Bone Development Before Birth in Horses

In horses bone development begins in the womb, but researchers are still working to understand the complexities of in utero bone growth.
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If you’ve got to get up and run within an hour of birth, you’ve got to have the bones for it. Fortunately, horses have them. | Photo: iStock
If you’ve got to get up and run within an hour of birth, you’ve got to have the bones for it. Fortunately, horses have them. That’s because in horses, special bone development starts taking place inside the womb, said Paul René van Weeren, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECVS, professor in the department of equine sciences at Utrecht University, in the Netherlands.

But researchers are still working to understand the complexities of bone growth in the womb. That’s why van Weeren and colleagues recently completed a study on the topic.

Bone Development 101

The “exercising” and “loading” of bones and their inner grid structure—composed of small beams, the so-called trabeculae—are what make them grow strong and able to support body weight and the forces put upon them, he said. That happens in mature animals and in most young animals that can’t walk just after birth, like dogs, cats, and humans. In those species, that loading happens in the days, weeks, and months after birth, building up to walking and running.

But equids (and other “precocial” species in which the young are relatively mature and mobile from the moment of birth) don’t have time for that. Van Weeren said this is partially because of movements and loading in the uterus, but other reasons remain unclear

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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