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Using Genetics to Train Athletic HorsesBy Kentucky Equine Research Staff · September 20, 2017

Trainers use a variety of techniques to get their horses fit. Many strategies rely on technology (KER ClockIt), tradition, personal experience, and input from the latest scientific discoveries (e.g., speed genes, hypoxic training). Results from one recent study* suggest identification of genes that play a role in how muscles respond and adapt to exercise may, in the near future, also help train performance horses.

“Equine skeletal muscle shows a remarkable ability to adapt to physical exercise and long-term training; however, the genetic, epigenetic and molecular changes underlying these adaptive responses have yet to be fully elucidated,” wrote the group of Irish researchers led by Emmeline Hill, Ph.D., professor at College University Dublin and cofounder of Equinome Ltd.

Unlike Hill’s speed gene, which points to a horse’s potential success at certain race distances based on a single gene, her new research involves using novel laboratory strategies to analyze thousands of genes in skeletal muscle that potentially contribute to fitness and athleticism.

Building on previous research that found even a single bout of exercise results in extensive changes in gene expression in skeletal muscle, Hill and coworkers identified a comprehensive set of genes in skeletal muscle that are altered in response to exercise and training.

This was discovered by analyzing skeletal muscle genes from untrained horses after a single bout of high-intensity exercise and again after an extended period of training.

The team concluded that “consecutive bouts of high-intensity exercise result in a priming of the skeletal muscle transcriptome [the functional component of the genetic material in muscle] for the demands of the next exercise bout.”

“Even if your horse isn’t used in competition, regular exercise alters muscle architecture and plays an important role in the management and prevention of various medical conditions. These include obesity and equine metabolic syndrome, the latter of which impacts insulin regulation and contributes to chronic, life-threatening laminitis,” noted Kathleen Crandell, Ph.D., a nutritionist for Kentucky Equine Research (KER).

While you may have training and muscle-building on the brain, don’t forget that recovery following exercise is equally important.

“KER offers several products that help horses recover after training and exercise. Consider replacing valuable electrolytes with products such as Restore SRRestore Paste and Race Recovery. These quality nutritional supplement products help replace the sodium, chloride, magnesium, and potassium lost in sweat.”

Australian horse owners should look for these research-proven products.

*Bryan, K., B.A. McGivney, G. Farries, et al. 2017. Equine skeletal muscle adaptations to exercise and training: evidence of differential regulation of autophagosomal and mitochondrial components. BMC Genomics. 18(1):595.