Studies indicate that children who exercise are less likely to experience injury as they grow into adolescents and adulthood. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) are exploring whether the same will be the case for foals.

“We know from another study that mild exercise early in life is associated with positive effects in horses, but exactly how it stimulates bone growth in areas susceptible to fractures is still unknown,” says Dr. Annette McCoy, associate professor of equine surgery at UIUC. “Exercise interventions earlier in their lives might better prepare a horse’s bones to face the mechanical forces they will see in their late adolescence and adulthood.”

Since research finds that too much exercise can be unhealthy for foals, the team is exploring whether a controlled exercise program will be beneficial.

“Most foals, regardless of breed, spend the first year of their lives sleeping, standing and walking,” McCoy says. “Because we’re really focused on the pre-training period, I think that our findings should be applicable across breeds.”

The study, which is funded by the Morris Animal Foundation, is expected to take 2 years.