Researchers are a step closer to helping owners and trainers identify whether a horse is at risk for soft tissue injury. A simple blood test could reveal inflammatory mediators indicating the animal has sustained tissue damage and could be vulnerable to further harm.

David Horohov, PhD, William Robert Mills Chair at the University of Kentucky’s Gluck Equine Research Center, described the usefulness of detecting pro-inflammatory cytokine mRNA at the 2012 American Association of Equine Practitioners convention, held Dec. 1-5 in Anaheim, Calif.

"The expression of pro-inflammatory cytokine mRNA post-exercise is an indicator of the body’s response to tissue damage that has occurred during the exercise," Horohov explained. "While we normally associate inflammation with a disease state, the fact is that some inflammation is necessary to begin the healing process.

"However, if pro-inflammatory cytokine mRNA expression continues to rise throughout the training period, the amount of damage that is occurring may be exceeding the capacity of the body to heal, and this could result in an injury," he continued. "By contrast, if the pro-inflammatory gene expression goes down over time the horse is adapting to the exercise, and this likely means the horse is at less risk for injury."

Horohov and his colleagues employed 25 2-year-old Thoroughbreds arriving at a training center two months before beginning training; shortly after their arrival, he took baseline blood samples to be used as comparisons later in the study period. Two weeks prior to training commencement, he started 13 of the 25 horses on a nutrition