Racehorse Researchers Could Learn from Dairy Industry, Scientist Says

Horses are cows, said veterinary researcher N. Edward Robinson, BVetMed, PhD, MRCVS, Matilda R. Wilson Chair in Large Animal Clinical Sciences at Michigan State University.

Well, what Robinson actually said was that the "racehorse and modern dairy cow have several things in common." Both have been genetically selected for performance via a small number of popular sires, performance relies on only one or two organ systems, and their productivity relies on a team comprised of the owner, trainer, support staff, and veterinarian.

Unlike the dairy industry, however, the racing industry continues to receive much less funding for research into the complex and intricate relationships between management and disease.

"It is not difficult to understand why society chooses to fund food production, but modern society also expects humane treatment of animals used for entertainment so it is incumbent on the racing industry to find ways to support investigations of disease in its hard-working athletes," wrote Robinson.

Minute decreases in performance caused by minor alterations in the function of (primarily) the cardiopulmonary and/or musculoskeletal systems can mean the difference between winning and losing. Veterinarians are expected to identify the cause for even the slightest decrease in performance and decide which diagnostic test(s) to perform.

As Robinson pointed out, "there is little published information derived from studies of horses working under racing conditions to assist with this complex medical and financial decision."

Many of the studies performed to date use inexpensive horses that do not exactly emulate the elite athletes researchers are hoping to help. That is, "data are skewed towards horses that fail," Robinson said.

Robinson explained that real-world studies "are essential if we are ever to understand racehorse productivity to the same degree as that of the dairy cow."

The guest editorial, "The racehorse and the dairy cow: A question of productivity," will be published in an upcoming edition of The Veterinary Journal.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.