A documentary on racehorse travel currently being flighted on National Geographic’s Animal Planet’ gives a rather dim view on the shipping of thoroughbred around the world. The programme, entitled, ‘Mega Moves’ is arguably biased in its portrayal of the logistics behind horse travel and the affects flying from one destination to another are supposed to have on thoroughbreds.
Mike de Kock, who has flown his international competitors around the world since 2001, pointed to a recent Telegraph UK article in which science reporter Nick Collins writes that “flying racehorses long-distance to competitions in other countries can actually make them faster!”
Horse on treadmill. (per illustration).
Collins reports that this claims comes from scientists after discovering the bizarre phenomenon of ‘Jet Nag’.
Researchers, he writes, have found that the horses can run at full pace on a treadmill for 25 seconds longer after the transition than they could previously.
Horses recover very quickly from the effects of crossing time zones because, unlike humans, their bodies are highly sensitive to changes in light and are not strongly attached to a 24-hour cycle.
Collins elaborates: “While travelling long-haul, particularly in an easterly direction, can make us drowsy, slow and cause disrupted sleep, horses adjust themselves almost immediately when exposed to a long period of darkness followed by daylight.
“The transition can even have a positive effect because it triggers hormones which boost the animals’ athletic performance, a study due to be published in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology suggests.
“Bristol University researchers took seven racehorses through a three-month training regime before exposing them to artificial light conditions which simulated a flight eastward across seven time zones.
“The researchers reported that although the animals’ stress levels remained normal and their bodies adapted to the new day/night cycle within 24 hours, the change caused a boost in a hormone known as prolactin, which acts on organs crucial to physical exertion.
“They found that the horses could run at full pace on a treadmill for 25 seconds longer after the transition than they could previously, but this effect had vanished two weeks later.
“Dr Domingo Tortonese, who led the study, said: ‘If you were to fly a horse across a meridian it would be better to do it as close as possible to the race.’
“Although the horses in the study were not actually subjected to the rigours of a flight, Dr Tortonese said interviews with horse trainers suggested that some had accidentally stumbled across the phenomenon themselves.
“While some trainers travel as early as possible to competitions, under the assumption that the animals’ body clocks work in the same way as ours, others have noticed an improvement if they travel at the last minute, he said.
“A follow-up study found that the horses gained the same benefit when travelling west, Dr Tortonese said, but the animals would only receive a boost if they remained above the equator.
“Because horses have a very strong annual body clock, transferring them to a different season would have the opposite effect, he explained.”