Commissioned Projects

The following projects that have been commissioned and funded by breeder contributions:

Non-invasive ventilatory support for foals: Breathing difficulties and lung disease are common in foals and may be transient immediately after birth, or may be related to prematurity, infectious disease or other conditions. This project will continue work by the research team on non-invasive support of respiration in neonatal foals using commercially-available, positive airway pressure (PAP) devices used for at home care of respiratory conditions in people. This approach promises to increase our ability to support foals with breathing difficulties more effectively than by administration of oxygen alone, but without invasive ventilation procedures that are technically demanding and usually cost-prohibitive in equine patients.

Measure the economic impact of the thoroughbred breeding industry: This project, which is almost completed, estimates the contribution of the breeding industry to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product and includes a breakdown of economic contributions across all key aspects of the industry. Both the direct and indirect contributions from thoroughbred breeding are captured. This information is important for explaining the significance of our industry to a range of stakeholders and decision makers.

Improving the detection of parasitic infections and control strategies in horses: Currently, there is an incomplete understanding of the gastrointestinal parasites affecting the health, performance and welfare of thoroughbred horses in Australia. Although documented for some important parasitic nematode species, the true extent of resistance in parasites of horses to the commonly used anthelmintics in this country is unknown. This project aims to determine the epidemiology of intestinal parasites, assess practices to control parasites, understand the resistance to antiparasitic drugs and develop rapid diagnostic tool for infections in horses.

Improved bacterial identification and antimicrobial testing:  This project will generate epidemiological data on the bacterial species associated with different infectious diseases in horses in south eastern Australia, and the antimicrobial drugs to which these isolates are susceptible. This information is of vital importance to equine veterinarians as treatment is often, of necessity, initiated prior to receipt of laboratory results from individual patients. In such cases, the best available information on which to base drug selection is data from similar patients in the same location. This data is simply not available in Australia. Collation of such data over time allows recognition of changes in antimicrobial susceptibility, which is critical for recognition of the emergence of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. A second outcome will be comparison of more advanced laboratory techniques available for the identification and testing of bacterial isolates.

The uterine microbiome – key to equine fertility?
This project aims to improve the understanding of the role of the bacterial microflora of the equine reproductive tract on equine fertility. Following on from this, novel diagnostic and treatment methods for equine infertility will be developed. In addition, the research aims to formulate easy-to-use on-farm protocols for management and treatment that could significantly improve fertility outcomes. These might include alterations to how stallions are treated between breedings or how mares are prepared for breeding. The ultimate outcome of this research will be improved fertility rates for broodmares, as the causes of infertility in some older, chronically infertile mares are identified and effective treatment regimens are developed.

Wellbeing from pregnancy to racing: This project involves two complementary studies. The first will look at the data from the Australian studbook for all breeding records between 2000 and 2015 examining the population statistics of the Australian Thoroughbred industry.  The temporo-spatial nature of mare and stallion returns, the number of foals born and the number of foals that are subsequently microchipped will be reported.  The second aspect will examine a subset of the national foal crop from 2012 and delve into the reasons that foals do not enter racing. A phone survey of breeders and owners will be conducted to get this insight. Understanding the reasons that prevent foals from undertaking a racing career is essential for the development of strategies and actions that will prevent these negative outcomes from occurring

Understanding heat stress and stallion fertility: Systemic heat stress in mammals is detrimental to sperm production and male fertility. This phenomenon has not been adequately examined in the horse, or in a field setting relevant to the Australian Thoroughbred industry. Specifically, we do not know how the climatic conditions experienced by stallions in the major Thoroughbred breeding hubs of Australia affect their fertility. Some 43 stallions will be examined as part of the study, with the aim of developing measures to successfully alleviate the effects of heat on fertility.

Understanding the epidemiology of Chlamydia psittaci infections in mares: Equine reproductive loss due to infectious agents impacts significantly on Australian Thoroughbred breeders. While a range of bacterial agents are a recognized cause of equine abortion, Chlamydia psittaci has emerged as a cause of reproductive loss as well as zoonotic disease of veterinarians and stud workers. Recent work has confirmed that prevalence rates of C. psittaci-infected equine pregnancy losses were higher than were originally considered, suggesting that this problem may be widespread and not just a recent phenomenon. While molecular methods have pointed to contact with birds as a key part of this issue little else is known about equine chlamydiosis, challenging any efforts to reduce the risk to animal and human health.

This project aims to reduce pregnancy losses in Australia’s thoroughbred industry by revealing basic information on the epidemiology of this disease, focusing on two key aspects of this disease, the C. psittaci-infected mare and the potential avian reservoirs of C. psittaci infection.

Rapid diagnosis of infectious agents of reproductive loss: Equine reproductive loss due to infectious agents impacts significantly on Australian Thoroughbred breeders. A range of bacterial agents are involved. Some of these also pose a significant occupational health risk to workers in this industry. Accurate detection of the infectious agents is important for the management of affected mares. While nucleic acid testing is considered the ‘gold-standard’, testing is normally only performed by well-equipped veterinary diagnostic laboratories with molecular capabilities. This restriction means significant delays before diagnostic results are available. This project aims to develop and evaluate rapid nucleic acid tests for two important causes of equine reproductive loss in Australia, Equine Herpes Virus-1 (EHV-1), a recognized cause of equine abortion, and Chlamydia psittaci, an emerging cause of reproductive loss as well as zoonotic disease of stud workers and veterinarians.