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Fat Horses Face Health Problems

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 Preakness.

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 these macro-molecules.

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 study on
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