Saratoga Conference Zeroes In on the Environment

For the second consecutive year, Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and the New York State Thoroughbred Breeders Association hosted a stellar lineup of veterinary and Thoroughbred industry experts during the Saratoga race meet. Cornell’s goal was to present a menu of key health and management issues facing Thoroughbreds, but the organizers unwittingly composed a theme: We must focus more research and education on the pivotal role the environment plays in horse health.

We might soon be nostalgic for the last century, when we beamed with pleasure as breeding stock ran in open green pastures. Today we see lush pasture and think, “Uh-oh, laminitis.” A tree-shaded fenceline is looked at with a different eye—are those trees toxic to horses? We might speculate whether opossums passed through there lately and left parasites that make our horses ill. We also might worry whether there are mosquitoes out today. Are they carrying West Nile virus (WNV) or Eastern equine encephalomyelitis (EEE)?

Lectures covered in-depth issues such as the prevalence and causes of OCD, the parasite issues of EPM, mosquito control (to prevent such diseases as WNV or EEE), and the possible role of caterpillars in the spring loss syndromes seen this summer in some states. Pasture management and nutrition were the key themes throughout many lectures. Equally relevant were the discussions of climate change, emerging global diseases, and fungal agents.

Farm managers, breeders, and owners completed the conference with a half-day of business lectures. Even taxation and investment management will tie in to the new paradigm presented the two previous days. If Mother Nature can’t be depended on as the industry’s partner in fostering healthy horses, where and how do those potential management expenses fit on financial balance sheets?

Learning to work with, and for, a healthy environment might be the biggest responsibility facing the future of horse breeding, whether you raise Thoroughbreds or pleasure horses.

About the Author

Fran Jurga

Fran Jurga is the publisher of Hoofcare & Lameness, The Journal of Equine Foot Science, based in Gloucester, Mass., and Hoofcare Online, an electronic newsletter accessible at Her work also includes promoting lameness-related research and information for practical use by farriers, veterinarians, and horse owners. Jurga authored Understanding The Equine Foot, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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