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Objective—To determine the impact of a free-choice diet on nutritional intake and body condition of feral horses.

Animals—Cadavers of 41 feral horses from 5 Australian locations.

Procedures—Body condition score (BCS) was determined (scale of 1 to 9), and the stomach was removed from horses during postmortem examination. Stomach contents were analyzed for nutritional variables and macroelement and microelement concentrations. Data were compared among the locations and also compared with recommended daily intakes for horses.

Results—Mean BCS varied by location; all horses were judged to be moderately thin. The BCS for males was 1 to 3 points higher than that of females. Amount of protein in the stomach contents varied from 4.3% to 14.9% and was significantly associated with BCS. Amounts of water-soluble carbohydrate and ethanol-soluble carbohydrate in stomach contents of feral horses from all 5 locations were higher than those expected for horses eating high-quality forage. Some macroelement and microelement concentrations were grossly excessive, whereas others were grossly deficient. There was no evidence of ill health among the horses.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results suggested that the diet for several populations of feral horses in Australia appeared less than optimal. However, neither low BCS nor trace mineral deficiency appeared to affect survival of the horses. Additional studies on food sources in these regions, including analysis of water-soluble carbohydrate, ethanol-soluble carbohydrate, and mineral concentrations, are warranted to determine the provenance of such rich sources of nutrients. Determination of the optimal diet for horses may need revision.

Full access
in American Journal of Veterinary Research



To determine the effect of a starch-rich treat, added to the daily diet of ponies for 10 days, on enteroinsular responses to meal consumption.


10 mixed-breed adult ponies owned by Queensland University of Technology were used in the study. Six ponies were metabolically healthy, and 4 were insulin dysregulated at the start of the study, according to the results of an in-feed oral glucose test.


A bread-based treat was offered twice daily for 10 days, adding 0.36 ± 0.04 g/kg body weight (BW) carbohydrates to the daily diet. Before and after treatment, the intestinal capacity for simple carbohydrate absorption was approximated with a modified D-xylose absorption test. Plasma glucagon-like peptide-2 (GLP-2), blood glucose, and serum insulin responses to eating were also measured before and after treatment.


The absorption of D-xylose (area under the curve [AUC]) increased 1.6-fold (P < .001) after 10 days of eating the treat. In addition, while basal (fasted) GLP-2 concentrations were not affected, GLP-2 AUC increased 1.4-fold in response to eating (P = .005). The treat did not change blood glucose or serum insulin concentrations, before, during, or after eating.


A small amount of additional carbohydrate each day in the form of a treat can cause a measurable change in the enteroinsular responses to eating.

Full access
in Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association


Objective—To determine solar load-bearing structures in the feet of feral horses and investigate morphological characteristics of the sole in feral horses and domestic Thoroughbreds.

Sample—Forelimbs from cadavers of 70 feral horses and 20 domestic Thoroughbreds in Australia.

Procedures—Left forefeet were obtained from 3 feral horse populations from habitats of soft substrate (SS [n = 10 horses]), hard substrate (HS [10]), and a combination of SS and HS (10) and loaded in vitro. Pressure distribution was measured with a pressure plate. Sole depth was measured at 12 points across the solar plane in feet obtained from feral horses from SS (n = 20 horses) and HS (20) habitats and domestic Thoroughbreds (20).

Results—Feet of feral horses from HS habitats loaded the periphery of the sole and hoof wall on a flat surface. Feral horses from HS or SS habitats had greater mean sole depth than did domestic Thoroughbreds. Sole depth was greatest peripherally and was correlated with the loading pattern.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—The peripheral aspect of the sole in the feet of feral horses had a load-bearing function. Because of the robust nature of the tissue architecture, the hoof capsule of feral horses may be less flexible than that of typical domestic horses. The application of narrow-web horseshoes may not take full advantage of the load-bearing and force-dissipating properties of the peripheral aspect of the sole. Further studies are required to understand the effects of biomechanical stimulation on the adaptive responses of equine feet.

Full access
in American Journal of Veterinary Research


Objective—To investigate the density of the primary epidermal lamellae (PEL) around the solar circumference of the forefeet of near-term fetal feral and nonferal (ie, domesticated) horses.

Sample—Left forefeet from near-term Australian feral (n = 14) and domesticated (4) horse fetuses.

Procedures—Near-term feral horse fetuses were obtained from culled mares within 10 minutes of death; fetuses that had died in utero 2 weeks prior to anticipated birth date and were delivered from live Thoroughbred mares were also obtained. Following disarticulation at the carpus, the left forefoot of each fetus was frozen during dissection and data collection. In a standard section of each hoof, the stratum internum PEL density was calculated at the midline center (12 o'clock) and the medial and lateral break-over points (11 and 1 o'clock), toe quarters (10 and 2 o'clock), and quarters (4 and 6 o'clock). Values for matching lateral and medial zones were averaged and expressed as 1 density. Density differences at the 4 locations between the feral and domesticated horse feet were assessed by use of imaging software analysis.

Results—In fetal domesticated horse feet, PEL density did not differ among the 4 locations. In fetal feral horse feet, PEL density differed significantly among locations, with a pattern of gradual reduction from the dorsal to the palmar aspect of the foot. The PEL density distribution differed significantly between fetal domesticated and feral horse feet.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Results indicated that PEL density distribution differs between fetal feral and domesticated horse feet, suggestive of an adaptation of feral horses to environment challenges.

Full access
in American Journal of Veterinary Research


Objective—To determine the effect of various environmental conditions on the degree of hydration in hoof wall horn tissue from feral horses and investigate the effect of short-term foot soaking on moisture content in hoof wall and sole tissue in domestic horses.

Animals—40 feral horses from 3 environments (wet and boggy [n = 10], partially flooded [20], and constantly dry desert [10]) and 6 nonferal Quarter Horses.

Procedures—The percentage of moisture content of hoof wall samples from feral horses was measured in vitro. In a separate evaluation, the percentage of moisture content of hoof wall and sole tissue was measured in the dry and soaked forefeet of Quarter Horses.

Results—Mean ± SD percentage of moisture content was 29.6 ± 5.1%, 29.5 ± 5.8%, and 29.5 ± 2.9% for feral horses from the wet and boggy, partially flooded, and constantly dry desert environments, respectively. Moisture content did not differ among the 3 groups, nor did it differ between dry and soaked hoof wall samples from nonferal horses. However, soaking in water for 2 hours resulted in a significant increase in the percentage of moisture content of the sole.

Conclusions and Clinical Relevance—Environmental conditions do not appear to affect moisture content in the hoof wall horn. Soaking horses' feet regularly in water would be unlikely to change the degree of hydration in the hoof wall horn but may further hydrate the sole.

Full access
in American Journal of Veterinary Research