Three inductees to Equine Research Hall of Fame, including a New Zealander

Earnest Bailey
Ernest Bailey

Three scientists are to be inducted into the University of Kentucky’s Equine Research Hall of Fame, including a New Zealander.

Michelle LeBlanc, a posthumous inductee formerly of Rood and Riddle Equine Institute; Ernie Bailey, a professor at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center; and Elwyn Firth, a professor at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, were selected for their contributions to equine science and research.

Nominated by their peers and colleagues, LeBlanc, Bailey and Firth were selected by past Hall of Fame inductees.

The University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Foundation said the trio would be inducted on October 9 at the university’s Hilary J. Boone Center.

Gluck Equine Research Foundation board chairman Case Clay congratulated the inductees.

“The inductees were selected from a strong group of nominees who have dedicated their lives to equine research,” he said.

LeBlanc’s career extended over 35 years and included teaching, administration and mentoring. She was a theriogenologist, reproductive specialist, with interests in mare infertility, embryo transfer, placental infections in mares and acupuncture in infertile mares. She was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Equine Veterinary Association in 2011 and was named 2000 Theriogenologist of the Year by the American College of Theriogenologists. She died in April 2013 after a battle with ovarian cancer.

According to the nomination letter from Wayne McIlwraith, university distinguished professor at Colorado State University, and Ed Squires, professor at the Gluck Equine Research Center, LeBlanc led research in the development of innovative equipment and the development of novel research and treatment techniques in mares and foals.

“Her contributions as a teacher, administrator and mentor defied quantification. Her passion for the horse and for equine research up to her untimely passing makes her a very worthy recipient,” they continued.

Bailey joined the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky in 1979 and established a research program for horse genetics. Beginning in the 1990s, Bailey, with his students and colleagues, conducted gene-mapping research and provided leadership for the international horse genome project. This work led to sequencing of the horse genome at the National Human Genome Research Institute in 2006.

The tools resulting from these initiatives empowered all areas of equine research. With his students and co-workers, Bailey used molecular genetic tools to uncover mutations responsible for coat color patterns, developmental defects, cytogenetic abnormalities and genes influencing viral susceptibility in horses.

Bailey said: “I have had the pleasure of working with wonderful colleagues at a time when genetics technologies have just exploded. It is gratifying that colleagues and peers nominated and elected me to the Equine Research Hall of Fame.

“I am especially pleased with the recognition accorded the field of genetics. During the last 20 years our research field consisted of about 150 scientists and students, worldwide, who shared time, knowledge and resources to create gene maps and other genomic tools for the horse.

“These new tools are empowering veterinarians and breeders to solve problems that plagued horses and horse owners for centuries. It’s been a pleasure to work with these amazing scientists; the accomplishments actually belong to this extended community.”

Bailey was nominated by James MacLeod, professor at the Gluck Equine Research Center.

MacLeod said: “Over the past 35 years, Dr Bailey’s direct research contributions, combined with his vision, cultivation, facilitation and leadership of the international community of scientists working on horse genetics and genomics, has had a profound impact on equine science.

“Just as our understanding of the human genome is changing all aspects of human health, equine genomics is proving to be transformative for equine biomedical disciplines.”

Firth has worked in North America, the Netherlands and New Zealand in university research, teaching and surgical referral clinics. He classified bone infection in foals and studied other bone and joint diseases of the young horse. This led to the quantification of bone, joint and tendon changes in young foals exposed to exercise or confinement early in life, and in 2-year-olds trained for racing.

A later multi-national collaborative study showed that appropriate early exercise in pastured foals was not harmful and had positive effects on tissues, on adult musculoskeletal health and on the welfare of the horse.

“To have been selected for induction into the University of Kentucky Equine Research Hall of Fame is a great honor,” Firth said.

“Receiving this prestigious award is a source of great pleasure to me, and I feel very proud to have been so recognized.

“It is full circle in some ways, since when I first left New Zealand it was to Lexington that I traveled, and I have been back many times since. It will be very nice to return.”

Firth’s nomination letter by McIlwraith and Joe Mayhew, professor at Massey University, commended him for his 35 years of contributions to research in equine musculoskeletal disease.

“Dr. Firth has made outstanding contributions to research in equine musculoskeletal disease and comparative knowledge emanating from that,” they wrote.

Equine Research Hall of Fame nominees can be living or deceased, active or retired in the field of equine research.

Established in 1990, the Equine Research Hall of Fame honors international scientific community members biennially who have made equine research a key part of their careers, recognizing their work, dedication and achievements in equine research.

Past inductees include: George P. Allen, W. R. Allen, Douglas F. Antczak, John T. Bryans, William W. Dimock, Elvis R. Doll, Jr., Harold Drudge, Phillip R. Edwards, Baltus J. Erasmus, Harold E. Garner, Oliver J. Ginther, Harold Hintz, Sir Frederick Hobday, Leo B. Jeffcott, Eugene T. Lyons, Robert M. Kenney, I.G. Joe Mayhew, Travis C. McGuire, Jr., C. Wayne McIlwraith, Alan J. Nixon, Peter D. Rossdale, Edward L. Squires, Clyde Stormont, Sir Arnold Theiler, Peter J. Timoney and Stephanie J. Valberg.

Reporting: Jenny Evans

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