Equine Science: Weekly News and Trivia Question - December 11, 2009

Welcome to this week’s edition of Equine Science News. Today I’ll be talking about DNA, horse vices and alternative medicines.

Scientists have made a new discovery about the evolution of our equine partners after looking at ancient DNA.

The team of researchers from the University of Adelaide, in Australia looked at DNA from the bones of extinct horses, found in caves. They identified new horse species in the landmass of Europe & Asia and also in South America.

Nowadays, the only Equus species that survive are zebras, wild asses, donkeys and the modern horses we ride. However, in the last 50,000 years others from the Equidae, or horse, family have become extinct.

The scientists discovered that the Cape zebra, which once roomed South Africa, was actually a modern variant of the Plain zebra. According to horsetalk.co.nz, the lead author of the study said that the group had “discovered a new species of the distinct, small hippidion horse in South America.”


On the Russian Plains, the scientists believe a previously unknown species of ass existed. The species is believed to relate to European fossils that are as old as 1.5 million years. However, by measuring the amount and type of carbon in the bones they found that the ass found in the Russian Plains was alive as recently as 50,000 years ago.

More scientific research now, this time reported by Mark Andrews over at the Equine Science Update blog. It would seem that scientists in France have discovered that the type of work that a horse does could affect whether the horse shows any vices.

Stable vices, sometimes now known as ‘stereotypies’ include wind sucking, crib biting and weaving – they appear to have no obvious function, though it has been previously suggested that they calm a horse when stressed.

Now researchers at the Université de Rennes 1 studied 76 French Saddlebred horses who were stabled individually and managed in similar ways, except for the type of work that they did. The scientists then split the horses into 6 groups depending on what type of work they did – including show jumping and advanced riding school. Each horse was exercised for only 1 hour and spent the remaining 23 hours in a stable.

They found that 65 of the horses studied showed at least one of the vices and there was little difference in the number of horses from each work group that showed stereotypies. However, the researchers did find a difference in the type of vice depending on what type of work the horse did.

Dressage or high school horses were found to be more likely to have a vice and were found to suffer with the more serious stereotypies, including cribbing and wind sucking. The eventers, jumpers and riding school horses showed licking and biting more commonly than any other vice.

The horses which were used for vaulting (or voltige as it known in some countries) showed the least stereotypies and if they did, they generally had less serious vices such as tongue playing.

According to the Equine Science Update blog, “[t]he researchers suggest that the high frequency and types of stereotypy shown in dressage and high school horses may be explained by physical and interactional stress. Conflicting instructions from the rider are more frequent here”.

The full scientific article is available to read here.

Finally, homeopathy is a growing trend in human medicine, but now it seems many owners are keen to use complementary and alternative medicines when treating their horses. However, now veterinarians at Colorado State University are warning owners to be careful and to liaise with their veterinarians first before using any alternative treatment.

Many complementary medicines are purchased off the internet and there is both limited information and also medical misinformation online. Owners could be putting their horses at risk if they don’t seek the advice of a veterinarian before starting treatment.

Some ‘natural’ products are thought to help in medicinal treatment, but some chemicals can be highly toxic for pets. A publication readily available for members of the public advised pennyroyal oil could be used to treat fleas on pets, but the chemical is highly toxic and even in small doses can kill certain animals.

Horse owners are advised to always speak to their vet before trying any homeopathic product on their pet, even if they know others who have used it successfully in case the product is poisonous or known to cause harm.

That’s another week’s edition over and done with, so here’s you’re trivia question for you:

Question: What are vestigial premolars?

Visit my profile page, by clicking here, to see if you guessed the right answer.

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Comment by Barbara F. on December 11, 2009 at 10:42pm
Yikes, I have no idea! These questions are always fun and educational. :)

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