Student’s research provides insights into colic management in horses

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Lauren Christian merged her interest in statistics with her love of horses to come up with some interesting colic insights. Photos: Judith Pishnery and Jason Getz
Lauren Christian merged her interest in statistics with her love of horses to come up with some interesting colic insights. Photos: Judith Pishnery and Jason Getz

A student at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University combined her growing knowledge of statistics and her love of horses to produce some interesting insights into the life-threatening condition, colic. Abbey O’Brien Barrows reports.

Kennesaw State University’s Lauren Christian knows the importance of the phrase “healthy as a horse.” As an equestrian, she’s been around horses her whole life and used her undergraduate research to help horses and their owners.

Growing up in Marietta, Christian has been riding horses since she was a child. Several years ago, her horse, Jagger, a mustang, experienced a severe case of colic and ended up at the hospital.

“Horses who have colic experience abdominal pain caused by problems in the digestive tract,” said Christian, who graduated last month. “It may seem harmless, but colic is the No. 1 killer of horses.”

Luckily, Jagger survived and has been thriving with Christian in mounted archery competitions. The sport incorporates several skills — riders shoot arrows at targets while using their legs to guide the horse down a track or through a field.

While completing coursework for her bachelor’s degree in computational applied mathematics, Christian connected with Susan Mathews Hardy, senior lecturer of statistics.

“She wanted me to find a dataset that I really loved and enjoyed,” Christian said. “I’m passionate about horses and know how scary it is when your horse has colic. I knew I wanted to help other horse owners and save more lives.”

Lauren has been riding since she was a child.
Lauren has been riding since she was a child.

Christian knew all cases of colic could result in dehydration, so she took variables in a dataset used by veterinarians to classify a horse as dehydrated: pulse, capillary refill time, packed cell volume, total protein and mucous membrane color. She then studied the relationship between dehydration and whether the horse was in pain, had surgery, and whether the horse lived, died or was euthanized because of the colic.

“As dehydration becomes more severe, the horse is more likely to be in pain and is also more likely to have surgery or die,” Christian said about her findings. “I also found that owners are euthanizing their horses when they are in pain but not dehydrated. Caution also needs to be taken to not choose surgery too soon because surgery, according to my research, predisposes the horse to colic in the future.”

Hardy said Christian has not only taught her about the importance of this data but has enjoyed watching her student shine.

“As an equestrian competitor, Lauren sets her bar high and she does the same in her academics,” Hardy said. “Her research poster and corresponding notebook she made to explain her variables, code and analyses will be my example for years to come for future students.”

In December last year, Christian presented her research at Analytics Day, a special event put on by the university’s School of Data Science and Analytics for undergraduate and graduate students to showcase their analytics research. Her research poster and presentation won first place in the undergraduate research category.

“Watching her present her research inspired me,” said Hardy. “You can tell she’s passionate about this issue and wants to get the word out. I always encourage my students to make a handout that benefits others and services the community, and Lauren’s handout will be invaluable to horse owners.”

Christian has been accepted into an online graduate school, where she plans to continue her studies in statistics. The online program will allow her to continue training and participating in mounted archery competitions.

Republished courtesy of Kennesaw State University 

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