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Equine Guelph aims to strengthen communication among equine researchers, horse owners and the industryNovember 2004

Equine research, education and performance are the key functions of a recently established centre at U of G that will serve as the University's door to the horse industry.

Supported and overseen by equine industry groups, Equine Guelph aims to strengthen communication among equine researchers, horse owners and the industry, and will focus on promoting equine health and well-being, says Prof. Alan Meek, former dean of the Ontario Veterinary College and co-chair of the new body’s advisory council.

"There's nothing like this elsewhere in Canada," he says. "The horse industry is growing and is a very important sector of Ontario's economy."

As a key component of that industry, horse racing alone is worth roughly $1 billion a year in Ontario.

"Guelph has the expertise to support the health-care needs of the industry, and Equine Guelph's programs are an investment in that and the future of the industry," he says.

Equine Guelph was created in summer 2003 with a threefold mandate in research, education and performance.

The Equine Guelph research program has invested more than $400,000 in 18 projects for 2004/05. Clinical studies professor Laurent Viel, chair of the equine research committee, says most of those projects will last for one or two years and yield industry applications.

Current research projects include a study of the causes of fractures and other racetrack accidents that currently require euthanization of horses. U of G faculty hope to help prevent injuries resulting from training methods or track surfaces.

Another study is looking at hoof shape and dynamics. Using computer simulation programs in conjunction with researchers in the School of Engineering and the Department of Human Biology and Nutritional Sciences, OVC scientists hope to improve track surfaces and reduce hoof injury.

On the learning front, the equine science certificate program offered by distance education through the Office of Open Learning has already attracted about 450 students, from horse owners to grooms and trainers. Through six 12-week-long courses completed online, students learn about horse nutrition, physiology, anatomy and other topics. To date, more than 35 people have graduated from the program.

"The goal of the courses is to work with horse owners to make changes in behaviour that result in better horse care," says Gayle Ecker, senior manager for Equine Guelph.

Along with other staff, faculty and industry professionals, she teaches equine courses online to a growing number of students registered in the program worldwide. "There's a demand for these courses," she says.

An equine performance centre (EPC) provides services such as advanced diagnostics for horses referred to Guelph because of unexplained performance problems. (The Veterinary Teaching Hospital will continue to provide medical and surgical care for horses referred by private veterinarians.)

The EPC will temporarily occupy the Equine Sciences Building, which is located at the intersection of McGilvray Street and Smith Lane. Renovations to be completed by next spring for that purpose will include a reception area, state-of-the-art assessment rooms and a ward area.

The EPC will have access to infrastructure such as OVC's new magnetic resonance imaging facility. Until now, horse owners looking for such facilities and services have had to send their animals to the United States.

Equine Guelph's advisory council includes U of G and industry representatives. Its co-chairs since summer 2004 have been Meek and Moira Gunn, a veterinarian and president of Armstrong Bros. in Inglewood, Ont. (The inaugural chair was Byron Beeler, former president of Novartis Animal Health Canada Inc.) Other U of G members of the advisory council are Viel and Prof. Rob McLaughlin, associate vice-president, agri-food and partnerships.

Other members of the advisory council include representatives of the Ontario Equestrian Federation, the Ontario Racing Commission and Woodbine Entertainment Group.

Equine Guelph currently receives about $540,000 a year from industry partners, including the E.P. Taylor Equine Research Fund, the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of Ontario, the Ontario Harness Horse Association and the Ontario Horse Racing Industry Association. Funding also comes through the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food agreement with U of G.

"Equine Guelph represents an opportunity for many facets of the industry to interface with the Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the University of Guelph," says McLaughlin. "It creates the environment or venue for us to discuss issues facing the horse industry and how we can help them by means of research, performance and education."

- Andrew Vowles