KER maintains a herd of approximately 40 horses on its 150-acre research farm in Central Kentucky. These experienced equine research animals are our most valuable employees, and are cared for by a large staff. We welcome visitors to the farm by appointment.

Frequently Asked Questions

When designing scientific studies, it’s important to minimize variables, which includes the type of horses used. Therefore, most KER research horses are mature Thoroughbred geldings. In the past, we have also maintained a group of Arabian geldings and performed collaborative research with university-owned Quarter Horses. We do sometimes need to use both geldings and mares in studies, so there are a few “girls” on the farm as well!
Most of our horses come from Thoroughbred sales. We sometimes also claim horses in active race training. We are shopping for something different than your typical racehorse buyer—we’re looking for horses that are very sound, have good appetites, and are easy for our interns to handle. Champion racehorses need not apply, but those with potential as sport horses are generally preferred because we can easily transition them into new careers down the road.
Yes. All of KER’s research horses are at least started under saddle. Interns enjoy hacking the more finished horses around the farm between studies.
KER research interns handle the horses’ daily maintenance, under the guidance of KER’s on-site farm manager and several Ph.D. nutritionists.
KER studies generally include digestion, exercise, and palatability.

In digestion trials, the horses’ precise intake and excretion are measured to see how the horses utilize their feed and water. To aid in the collection of urine and feces, the horses wear specially designed harnesses called nappies, which are emptied several times a day, and allow the horses the freedom to roam around their stall and take part in daily exercise. If they are wearing nappies, they are hand-walked or stretch their legs in the farm’s six-horse free exerciser. Because researchers need to measure the horses’ exact rations, muzzles that allow them to drink freely, but not graze are employed to allow horses without nappies to enjoy daily turnout without introducing the variability of pasture intake.

Horses participating in exercise studies run on KER’s high-speed treadmill. Horses are carefully trained at low speeds before they are asked to gallop. Before an exercise study begins, the horses are conditioned to reach a baseline level of fitness. Horses on an exercise trial will be asked to walk, trot, canter, or gallop on the treadmill at varying speeds depending on the needs of the study. Sometimes the duration of exercise is determined by how long it takes the horse to reach or maintain a certain heart rate. These studies may require drawing blood at intervals during exercise, which is done via a catheter placed in advance by our on-site veterinarian.

We also do palatability studies, measuring feed intake to see which flavors horses prefer. (The horses really love these studies, of course!) We also perform routine in vivo quality control studies to ensure that KER-affiliated feeds, ingredients, and supplements are free from prohibited substances.

Every horse on the farm is a valued individual. KER does not perform terminal studies.

Equine research horses are rotated on and off trials so everyone gets a break to just go out and be a horse on the 150-acre farm. When they are on trial, management is somewhat prescribed by the study needs and design, but every effort is made to keep schedules consistent and minimize stress.
Slowly and patiently. But most take to it very well, especially horses with previous race training. The first few sessions include simply walking on, standing quietly, getting lots of pats, and backing off. Then walking and trotting are introduced, and eventually cantering, galloping, and raising the treadmill on an incline. The most confident and experienced treadmill horses may also wear an indirect calorimetry mask. This looks like a muzzle connected to a long hose, and gathers the horses’ exhaled air during exercise, which helps us to measure when a horse switches from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism and from burning carbohydrates to utilizing stored fat for energy. The treadmill was specifically designed for horses’ use, and features a shock-absorbing galloping surface and numerous safety features.
Horses may cycle off trials for a variety of reasons, including persnickety taste preferences, or if they seem to be good sport horse prospects!

Several KER research horses have gone on to be excellent sport horses (including top finishers at the American Eventing Championships!). Others have gone home with interns at the end of their time at KER. Some are retired from exercise work to live out their days on the farm, occasionally participating in digestibility, palatability, or quality-control studies.

Absolutely! We welcome visitors to see the research farm and meet the horses by appointment.

Meet Some of the Horses

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