Equine Research at Lyons Farm
Exciting equine research projects at Lyons are designed to investigate aspects of equine physiology that are highly relevant for the continued success and reputation of the Irish horse industry on a global stage.
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The Thoroughbred industry has an imposed birth date for all Thoroughbreds of Jan 1 in the northern hemisphere. This has placed a demand on breeders to have mares foal early in the year so that offspring are mature enough to compete for high prices at the annual horse sales and to perform well on the track as two and three years old. As mares are naturally long day breeders and normally only become reproductively active in mid-late Spring, daylight is a key influencer of their reproductive physiology. Ground-breaking research conducted at Lyons Research Farm by UCD’s Head of Equine, Dr. Barbara Anne Murphy, investigated the intensity and wavelength of light that could influence reproductive hormones in the mare. This research gave rise to the development of the Equilume Light Mask, an innovation that has formed the basis of a UCD spin-out company, and greatly impacted the way mares are managed on breeding farms the world over.
Racehorses in training are regimentally trained at the same time each day, normally in the early morning hours. Studies conducted at Lyons by Dr. Murphy and her colleagues investigated the impact of this early morning exercise by looking at skeletal muscle gene expression in horses before and after an 8-week exercise regime consisting of 1 hour each morning at walk and trot using an automated horse exerciser. The results showed that morning exercise significantly changes the pattern of expression of important genes in muscle tissue in horses. It was concluded that the horse’s muscle anticipates the daily exercise and turns on genes that will protect against exercise damage and facilitate performance early in the day, and genes that are responsible for muscle repair and regeneration at night. This research helps inform trainers about the impact of the time of training on performance and identifies ways to potentially improve race performance and prevent injury.
All animals on our planet have an internal biological clock that allows synchronisation between their physiological functions and the daily light-dark cycle. Horses are no different. The primary biological rhythm is the circadian (approximate 24-h) rhythm of most organs in the body. Humans have a circadian rhythm that has a length of 24.2 hours, slightly longer than 24. This is why ‘jet lag’ effects are worse for humans travelling in an eastward direction across time zones as it is easier for our body clock to get longer and adapt to the longer day when travelling west than to shorten to and early night when travelling east. Horses travel in their hundreds of thousands each year to international competitions across the globe. In order to understand how their body adapts to these time zone displacements it is first necessary to learn about the length of their free-running circadian rhythm. Is it longer or shorter than 24-h? Studies planned using the equine facilities at Lyons Farm will answer this question for the first time.