Push to develop DNA test to identify racehorses at greatest risk of fracture

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Scientists in Britain are hoping to develop a DNA test to identify Thoroughbred horses at greatest risk of fractures.

Previous research by scientists at the Animal Health Trust has shown that genetic factors can influence the risk of fracture in racing thoroughbreds.

They now hope to develop a DNA test that will be able to identify the genes responsible for a horse suffering a fracture, enabling trainers and breeders to select the best-suited horses for the job.

To put this research into action, the trust’s scientists need to develop the test to allow these at-risk horses to have their bone health monitored more regularly and training regimes adjusted to reduce their risk of injury.

Seeking DNA from Thoroughbreds that have participated in racing, the team visited the British Riding School to collect samples from its resident racehorses.

Students helped in the collection of five cheek swabs from each of the 56 Thoroughbreds at the school, allowing the scientists to take away 280 individual samples for analysis.

Around 200 samples will be collated by the research team, both from horses who have had fractures and those who have not. The horses who have not, such as those at the riding school, will be used as the control group.

Dr Debbie Guest, lead researcher at the trust, said racing, as with all sports, carried a risk of injury.

“Unfortunately, in racing, the public will often only see the catastrophic injuries which give the sport a bad reputation. It is our aim that we can help protect these amazing athletes before ever getting anywhere near this type of injury, which would be a huge step forward in equine welfare and wellbeing.”

Ultimately, the DNA test would support the riding school and others in the industry in selecting horses to breed or train that have a lower risk of fracture, preventing any unnecessary injuries or suffering, she said.

The school’s chief executive, Grant Harris, said any research project which would help to eliminate injury and help equine welfare and well-being deserved to be supported.

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