New equine DNA test set to help racehorse health

April 17, 2018
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Barbers Shop during the DNA test with Debbie Guest, photo credit SMR Photos

Dr Debbie Guest, Head of Stem Cell Research at the Animal Health Trust (AHT) in Newmarket, is developing a new DNA test to identify thoroughbred racehorses with an increased risk of fracture. Scientists from the AHT’s Equine Genetics Team recently established that there is a link between DNA and the likelihood of fracture in racehorses. This new test will provide a breakthrough in managing the risks associated with fracture in racehorses.

The new DNA test will be able to identify whether a thoroughbred is at an increased risk of fracture by taking a simple DNA swab. To validate this new test, the AHT are testing both a control group of horses that have finished their racing careers sound, and horses that have sustained fractures whilst in racing. The aim is to test a total of around 250 horses in each group.

As part of the control group, top race and show horse, HM The Queen’s, Barbers Shop had a DNA swab taken last week. Katie Jerram commented, “We were delighted that Barbers Shop could take part in such valuable research. This new test will be brilliant for the future of British thoroughbreds.”

Dr Debbie Guest said, “We are really excited about this research and the new DNA test will be a valuable new tool to help racehorse health. Our goal is to reduce the number of fractures sustained by racehorses both on and off the track. At present 11% of horses in training will sustain a fracture during their career. By finding out early on that a horse has a higher risk of fracture, it enables people to have a better understanding of how to manage the horse and prevent a fracture occurring.”

Debbie and her team will be attending qualifiers for the SEIB Racehorse to Riding Horse finals this year including those at Bury Farm, Vale View and the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials. The team will be taking DNA swabs from horses with owners wishing to participate in the research.

SEIB’s Marketing Manager, Nicolina Mackenzie added, “We are thrilled to be supporting this valuable research. SEIB set up the Racehorse to Riding Horse series to help ex-racehorses lead better lives and we take anything we can do to support the ongoing welfare of thoroughbreds very seriously. It takes moments to have a DNA swab taken and we anticipate that many Racehorse to Riding Horse competitors will be keen to take part.”

Debbie continued, “Over the past 20 years, much has been done to reduce the number of racehorse fatalities on British racecourses. The British Horseracing Authority has made many changes including decreasing the number of runners in some races and changing fence profiles. However, over the past 10 years the level of equine fatalities on the racecourse has remained constant. We now need to look at the biological factors and why some horses are predisposed to fracture.”

This new DNA test has already been supported by the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre, the British Racing School and the Greatwood Horse Charity.

If you have an ex-racehorse that has retired sound from racing with no known fractures and you would like to take part in the development of this new test by having your horse swabbed, please contact Dr Debbie Guest: Debbie.guest@aht.org.uk.