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Alberta Horse Breeders and Owners Conference.

Red Deer hosts top equine education event

As an equine-minded veterinary student at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM), I couldn't think of a better way to spend my first weekend back to class than at the Alberta Horse Breeders and Owners Conference on Jan. 10-12 — Canada's premier horse industry event.

The annual conference, which celebrated its 32nd year in Red Deer, Alta., is hosted by the Horse Industry Association of Alberta — a longtime supporter of the WCVM's Equine Health Research Fund (EHRF). This partnership began more than 30 years ago, and the popular conference continues to help promote the WCVM's horse health research activities and to support the college's equine-focused students.

While I have attended the conference in the past on my own, this year I went on behalf of the EHRF along with classmate Kara Rutherford and large animal surgery resident Dr. Andres Sanchez.

When we arrived for the conference's Friday evening open house, our goal was to talk to attendees about some of the EHRF's equine health studies. This included projects with goals such as increasing our understanding of moon blindness (equine recurrent uveitis) and establishing the incidence of sand colic in the Saskatoon region.

Much of the research that the EHRF supports has an impact on western Canadian horse owners and veterinarians by improving our understanding, diagnosis and treatment of equine diseases.

Besides talking with horse owners, I had the chance to attend a few of the conference's presentations during the weekend. As a veterinary student, it can be hard to keep up with the industry between classes and exams so I enjoyed the opportunity to listen to experts' perspectives on the future of the industry, equine health and new developments in the horse world.

The question of whether you should leave your horse barefoot or use shoes is a common discussion topic among horse owners. Dr. Stephen O'Grady, a veterinarian and professional farrier, was able to shed some light on the debate. While the saying "no hoof, no horse" holds true, it's uncommon to find a veterinarian dedicated to foot disease so I jumped at the chance to hear from O'Grady.

Alberta Horse Breeders and Owners Conference.

He provided a thorough review of the anatomy of the hoof and discussed the pros and cons of barefoot and shoeing. Ultimately, the decision is based on the individual horse considering his conformation and activity.

WCVM associate professor Dr. Katharina Lohmann delivered a presentation about recurrent airway obstruction (RAO or heaves) and what could put a horse at risk of developing the condition. Heaves is a chronic, non-infectious lung disease that is often compared to asthma in humans.

Lohmann, a board-certified specialist in large animal medicine, discussed diagnosis, treatment and management options. Heaves is a relatively common disease in horses and likely something I will see in practice one day so it was valuable to learn about medical and environmental management of affected horses.

One of my favourite parts of the Red Deer weekend is the "News Hour": I always enjoy the discussions about the most current developments in the horse industry. Of particular interest was an update on the pigeon fever outbreak in southern Alberta that was provided by Dr. Kelsey Brandon (WCVM '12), the veterinarian who diagnosed the first case.

Pigeon fever is caused by the bacteria Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis and causes abscesses to form, primarily on the chest of affected horses. Several cases occurred near Claresholm, Alta., this past summer.

Other "News Hour" topics included West Nile virus epidemiology in Western Canada, the development of a National Biosecurity Standard for horses by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and the new racetrack and casino being built north of Calgary in Balzac, Alta.

Overall, this year's conference proved to be a weekend packed with equine education. In keeping with the theme of higher education, organizers work tirelessly to recruit international leaders in the horse industry to speak at the event.

For this reason, the Horse Breeders and Owners Conference has earned respect throughout North America — and it's why I keep coming back.

Hayley Kosolofski is a second-year veterinary student from Sherwood Park, Alta., who is the 2013-14 student representative for the WCVM's Equine Health Research Fund.
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