Investigators from four orthopedic research groups in four countries formed the Global Equine Research Alliance in 1999 in an effort to reduce the incidence of injury in the equine athlete. The organization's primary strategy is to modify musculoskeletal tissues "by application of appropriate conditioning regimens in the young animal," according to an article that appeared in last October's edition of Equine Veterinary Education.
Members of the alliance are scientists associated with Colorado State University, Massey University in New Zealand, the University of London, and Utrecht University in the Netherlands. They include Colorado State's Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, an internationally-known equine surgeon who is the president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), which publishes Equine Veterinary Education.
During the AAEP convention last December in San Antonio, Texas, Dr. Rene van Weeren of Utrecht University discussed the alliance's first major project, which involves two groups of Thoroughbred foals in New Zealand. One group will be raised traditionally, living on pasture and exercising spontaneously. In addition to living on pasture, the other group will be subjected to a training program with increased levels of exercise. The response of various tissues to the two different approaches will be analyzed. Some of the horses eventually will race, and there will be a lay-up period of at least three months after their campaigns as 2-year-olds.
Van Weeren also reported on a Utrecht University project that involved Dutch Warmblood foals. The study looked at foals that were kept in stalls (with and without additional exercise) and compared them to others that were raised on a pasture with free exercise. The pasture-raised foals appeared to develop stronger musculoskeletal tissues.