is very good; good for the horses.
Chris: All right. Well, Dr. Carey Williams, thank you very much indeed for coming on the program and sharing the findings from your research with us.
Carey: No problem. I look to see everybody out there eventing sometime in the near future. Thank you.
Chris: A reminder that the transcript of these podcasts is available on the website at useventing.com. The podcast can be downloaded from the iTunes podcast store.