ul Mellon Distinguished Professor of Agriculture in the College of
Agriculture and Life Sciences and director of the Middleburg Agricultural Research and
Extension Center in Middleburg, Va., and Dr. Francois Elvinger, an epidemiologist and associate
professor in DLACS, are co-investigators.
Laminitis is a failure of the connective tissue bond between the horses hoof and the bone
within the hoof, explains Dr. Pleasant, noting the highly publicized struggle that the
racehorse Barbaro had with the disorder as a result of his catastrophic injury at the 2006
When that bond fails, and the hoof and bone start to fall apart, it is extremely painful to
the horse, he continued. Laminitis is one of the most devastating and debilitating problems
that we see with the horse.
Funded in part by the Virginia Horse Industry Board, the study hypothesized that overweight
horses may suffer from insulin and sugar imbalances, chronic inflammation, and oxidative
stress, a malady that occurs as a result of changes to metabolic processes that alter the
delicate balances between the destruction and creation of new cells in the body.
Oxidative stress is an imbalance between the production of free radicals and reactive oxygen
species and the bodys anti-oxidant defense mechanisms, and that imbalance is in favor of the
oxidants, said Thatcher.
Those free radicals and reactive oxidant species can affect macromolecules in the body such
as lipids, DNA and proteins, ultimately causing cell death or changing the functionality of
Other problems caused by equine obesity are heat stress, increased bone, tendon, and joint
injuries, and reduced performance levels.
After surveying the academic literature, the researchers discovered that only one documented
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