Commissioned Projects

The following projects have been commissioned and funded by breeder contributions along with, in some projects, funding sourced from Racing Australia. A full and detailed list of the projects can be found at Agrifutures.

It’s important to note that continued R&D for the thoroughbred industry benefits ALL horse breeds.

Diagnostic test for early pregnancy

Every spring, stallions ‘achieve’ an estimated 95% fertility rate, but ultimately only about 65% of covers result in foals on ground. This is despite gold standard management practices. The object of this project is to develop a method for detection and monitoring of early pregnancies, often negating the considerable expense – to both farm and breeder – of having the mare re-covered.

Project completion by December 2022.

Science fact not fiction: Detecting gene edited racehorses

Gene editing has the potential to threaten the definition of the thoroughbred and to artificially enhance its performance. The aim of this project is to develop a kit to detect gene ‘doping’.

Funded by Racing Australia. Project completion by June 2021.

Infection in equine abortions

Coxiella burnetii has been linked with a number of cases of equine abortion. The aim of this study is to understand the significance of C. burnetii in equine health, while also assessing any risk to humans, in whom it can cause ‘Q Fever.’

Project completion by December 2020.

On-farm Assessment of Stallion Sperm Fertility

Due to the prohibition of artificial insemination in thoroughbred breeding, this has meant that the quality of stallion sperm cannot be thoroughly assessed prior to covering the mare. The aim of this project is to produce a commercially available device which would measure the quality of spermatozoa in a ‘dismount’ sample, thereby allowing stallion managers to schedule a mare to be rebred on the same cycle.

Project completion by May 2022.

Rapid diagnosis of infectious agents

One of the greatest impacts on broodmare owners is the number of pregnancies lost due to infection. For instance, very little is known about the cause of equine chlamydiosis and, as such, there is currently no way to improve outcomes nor to assess the risk in affected horses. The results of this study will aim at the availability of rapid testing to control infection.

Project completed March 2020.

Improving jockey safety

Only offshore fishing is a more dangerous occupation than being a jockey. Jockeys are exposed to serious health risks and rates of concussion are very high. Injuries, particularly the after effects of numerous concussions, are the focal point of many contact sports and this study is designed to assess the changes from pre to postconcussion over a three year period: aiming to identify the ‘window of brain vulnerability’ for jockeys.

Project completion by May 2021.

Key to equine infertility?

This study seeks to improve the understanding of the role played by bacteria and its effect on equine fertility. The aim is to develop both diagnostic and treatment methods, with commercial applications for both.

Project completion by February 2021.

Non-invasive ventilatory support for foals

Breathing difficulties and lung disease are common in foals which can be a result of pre-maturity or contracted shortly after birth. This project is designed to improve respiratory support of newborn foals which are cost effective and can be utilised in equine veterinary hospitals or on farm, using equipment that can be purchased ‘off the shelf’.

Project completion by October 2020.

Improved bacterial identification and antimicrobial susceptibility testing

This project will generate data on bacteria associated with various infectious diseases in horses throughout south eastern Australia. The objective is to improve diagnosis and treatment of bacterial disease.

Project completion by December 2020.

Improving the detection of parasitic infections and control strategies

This study will determine the epidemiology of intestinal parasites of thoroughbred horses, under various climatic conditions and will also look at the current practices of controlling parasitic infections. While it is suspected that many Australian horses are routinely dewormed, irrespective of parasite burden, very little is known about specific deworming practices.

Project completion by November 2021.

Maintaining welfare and integrity in racing

Illness and training injuries are common, but there is still a lot of uncertainty about therapeutic treatments, including growing concern about the ‘off-label’ use of registered drugs. This project seeks reliable knowledge about the movement through the body (pharmacokinetics) of therapeutic drugs which will be of considerable benefit regarding the treatment of horses regardless of their competition status.

Project completion by December 2021.

Understanding the epidemiology of Chlamydia psittaci infections

Chlamydia psittaci has not only emerged as a major cause of equine abortion and is a disease which can be transmitted to humans, in this case veterinarians and stud workers. This project’s aim is to reduce pregnancy losses by revealing basic information on the epidemiology of this disease.

Project completion by December 2021.

Racing demographics, reasons for retirement & post racing destinations

This project will build upon previous Victorian industry studies and follow a subset of foals born in Australia, from entry into racing industry until the horse retires from the track.

Project completion by December 2021.

The pathology and epidemiology of equine pregnancy loss

The project will investigate and record the nature of mid to late term pregnancy losses in mares. The results will be used to develop management strategies and to guide further research into the causes and prevention of pregnancy loss.

Project completion by July 2023.

Rapid point of care diagnosis of equine Hendra Virus

Hendra virus (HeV) is highly lethal for both horses and humans, most famously in the case of Vo Rogue’s trainer, Vic Rail, who died in 1994. In the first 20 years after its discovery, 52 HeV incidents have occurred involving 94 equine and 7 human cases. The most recent case of HeV was reported in June 2019, occurring in a broodmare in the Hunter Valley. All human fatalities recorded so far highlight the occupational nature of transmission to humans and initial development of a rapid loopmediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) test has shown considerable promise.

Project completion by June 2021.

Completed Projects

Modelling of limb loads

The vast majority of injuries sustained by racehorses are due to ‘limb loading’ – the repeated pressure on limbs due to high density training. The aim of this study was to collect ‘full body’ data on racehorses in three environments: sand surfaces, synthetic tracks and treadmills.

Project completed May 2020.

Reducing the effects of heat stress on stallion fertility

Although heat stress is known to affect stallion fertility, little work has been done to examine this phenomenon in a field setting relevant to thoroughbreds. For instance, we didn’t know just how much climatic conditions impact on a stallion’s fertility, nor could we predict how projected increases in temperature, associated with climate change, will ultimately affect the industry’s future productivity.

Project completed 1 July 2020.

Wellbeing from pregnancy to racing – horse demographics

The number of foals produced annually, against those actually making it to the racetrack has always been a major concern. This project focussed on movement patterns and their outcomes, resulting in evidence based recommendations for reducing the attrition rate of foals failing to enter the racing industry.

Project completed September 2019.

Postgraduate Scholarship – UoA Laura Nath

Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) are a cause of collapse and sudden death in racehorses, which is not only a welfare concern for the actual horse, but the rider as well. Dr Nath’s research focussed on risk factors for exercise induced arrhythmias.

Project completed December 2019.

Economic impact of the Australian thoroughbred breeding industry

This study has assessed the size and scope of the thoroughbred breeding industry and estimates the contribution to Australia’s GDP.

Project completed 3 August 2018.

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