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March 2018 by Erin Sykes & Bronwyn Monahan, Charles Sturt University

Together with Dr Petra Buckley, Senior Lecturer in Equine Studies at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, we challenged students to bust some common myths and misconceptions about horse training and management. You may find the results surprising. In case you’d like to continue your own research, we’ve included a list of the full references, so head over to Google Scholar and see the science for yourself.

Myth #1: Two-year-old racing damages young horses

Words by Erin Sykes, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga

Despite hosting the most lucrative two-year-old races in the world, Australia’s Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare cited concerns regarding the skeletal immaturity of two-year-old horses and their suitability to training1,2

Two-year-old horse racing has been described as a major animal welfare concern that could subject young horses to injury and have negative implications on the duration of their careers3. Contrastingly, evidence reflects horses racing as two-year-olds have increased musculoskeletal health throughout life, when compared with horses that first race at a later age4

Early conditioning may provide horses with a better capacity to adapt to the rigours of race training5. In fact, the incidence of disease and injury rises for horses introduced to racing at a later age, and horses starting to race as two-year-olds are less likely to die on the racecourse9,3. Suitable early exercise regimes induce adaptive changes in tendon, hyaline cartilage and subchondral bone mineral density6

Evidence has indicated more horses that enter training with open epiphyseal (growth) plates remain sound, compared with those that begin training with intermediate or fully closed plates. 

In Hong Kong, a mere 14% of horses race as two-year-olds, yet they have greater career longevity than horses that first begin racing as two-year-olds or older7. A study conducted in Australia reported 43.9% of Thoroughbred racehorses first raced as two-year-olds, and their median career duration was significantly greater than the median career length of horses that commenced racing later2. Additionally, horses that first raced as two-year-olds earned considerably more prize money than horses that started racing aged three years or older8

Factors associated with injury include the duration and intensity of exercise provided3. The first year of racing presents the greatest risk of musculoskeletal breakdown, regardless of age, indicating it is likely the introduction to the sport that increases the risk of injury3. Evidence further suggests there are no long-term deleterious effects on career lengths of two-year-old race horses, rather there are possible benefits of early conditioning exercise10

The introduction of immature horses to racing and training must still be taken with caution however, as excessive or inappropriate exercise can be detrimental to developing tendon and limit musculoskeletal longevity. Closer monitoring of appropriate exercise in young horses may offer more detailed insights into issues of wastage3

List of references:

  1. More, S. J. (1999). A longitudinal study of racing Thoroughbreds: performance during the first years of racing. Australian veterinary journal, 77(2), 105-112.
  2. Knight, P. K., & Thomson, P. C. (2011). Age at first start and racing career of a cohort of Australian Standardbred horses. Australian veterinary journal, 89(9), 325-330.
  3. Velie, B. D., Knight, P. K., Thomson, P. C., Wade, C. M., & Hamilton, N. A. (2013). The association of age at first start with career length in the Australian Thoroughbred racehorse population. Equine veterinary journal, 45(4), 410-413.
  4. Tanner, J. C., Rogers, C. W., & Firth, E. C. (2013). The association of 2-year-old training milestones with career length and racing success in a sample of Thoroughbred horses in New Zealand. Equine veterinary journal, 45(1), 20-24.
  5. Rogers, C. W., Kidd, L., & Firth, E. C. (2010). Linear and temporal changes in the trot of 2-year-old Thoroughbred racehorses in relation to early exercise and race training. Comparative Exercise Physiology, 7(02), 65-71.
  6. Firth, E. C., & Rogers, C. W. (2005). Musculoskeletal responses of 2-year-old Thoroughbred horses to early training. Conclusions. New Zealand veterinary journal, 53(6), 377-383.
  7. Velie, B. D., Stewart, B. D., Lam, K., Wade, C. M., & Hamilton, N. A. (2013). Profiling the careers of Thoroughbred horses racing in Hong Kong between 2000 and 2010. Equine veterinary journal, 45(6), 694-699.
  8. Takahashi, T. (2015). The effect of age on the racing speed of Thoroughbred racehorses. Journal of Equine Science, 26(2), 43-48.
  9. Velie, B. D., Wade, C. M., & Hamilton, N. A. (2013). Profiling the careers of Thoroughbred horses racing in Australia between 2000 and 2010. Equine veterinary journal, 45(2), 182-186.
  10. Rogers, C. W., Firth, E. C., McIlwraith, C. W., Barneveld, A., Goodship, A. E., Kawcak, C. E., Smith, R. K. W., & Weeren, P. (2008). Evaluation of a new strategy to modulate skeletal development in racehorses by imposing track-based exercise during growth: The effects on 2-and 3-year-old racing careers. Equine veterinary journal, 40(2), 119-127.

Myth #2: Cobwebs in your stable are friends not foe! 

Words by Bronwyn Monahan, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga

Modern horse husbandry recommends regular removal of accumulated cobwebs as harbourers of airborne pollutants, such as dust1, bacteria and moulds2,3, as well as for minimising combustible material in the event of fire4, whilst, whimsically, applying the ‘cobweb test’ will test ventilation effectiveness5

You may not know, but the Ancient Greeks used cobwebs to staunch bleeding wounds6,7, and Eastern European Carpathian Mountain countries applied spider silk to skin lacerations for its antiseptic properties8 and as a haemostatic agent9,10 (to stop bleeding). During the American frontier years (1830-1860), folk medicine, administered by women relying on experience and commonsense, applied cobwebs to wounds to promote clot formation11

A natural care advocate proclaimed castigation for removing spide webs from cart-horse stables, circa 1935, because spiderwebs “could be used to heal wounds”12. In 1710, Monsieur Bon, President of the Royal Society of Sciences at Montpellier, investigating the unique properties of spider silk, observed spider silk was styptic (it contracts tissue to seal injured blood vessels) and promoted wound healing, although how remained unknown7

It is now known in its native form, spider silk, primarily composed of alanine, glycine and serine amino acids13, and pyrrolidine14 exhibits significant antimicrobial properties15, 16, preventing growth of fungi and Gram-negative bacteria14, 17, with a bacteriostatic action (stops bacteria from reproducing) on Gram-positive bacteria8

It is also now known spider silk contains high amounts of vitamin K (Heimer, as cited in Roozbahani et al14), an essential element in the blood clotting cascade18

Stopping blood loss can mean the difference between life and death19. Of course, covering with a sterile bandage to prevent further contamination, and the application of firm pressure to control haemorrhage and reduce swelling20 is the preferred management of a bleeding wound. It is not recommended to use dusty stable cobwebs! 

However, with ever increasing resistance to antimicrobial agents16 - and in the absence of a handy First Aid Kit - not clearing out the cobwebs from the stable might be excusable…

List of references:

  1. Cargill, C., Rural Industries, R., & Development, C. (1999). Reducing dust in horse stables and transporters: a report for the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation. Barton, A.C.T.: 
  2. Oke, S. (2009). Neurologic strain of Equine Herpesvirus-1 increasing. Journal of Equine Veterinary Science, 30(6), 337-339. doi: 
  3. Kohnke, J. (2014). Talking Horses, Issue 2. Horse Health. Handy Hint 3. Retrieved from 
  4. Camargo, F. Cooperative Extension Service. (2011) Preventing Barn Fire: Tips for horse owners. Retrieved from:
  5. James, D. (2010). Good circulation is the key to healthy herds. Farmers Weekly, 153(18), 34. Retrieved from 
  6. Gerritsen, V. B. (2002). The tiptoe of an airbus. Retrieved from 
  7. Doblhofer, E., Heidebrecht, A., & Scheibel, T. (2015). To spin or not to spin: spider silk fibres and more. Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology, 99(22), 9361-9380. doi:10.1007/s00253-015-6948-8 
  8. Wright, S., & Goodacre, S. L. (2012). Evidence for antimicrobial activity associated with common house spider silk. BMC Research Notes, 5, 326-326. doi:10.1186/1756-0500-5-326
  9. Quave, C. L., Lohani, U., Verde, A., Fajardo, J., Rivera, D., Obón, C., . . . Pieroni, A. (2010). A Comparative assessment of zootherapeutic remedies from selected areas in Albania, Italy, Spain and Nepal. Journal of Ethnobiology, 30(1), 92-125. doi:10.2993/0278-0771-30.1.92 
  10. Alves, R. R. N., & Rosa, I. L. (2012). Animals in Traditional Folk Medicine Implications for Conservation Animals in Traditional Folk Medicine. 
  11. Arnold, W. C. (2013). Home remedies, Folk medicine and Mad stones. Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 117(2), 132-142. doi:10.1353/swh.2013.0082. 
  12. Coleby, P. (2004). Natural farming: a practical guide. Carlton, Victoria: Scribe Publications. 
  13. Aichun, Z., Tianfu, Z., Yanghu, S., Yuansong, Z., Nakagaki, K., Yungen, M., . . . Nakagaki, M. (2005). Unique molecular architecture of egg case silk protein in a spider, Nephila clavata. Journal of Biochemistry, 138(5), 593-604. doi:10.1093/jbchem/mvi155 
  14. Roozbahani, H., Asmar, M., Ghaemi, N., & Issazadeh, K. (2014). Evaluation of antimicrobial activity of spider silk Pholcus phalangioides against two bacterial pathogens in food borne. International Journal of Advanced Biological and Biomedical Research, 2(7), 2197-2199 
  15. Chakraborty, D., & Das, S. (2009). Antibacterial activities of cobweb protein. Clinical Microbiology & Infection, 15(4), S626-S627. 
  16. Mirghani, M. E. S., Kabbashi, N. A., Elfaki, F. A., Fahmi, M. Z., & Zulkifli, B. (2012) BT-201: Investigation of the spider web for antibacterial activity. In: 2nd Malaysian International Conference on Trends in Bioprocess Engineering (MICOTriBE 2012), 3–5 July 2012., Kedah, Malaysia. 
  17. Lateef, A., Ojo, S. A., Azeez, M. A., Asafa, T. B., Yekeen, T. A., Akinboro, A., . . . Beukes, L. S. (2015). Cobweb as novel biomaterial for the green and eco-friendly synthesis of silver nanoparticles. Applied Nanoscience, 6(6), 863-874. 
  18. Maddox, J. (1991). The working of vitamin K. Nature, 353(6346), 695. Retrieved from
  19. Laskowski-Jones, L. (2006). First aid for bleeding wounds. Nursing, 36(9), 50-51. 
  20. Ruggles, A. J. (2015). Chapter 5 - First Aid Care of Limb Injuries A2 - Sprayberry, Kim A. In N. E. Robinson (Ed.), Robinson’s Current Therapy in Equine Medicine (Seventh Edition) (pp. 19-22). St. Louis: W.B. Saunders.