September 12, 2019

Interpretive Summary: Research shows calves need one sprint per week to experience increased bone strength

Interpretive Summary: Calves, as a model for juvenile horses, need only one sprint per week to experience increased bone strength

By Anne Zinn

A study published in the Journal of Animal Science has shown that calves only need one sprint per week to experience increased bone strength. The team at Michigan State University used calves as a model for juvenile horses to determine whether or not sprinting 1 or 3 d/week would have the same benefits for bone health as sprinting 5 d/week.

As interest and participation in horse racing rises, so does the inherent risk of the sport. Injuries to race horses can lead to career-ending retirement, death of horses, injury to or death of jockeys, adverse perceptions of horse racing by the public, and detrimental effects to the horse industry’s economics. For these reasons, it is important to research and develop recommended protocols that would lessen the rate of injury. Past research has indicated that horses kept in stalls at the onset of race training leads to the loss of bone mineral content, but that sprinting 5 d/ week for 6 weeks increased bone mineral content. Therefore, the current research set out to determine if sprinting Holstein bull calves 1 or 3 d/ week would have the same beneficial impacts to bone health as sprinting 5 d/week, when compared to confined animals.

Results from this study supports that sprinting 1, 3, or 5 d/ week during growth can increase bone health, cause favorable alterations in bone markers, and influence bone formation. Calves sprinted 1 d/week exhibited a 26% increase to fracture force compared to calves confined without sprinting, demonstrating that few strides are needed to increase bone health, and highlighting the danger to skeletal strength if sprinting opportunities are not afforded. Implementing sprint-exercising for young animals 1 d/week for 6 weeks would require little time and funds while increasing the physical welfare of the animal and potentially reducing the risk of musculoskeletal injury during training and racing.

Further research in this topic is needed to determine if sprinting animals at least 1 d/week at a young age can maintain heightened bone strength into maturity.

The full paper can be found here.