With globalization comes a more international sharing of scientific knowledge. In the 21st century, what researchers discover about horses in one part of the world can benefit researchers in many other parts of the world, through the common international language of English.

But that wasn’t the case in previous centuries. Until the second half of the 20th century, most equine research was published in the language of the country where the research occurred. Some Western European-language texts (French, German, or Spanish, for example) might have been shared among fellow international researchers. But publications in other parts of the world—particularly Asia—likely stayed isolated within their linguistic boundaries.

Today, some scientists are looking back at these older scientific works that never made it onto the international scene. And they’re recognizing not only the importance of those works—and how they might have shaped future research within their own country—but also how they could have been useful to worldwide science at the time.

That’s the case for a pair of Japanese researchers: Atsushi Hiraga, DVM, PhD, researcher and veterinarian at the Hidaka Training and Research Center of Japan Racing Association (JRA), in Hokkaido, and Shigeru SUGANO, PhD, Professor Emeritus at the University of Tokyo.

Together, they’re highlighting the early 20th century contributions of scientists at the University of Tokyo who were conducting equine exercise physiology research with methods that might have been well ahead of their time. Specifically, they focused on the 1933 Japanese publication, “Studies on exercise physiology and performance testing of the racehorse,” by Shigeo Matsuba, DVM, PhD, and Torao Shimamura, DVM, PhD, which measured horses’ recovery rates.

“The concept of ‘recovery rate’ presented by these researchers must have been novel at that time, and it’s still a timeless idea,” Hiraga said. “The fact that he already proposed an advanced idea over 80 years ago was also essential and need-to-know knowledge for contemporary veterinarians and researchers.”

Reminiscent of modern-day exercise research, Matsuba’s study investigated 20 physiological variables for evaluating the fitness of 92 Thoroughbred racehorses from Japan’s two leading breeding farms (at the time) before exercise, immediately after exercise, and then one, two, and three hours after exercise to calculate recovery rates, Hiraga said.

“Dr. Matsuba was, so to speak, the father of veterinary medicine and surgery as well as equine exercise physiology and farriery science in Japan and had great contributions to veterinary medicine and the horse industry,” he said.

“But those contributions and even the name itself are hardly known anymore. Most scientific papers are written in English, and in this context, ‘written in Japanese’ means almost no chance of being read. This also means that much good research written by the Japanese could end up buried. So, I’d like to revitalize some of that research performed so many years ago. I felt it would be important both from a historical and a scientific point of view.”

Matsuba’s work did receive a moment of “worldwide attention” after he presented his results at an international conference in Moscow in 1930, Hiraga and Sugano added. Shortly after his 1933 publication, equine exercise physiology publications began increasing in eastern academic journals. There are some unconfirmed reports that German-speaking countries began working with “recovery rate” equine research, Hiraga said. However, it apparently wasn’t until the 1950s that exercise physiology research in the horse began to appear in the English language, primarily by C. Lovett Evans, PhD, of the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment, in Porton Down, United Kingdom.

The 1933 Japanese study, while focused on Thoroughbred racehorses, later became a crucial study relative to the health and performance of draft horses used in Japan during World War II, Hiraga said. Additionally, one of Matsuba’s students who continued his work found that the Germans might also have used the research to create performance tests for their draft horses in the 1940s and 1950s.

The Matsuba study still influences modern racehorse performance research in Japan, Hiraga said. “After the Equine Research Institute of the JRA was established in 1959, research on equine veterinary medicine including exercise physiology was mainly performed in this institute in collaboration with the University of Tokyo during the 1960s,” he said. “Since then, the Equine Research Institute has served as a center of research for equine veterinary medicine in Japan. Currently, there are two major research centers within the JRA: Equine Research Institute and Hidaka Training and Research Center.”

The study, “Studies on exercise physiology and performance testing of racehorses performed in Japan during the 1930s using recovery rate as an index,” was published in the Journal of Equine Science