Animal Aid

PROTECTING HORSES - In league with the AHT?

Posted 1 June 2003
Racing horse

Following the publication of Riding for a Fall, which detailed some of the cruel and painful experiments carried out by the Animal Health Trust, our supporters have been corresponding with the AHT and other organisations who have worked closely with them.

What follows is a letter from the International League for the Protection of Horses to an Animal Aid supporter, along with our response.

Dear ______

This letter follows my earlier one responding to yours of 20th May. Since last writing I have made some enquiries and spoken to the Chief Executive of Animal Health Trust. As I suspected, you have been rather misinformed about what goes on there.

I can assure you that the Animal Health Trust do not conduct "barbarous experiments". Certainly they have a treadmill, as does any veterinary hospital and many other establishments. However its use is carefully controlled and horses are not forced to use it to the point of exhaustion. They are horrified at being accused of deliberately wounding or infecting pregnant mares leading to paralysis or abortion, and surrogate birth experiments have not taken place at the AHT. What they do conduct are experiments assessing the effectiveness of vaccines, and take the greatest care of horses so used. Their procedures are not invasive, and they conduct no experimental surgery. They have a good record of re-homing horses that they no longer need.

We in the ILPH have worked closely with AHT, as have the RSPCA. In fact the RSPCA recently commissioned a study from them into the causes of fractures in two-year olds in racing. I think you will agree that if two such charities as us and the RSPCA are happy to use the Animal Health Trust, they can't be too bad!

That said, I do appreciate your letter. The detection and prevention of cruelty requires constant vigilance from those of us who really care, and you are quite right to express your concerns. I hope I have put your mind at rest.

Yours sincerely

J R Smales
Chief Executive, International League for the Protection of Horses

Animal Aid has produced the following response:

Mr. John Smales
Chief Executive, International League for the Protection of Horses
Anne Colvin House
NR16 2LR

17th June 2003

Dear Mr. Smales

I write in response to your 5th June reply to ______. ______ was concerned about some of the invasive and distressing experiments conducted on horses by the Animal Health Trust. Your reply sounds most reassuring but I'm afraid it is the ILPH that has been misinformed about what goes on at the Animal Health Trust.

Animal Aid has researched the Animal Health Trust's published equine research over the past few years and has found some of it to be very disturbing. For example, we have three published papers where twelve thoroughbred horses were exercised on a treadmill (half of them gently and half of them hard) for nineteen weeks before they were killed for analysis of their cartilage. We found this chilling, particularly when the cartilage of some of the many hundreds of horses who die on the race track (657 between 1996-8 alone) could have been examined instead. A further study involved injecting eight two-year-old female horses with steroids sixteen times before killing them too. Such blatantly wasteful research, displaying a total lack of respect for the animals' lives, is all the more disturbing when conducted by a veterinary charity that one might naively expect would seek to protect animals from exploitation and abuse.

Other papers report experiments where Welsh mountain ponies were deliberately infected with equine flu, equine herpes or equine arteritis virus in the course of vaccine research. Far from "taking the greatest care of the horses so used", large numbers of ponies were unvaccinated "controls" who suffered significantly and predictably from their deliberate infections. Symptoms include paralysis, fever, lethargy, depression, swelling around the eye socket, nasal discharge, 'nettle rash' and swelling of the scrotum and mammary gland, as well as abortions in pregnant mares. Ponies have been deliberately killed at the end of some experiments, which have been part-funded by commercial interests such as the Horserace Betting Levy Board. Animal Aid considers it inexcusable to use horses or ponies, pregnant or otherwise, as experimental "controls" when there is a vast literature from many years of similar experiments, many of them also conducted by the Animal Health Trust, from which control data could be reliably "borrowed" with absolute scientific confidence.

As to the Animal Health Trust's procedures not being invasive, how else would you describe an experiment in which five horses had their carotid arteries translocated surgically to be more accessible, so that catheters could be inserted in them as well as in their jugular veins, while they were restrained in stocks wearing face-masks through which they were starved of oxygen - for no discernible purpose whatsoever?

The Animal Health Trust's reassurances to you are disingenuous in the extreme and, I'm sorry to have to say, ILPH has also failed in the duty of constant vigilance which, you so rightly point out, is necessary to detect and prevent cruelty. Why should you choose to believe the Animal Health Trust above Animal Aid, without even asking to see our evidence? Some of the references to which we have referred are below. We have plenty more we would be happy to share with you if you wish to pursue this matter further.

Yours sincerely

Kathy Archibald
Science researcher, Animal Aid

The effect of intra-articular methylprednisolone acetate and exercise on equine carpal subchondral and cancellous bone microhardness.
Murray RC, Znaor N, Tanner KE, DeBowes RM, Gaughan EM, Goodship AE.
Equine Veterinary Journal 2002 May;34(3):306-10

Biochemical composition of equine carpal articular cartilage is influenced by short-term exercise in a site-specific manner.
Murray RC, Birch HL, Lakhani K, Goodship AE.
Osteoarthritis Cartilage
2001 Oct;9(7):625-32

The distribution of cartilage oligomeric matrix protein (COMP) in equine carpal articular cartilage and its variation with exercise and cartilage deterioration.
Murray RC, Smith RK, Henson FM, Goodship A.
Veterinary Journal
2001 Sep;162(2):121-8

Equine carpal articular cartilage fibronectin distribution associated with training, joint location and cartilage deterioration.
Murray RC, Janicke HC, Henson FM, Goodship A.
Equine Veterinary Journal
2000 Jan;32(1):47-51

Equine influenza vaccine efficacy: the significance of antigenic variation.
Yates P, Mumford JA
Veterinary Microbiology 2000 May 74:173-7

Evaluation of a prototype sub-unit vaccine against equine arteritis virus comprising the entire ectodomain of the virus large envelope glycoprotein (G(L)): induction of virus-neutralizing antibody and assessment of protection in ponies.
Castillo-Olivares J, de Vries AA, Raamsman MJ, Rottier PJ, Lakhani K, Westcott D, Tearle JP, Wood JL, Mumford JA, Hannant D, Davis-Poynter NJ
Journal of General Virology 2001 82:2425-35

Endothelin in the equine hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstrictive response to acute hypoxia
AE Benamou, DJ Marlin and P Lekeux
Equine Veterinary Journal 2001 33(4):345-53

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