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Title: Beyond the Miracle Foal: A Study into the Persistent Effects of Gestational Immaturity in Horses
Contributor(s): Clothier, Jane  (author)orcid ; Brown, Wendy  (supervisor)orcid ; Small, Alison (supervisor); Hinch, Geoff  (supervisor)orcid 
Conferred Date: 2019-07-08
Open Access: Yes
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Abstract: Breeding horses can be a financially and emotionally expensive undertaking, particularly when a foal is born prematurely, or full term but dysmature, showing signs normally associated with prematurity. In humans, a syndrome of gestational immaturity is now emerging, with associated long-term sequelae, including metabolic syndrome, growth abnormalities and behavioural problems. If a similar syndrome exists in the equine and can be characterised, opportunities for early identification of at-risk individuals emerge, and early intervention strategies can be developed. This thesis explores the persistent effects of gestational immaturity manifest as adrenocortical, orthopaedic and behavioural adaptation in the horse. Basal diurnal cortisol levels do not differ from healthy, term controls, but when subjected to a low dose ACTH challenge, gestationally immature horses presented a depressed or elevated salivary cortisol response, suggesting bilateral adaptation of the adrenocortical response. This may be reflected in behavioural reactivity, but the outcomes from a startle test were inconclusive. A survey of horse owners indicated that gestationally immature horses tended to be more aggressive and active than controls, aggression being displayed mostly in families of Arabian horses. Case horses also tended to be more active, intolerant, and untrusting. Gestationally immature horses have restricted growth distal to the carpal and tarsal joints, and this results in a more ‘rectangular’ conformation in adulthood compared to controls. They also often present with angular limb deformities that adversely affect lying behaviour and recumbent rest. This, however, can be mitigated using analgesic therapy, suggesting chronic discomfort. Based on these findings, it is reasonable to postulate that a syndrome of gestational immaturity may persist, both clinically and sub-clinically, in affected adult horses. Further work is required to fully characterise this syndrome and validate the outcomes in larger populations, thereby providing a foundation for interventions applicable in the equine breeding industry.
Publication Type: Thesis Doctoral
Field of Research (FoR): 070202 Animal Growth and Development
070702 Veterinary Anatomy and Physiology
Socio-Economic Objective (SEO): 839901 Animal Welfare
HERDC Category Description: T2 Thesis - Doctorate by Research
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Description: The dataset associated with this thesis can be found here:
Appears in Collections:School of Environmental and Rural Science
Thesis Doctoral

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