Bluegrass Equine Digest: A Year in Review

Now in its 19th issue, the Bluegrass Equine Digest continues to provide the latest news on equine research at the University of Kentucky (UK) for the benefit of horse owners all across the country. The UK Equine Initiative (which represents all equine programs at UK) and the Gluck Equine Research Center, together with and sponsor Pfizer Animal Health, have offered stories about cutting-edge research studies and equine management topics, as well as scientist profiles, regular features, news, and events.

The past year has been an exciting one in the equine research field. The Bluegrass Equine Digest has covered many of the developments that occurred in 2010:

Topic Focus: Infectious Disease/Immunology

January--The Digest reported a rise in rabies cases in Kentucky and urged owners to get horses vaccinated. It also contained information on the environment's effect on immune maturation in foals. David Horohov, PhD, William Robert Mills Chair in Equine Immunology at the Gluck Center, said in the article that recent findings suggest a higher rate of immunity response in foals exposed to pathogens found in a barn, indicating earlier immune maturity.

February--This issue featured a profile of equine proliferative enteropathy from the Equine Disease Quarterly. This bacterial disease causes intestinal illness and most often occurs in recently-weaned foals. Veterinarians have been puzzled by the disease's increase in prevalence in the last 15 years.

May--In regards to biosecurity, the Digest published an article about the importance of disinfecting stalls completely as a means of preventing disease spread within the barn and between herd members.

June--In a story on the efficacy of influenza vaccines in aging horses, a study by Amanda Adams, PhD, postdoctoral scholar at the Gluck Center, found that antibody response and one type of immune response were decreased in older horses. Also in that issue was a summary of ongoing research on equine viral arteritis (EVA) and equine herpesvirus-1 (EHV-1) by Udeni Balasuriya, BVSc, MS, PhD, associate professor of virology at the Gluck Center. Balasuriya's work focuses on the transmission and progression of the diseases with the hopes to better control and treat them.

July--July's issue featured a case review of pneumonia in young horses.

Topic Focus: Pasture and Forage Management

February--In the second issue of the year the e-newsletter featured an article from the UK Department of Plant and Soil Sciences detailing management techniques for tall fescue. Fescue can be toxic to pregnant mares, can cause a variety of foaling issues, including abortion, and is especially toxic in the spring and summer months.

June--A related story urged farm owners to take caution if bedding broodmares on overmature hay as a substitute for straw due to possible fescue content. Typically the toxins contained in fescue do not break down during hay storage and can still be dangerous in the spring, even if harvested in the preceding summer.

August--The Department of Plant and Soil Sciences featured the practice of overseeding, or distributing seed on an existing pasture, designed to fill in grazed pasture and improve the pasture quality. A similar warning was issued to farm managers in the October issue.

October--A how-to article on pasture improvement explained that problematic pasture weeds tend to germinate and grow in the fall. It also outlined particular plants to be aware of.

Topic Focus: Nutrition

February--An article announced an upcoming study on lysine requirements from Kristine Urschel, PhD, an assistant professor in animal and food sciences for the College of Agriculture. Urschel's research, which received USDA funding, planned to use a cutting-edge oxidation technique to measure the amino acid's requirements, with the hope of feeding and supplementing horses better in the future.

April--The beginning of spring ushered in a warning to managers to check their stored grain supplies. Farmers were encouraged to monitor their grain for changes in temperature or moisture, which could indicate insect or mold activity and spoilage.

November--As colder months approached, last month's issue of the Digest included a reminder to horse owners that late fall is the time to inventory and purchase hay. Tom Keene, UK's hay marketing specialist, recommended purchasing hay for the winter early, so horse owners have the widest and most local selection available.

Other Features

January--A five-year study was announced that would examine the environmental impact of horse operations. The project is a collaborative effort between several universities and extension agents and Jill Stowe, PhD, assistant professor in the UK Department of Agricultural Economics, who will study the economic impact of the findings. The issue also featured a fact sheet on neonatal isoerythrolysis, a genetic disorder that results in maternal blood incompatibility in foals.

March--Thomas Tobin, MVB, MSc, PhD, MRCVS, Dipl. ABT, professor in the Departments of Veterinary Science in the Gluck Equine Research Center and in the Graduate Center for Toxicology, outlined the research in pharmacology/toxicology at the Gluck Center, which has mostly focused on detection of performance-enhancing and therapeutic drugs.

April--A breakthrough genetic testing technique was announced in April, when researchers discovered a way to test embryos for gender with a biopsy and PCR assay. This accomplishment in reproductive testing was achieved by Mats Troedsson, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACT, director of the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center and chair of the Department of Veterinary Science, and his team at the Gluck Center. Another research project by Mary Rossano, MS, PhD, assistant professor in animal and food sciences, suggested that overuse of dewormers can create parasite resistance. Owners should have fecal egg counts performed on their horses and should consult their veterinarians before beginning a deworming protocol. A third research article announced a rise in the number of Eastern tent caterpillars, known to cause mare reproductive loss syndrome.

July--The UK College of Agriculture weather center was profiled, which conducts research and provides detailed, personalized weather information for farmers. Also included was news of an improved ELISA test for equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM), developed under the leadership of Daniel Howe, PhD, a molecular parasitologist at the Gluck Center. The test is thought to provide a more reliable diagnosis and is available at Equine Diagnostic Solutions LLC.

August--A story on biosecurity in relation to the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG), detailed the import and export procedures international equine athletes had to go through before entering the U.S. Also included was an environmental piece about the efforts of the UK Tracy Farmer Institute for Sustainability and the Environment and the Games to reduce the environmental impact of the 16-day event.

Another August article detailed the phenomenon of parasite drug resistance, as researched by Rossano. Finally, the issue included a summary of statistics garnered from a UK riding safety quiz for Saddle Up Safely. Sixty percent of respondents admitted to not wearing helmets when riding.

September--UK hosted the 10th International Symposium on Equine Reproduction in July, and the Digest included several recaps of presentations given at the meeting.

Also included in September was an article about a new project in the Lexington area to restore a historic cemetery that holds gravesites of several African Americans who were involved in Kentucky's early equine industry.

October--This month's issue featured research on the disorder of sexual development in which a horse appears female but is genetically male and potential tests available through UK that might help diagnose this problem. Another article detailed broodmares' nutritional needs at different stages of pregnancy.

Agricultural economics research was also published in October, detailing the trends in Thoroughbred freshman sire stud fees over the last 11 years. Another article detailed the use of hippotherapy by UK faculty and students to improve the lives of physically and mentally challenged children.


In January the Digest announced receipt of six grants from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to study topics related to equine disease, medication, and reproduction. In September a $10,000 gift from the Irwin Foundation to fund the 2011 UK Department of Veterinary Science Equine Diagnostic and Research Seminar Series was received, as well as a gift from John and Gina Greathouse, the owners of 3-year-old race filly Devil May Care.

News and Announcements

In 2010 the Digest featured news from the UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, including new diagnostic tests for equine influenza and equine piroplasmosis, changed requirements for Potomac horse fever testing, confirmation of an equine West Nile virus case in Kentucky, and the facility's name change from UK Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center.

The first research report from the Gluck Center was announced as well as a new faculty appointment of Barry Ball as the Albert G. Clay Endowed Chair in Equine Reproduction.

Other headlines in the Digest this year included those about UK in the community. This included the release of new educational booklets from the Saddle Up Safely campaign, the beginning of the popular UK Pasture Evaluation Program, and a story profiling national victories by the UK Polo, Equestrian, and Dressage teams.

Other equine-related news detailed extensive participation in the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, including consultation on greening efforts at the Games, UK's participation in the equine educational consortium display, and donation of plants and greenery from UK Horticulture.

Other notable events included the announcement of a workshop from the Black Stallion Literacy Foundation and the continued partnership between the UK-produced Equine Disease Quarterly and Lloyd's of London.


In February the Digest recapped the inaugural Kentucky Breeders' Short Course, a returning seminar series intended to disseminate research to local farm managers.

In March an article featured a preview of topics to be discussed at the Kentucky International Equine Summit and also announced the speaker for the UK Distinguished Industry Lecture Series.

Other event reviews included the Kentucky Equine Networking Association and Equine Farm and Facilities Expo at Spy Coast Farm.


Featured profiles in 2010 included visiting scientists from France and Denmark in reproduction; graduate student Laura Schwer; Kimberly Miller-Spillman, PhD, professor in merchandising, apparel, and textiles; and UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory scientist Erdal Erol, DVM, MSc, PhD.

Regular Features

The Bluegrass Equine Digest's most popular feature, Weed of the Month, profiles undesirable plants typically found in horse pastures and is compiled by William Witt, PhD, researcher in Plant and Soil Sciences.

In a similar vein, Toxin Topic was created to inform readers about possible poisons in their horses' environments and is written by Cynthia Gaskill, DVM, PhD, clinical veterinary toxicologist at the UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

Spotlight Equine is another regular series that illsutrates all the ways UK aids and participates in its local community. In 2010 it featured Maine Chance Farm, the UK Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the cooperative extension program, the UK community leadership development program, and the Animal Genetic Testing Laboratory.

To view past issues, please visit the Bluegrass Equine Digest website. To stay up to date on all the Bluegrass Equine Digest news, subscribe at

Natalie Voss is a recent graduate in equine science and management and an equine communications intern for the UK Equine Initiative.



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