Horse Health Research Abounds at 2012 Tevis Cup

When the 2012 Tevis Cup begins at dawn Aug. 4, more than 200 horses will leave Robie Park near Lake Tahoe, Calif., and proceed toward a finish line 100 miles away in Auburn, Calif. For some competitors it is a race for the cup; for others it's a personal challenge to simply complete the ride in the allotted 24 hours. But for the 15 ride veterinarians and two treating veterinarians, this year's renewal of the Tevis Cup offers a fertile research opportunity.

Head treating veterinarian Langdon Fielding, DVM, Dipl. ACVECC, of Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center, in Loomis, Calif., will lead a study during the ride titled "Creation of a Metabolic Score Based on Basic Laboratory Parameters." In Fielding's letter to ride participants he explained his objective was "to create a metabolic score using basic blood electrolyte and hydration parameters that can be used to identify endurance horses that are metabolically compromised." Tevis treating veterinarian Gary Magdesian, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, ACVECC, ACVCP, associate professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine, and head ride veterinarian Greg Fellers, DVM, have partnered with Fielding for the project.

For each horse that reaches the 36-mile check point, veterinarians will collect a small (1-3 milliliter) sample of blood into a heparinized syringe and analyze it on site. They will do this immediately after the horse has reached the required heart rate of 60 beats per minute or less and before starting the mandatory one-hour hold, or rest period. Anticipated collection time will be approximately five to 10 seconds per horse so as not to delay horses at the check point.

The study is funded by the Western States Trail Foundation, whose mission includes preserving the Western States Trail and its history, overseeing the Tevis Cup, and supporting equine medical research. Fellers sees the project as an opportunity to learn more about what to look for to foresee potential trouble and avoid treatment situations in high performing equines. "The study will give us an opportunity to compare the blood work of finishers and nonfinishers and hopefully give us one more piece of information," he said. "There could be changes occurring metabolically that aren't apparent in a physical examination."

The study is scheduled to be conducted again in 2013. The team envisions looking at electrolytes, packed cell volume, and total protein to create an endurance metabolic score from 1 to 10, where 10 represents a horse with a high risk of not finishing the race. Fellers' ultimate goal is to develop a tool for his team to provide "real-time blood parameters identifying horses that are on metabolic thin ice and keep them on the safe side of requiring treatment."

Meanwhile, Olin Balch, DVM, MS, PhD, American Endurance Ride Conference (AERC) Research Committee chair., will be on site to encourage all riders--both finishers and nonfinishers--to complete a comprehensive 13-page survey covering multiple aspects of both the horse and rider's training, medical history, tack, feed, travel methods, shoeing, and other aspects of their endurance experiences.

AERC research data indicate that between 2002 and 2010 only 8,399 out of 196,400 horses starting sanctioned distance events were 100-mile participants. So although the majority of contestants were not competing in 100-mile events, the AERC believes a better understanding of 100-mile horses will improve management of all distance competitors.

Finally, Karen Hassan, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, also of Loomis Basin Equine Medical Center, and will conduct a research project focused on lameness in endurance horses. Hasan will perform nerve blocks on horses pulled for lameness and that remain lame to attempt to identify the origin of lameness. She will conduct examinations free of charge to participants. These could involve multiple nerve blocks and trot-outs to evaluate horses' lameness, and Hassan will collect follow-up information from each horse after the competition.

About the Author

Marsha Hayes

Marsha Hayes has been covering endurance, trail, and other equine topics since 2005. She believes every horse has a story.

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