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Unraveling the mysteries of aging in horses

By Alex Jimenez

Most scientific research is prompted by the search for tangible answers to some of life’s most fundamental questions. Where did we come from? Why do we look, feel and act the way we do? In some underlying form, the drive to understand these concepts is at the heart of scientific progress.

Yet, few questions remain as elusive as those surrounding the biological mystery of aging. Human medicine has been attempting to understand—and halt—this process for centuries. Given that aging inevitably brings a slew of health problems, it’s only fitting that scientists would turn their microscopes toward this phenomenon to understand how it works. Although many scientists study aging to advance the health and well-being of humans, Morris Animal Foundation is committed to helping scientists use these same principles to help animals. 

In one such Morris Animal Foundation–funded study at the University of Kentucky, principal investigator Dr. Kristine Urschel is working to understand why old age leads to the loss of muscle mass in horses. Under the guidance of her mentor, Dr. David Horohov, Dr. Urschel’s research could provide support for aging horses in several ways.

“This research could help extend the life expectancy of older horses and also help owners and stakeholders to better care for their aging equines,” Dr. Urschel says.

The team’s research focuses on how other age-related and geriatric diseases might affect protein metabolism. Specifically, the study is first testing to see how levels of inflammation common in older horses are related to protein synthesis. Second, the study is looking at how the age-related disease known as Cushing’s disease may also affect protein synthesis.

Although the study is still a year from completion, results look promising. Many of the techniques being used in this study have been extensively applied in human studies, but never before with horses. Moreover, the study is examining how protein synthesis is affected by age-related factors at the whole-body, muscular and molecular levels. As a result, new treatments based on significant findings in this study can be applied in various ways, including the development of dietary strategies and disease-specific treatments.

Through the continued support of studies such as this one, the mystery of aging will become less elusive and one day will open its secrets to the world of medicine for both humans and animals.

Scientific Publication

Wagner, Ennis, Betancourt, Adams, Horohov, Urschel, “The Effects of Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drug Administration on Systemic and Muscle Inflammation in Mature and Aged Horses”, Journal of Equine Veterinary Science 2011; 31: 295-296

Related Links

Maintaining Muscle Mass in Older Horses
Articular Cartilage Maturation and Repair


Posted by MAFon November 28, 2011.

Categories: Animal health, Equine health, Horse health

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Submitted by Leigh Jacobs at: January 30, 2012
Obviously, the results of this study will be of interest to those of us who have horses with Cushings. I am constantly fighting the loss of muscle mass on my horse and find that keeping him conditioned as much as the disease allows helps in keeping the muscle mass. However, I have resorted to trying several supplements and since I can't tell which one is most effective, I use them all! I hope this study will produce the data that will make it more cost effective to keep our horses in good health.
Submitted by Andrea Woodward-Hunt at: December 8, 2011
I own a 31 year old Dutch Warmblood ex-eventer- he was retired at 12 through no fault of his own and left pretty much to his own devices for the best part of 12 years..... I had him on loan aged 24 (long story) and bought him aged 26!! He has overcome a severe tendon injury and has cataracts, worn teeth, dodgy front legs and a bump on his spine but he still wants to go for a gallop when he sees an open space LOL!! I wouldn't change him for the world (sometimes he acts like he's 11 not 31) and hope he has a few more years to go!! :)
Submitted by carolyn at: December 1, 2011
Hi, Caring for our senior equines is becoming more important to many of us. Our next issue of Holistic Horse Magazine is dedicated to the senior horse. I hope you will find some relevant information in it and on our website www.holistichorse.com