Researchers are hoping to establish a metabolic performance profile for Endurance horses, which could ultimately be used to assess their readiness to compete.
The pilot study, involving 62 horses, used molecular-based techniques to determine the effects of endurance on metabolite levels. In doing so, they painted a picture of the demands of Endurance riding in greater detail than ever before.
Endurance rising involves competitive contests over distances of up to 160km. Races are broken into a series a loops, with veterinary monitoring of horses at the completion of each loop. The elimination rate is typically 30-70 percent, with lameness, dehydration and metabolic issues being the main causes.
It is therefore crucial that horses are metabolically fit to compete.
The study, a collaborative effort between entities under the umbrella of the Qatar Foundation, used metabolomics to assess the metabolic status of competition horses.
Dr Tatiana Vinardell, head of research and education at the Equine Veterinary Medical Center (EVMC), which was involved in the research, describes metabolomics as relatively new technology.
It is used to measure hundreds of small molecules called metabolites that are found in biological samples. Metabolites are the products of life-sustaining chemical reactions.
“Their production and removal from the bloodstream is dependent on multiple factors including genetics, diet and lifestyle. Any change in these factors is reflected by a change in specific metabolite levels, which allows them to be used as biomarkers,” she explains.
The pilot study on equine metabolomics was inspired by Professor Karsten Suhre, director of bioinformatics Core at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q), which was also involved in the work.
His desire is to create a “health and fitness passport” for athletes, with endurance horses proving to be an ideal test environment.
“Every living organism has a metabolic fingerprint, and by frequently monitoring this fingerprint, we can establish the reference or baseline metabolic readings indicative of that organism’s wellness,” Suhre says.
“Any changes in the health of the organism can be detected by comparing their metabolic state to their established baseline. If a considerable change is seen between the two, it can be indicative of a health problem that should be further investigated.”
Dr Anna Halama, assistant professor of research in physiology and biophysics at WCM-Q, said the aim of the pilot study was to perform an in-depth investigation of the metabolic consequences of endurance riding. The work may ultimately allow the research team to establish a metabolic performance profile for horses who successfully finish.
“This profile can then be used as a reference to determine whether an animal is biochemically ready to participate in an endurance competition.”
The 62 horses in the study were a mix of pure Arabian and half-Arabian breeds, all of whom were experienced in endurance riding. Blood samples were collected before and after the race in up to three different competitions and metabolic-based profiling was conducted using mass spectrometry.
The researchers measured 805 metabolites, of which 437 showed significant changes after the race.
Halama explains: “We compared the metabolic profiles of the horses that were eliminated to those that finished the race and were able to identify six metabolites that could predict equine performance in endurance competitions.
“Some of the metabolites that we identified could also serve as performance indicators of the horses while others could be used to optimize diet to enhance performance.”
Vinardell said the work allowed the research team to observe the metabolic effects of different training regimens.
“If one horse does better than the other, could it be because it follows a different training regimen which produces metabolites that promote performance in endurance riding? Similarly, perhaps there is a particular diet or a dietary supplement that is beneficial at a metabolic level, which if identified can be recommended to other horses participating in endurance races.”
Vinardell stresses that this isn’t just about predicting a horse’s performance in a race. “It is also about animal welfare. If we can tell whether a horse is actually ready before subjecting it to a challenging activity, then why not?”
With the pilot study completed, the researchers now plan to repeat the study with a bigger sample size to corroborate their results and further investigate the identified metabolites.
The research also involved Al Shaqab’s endurance department.