Horseplay is Serious Business For Babies

The opportunity for foals to run and play isn’t just a great way to burn off energy; play is essential for healthy bone development. New Zealand researchers Chris Rogers and Keren Dittmer of Massey University concluded that playing for foals not only immediately impacts bone, but it provides the framework for future response: Bone changes both shape and properties based on the loading and strain it is placed under. The cumulative effect of strain on bones while horses are young can help reduce the risk of musculoskeletal injuries later in life.

Foals are able to stand and run soon after birth, and they can be seen playing throughout their formative years. Foals also gain weight steadily until they are about 14 months old, when they’ve reached about 90 percent of their mature height. Spontaneous playing throughout the beginning of their lives stimulates bone development.

To study the interaction between bone development and play in horses, the researchers used the mechanostat theorem, which assumes that, at the tissue level, bone attempts to keep focused strain within a certain physiological range; heavier loads result in bone that changes to reduce the strain. Previous studies using the mechanostat theorem have suggested that horses used in competitive events that require movements outside the natural range of motion be introduced to the exercises at an early age so their skeleton can adapt to the loads being asked of it.
Citing 66 papers in their review, the researchers conclude

that spontaneous playing may be crucial for optimal bone development in the horse. As a foal grows, his play becomes increasingly complex, which reinforces the theory that appropriate stimuli early in life capitalizes on the cumulative compounding effect in equine bones, keeping horses sounder.

Read more at HorseTalk.

Read the study here.

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