Mad Barn’s equine nutrition modelling project at the University of Guelph is underway after being awarded several research grants to match our initial investment.

Currently, there are large gaps in the research available on the nutritional needs of horses. The goal of our research program is to better understand nutrient dynamics in horses and to use advanced modelling techniques to formulate optimal feeding practices.

This requires bringing together researchers from several areas of expertise including equine science, modelling, nutrition, metabolism and computer programming.

Our Team

Leading our research team is Dr. Jennifer Ellis, Assistant Professor of Animal Systems Modelling at the University of Guelph.

In support of her work with Mad Barn, Dr. Ellis was recently awarded an Early Career Researcher award from Livestock Research Innovation Corporation – an organization that supports agriculture research in Ontario, Canada.

Mad Barn has also been awarded matching funding from Mitacs – a Canadian national grant agency that supports partnerships between academia and industry.

With this funding, we are able to take on two research fellows with advanced degrees in Animal Biology as well as several undergraduate summer students.

Our research fellows have extensive nutritional knowledge and key skills to bring this model together.

Emily Leishman - Postdoctoral Fellow

Dr. Emily Leishman, Ph.D. – her past research took a multi-disciplinary approach blending physiology, welfare, and genetics to understand how individual animals respond differently to stress.

She is currently working on evaluating existing nutrition and metabolism models to use them as a starting point for model development for horses.

Her previous experience with data modelling and computer programming are significant assets to this project.

Cara Cargo-Froom - Research Fellow

Cara Cargo-Froom, MSc is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Guelph and will be joining our research team as a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Fall of 2022.

Her research has focused on characterizing the impact of feed processing on the nutritional profile of common protein sources.

She will use these skills to evaluate the existing literature on feed characterization and perform in vitro digestibility studies that mimic equine digestion to provide missing data for the equine digestion model.

Research Overview

The core aim of Mad Barn’s project is to compile data on equine digestion and metabolism into a mechanistic model of post-absorptive nutrient metabolism in mature horses.

We will also be pursuing our own in vitro and in vivo research trials to collect primary data that will inform model development.

Development of robust nutrition models has already been done for the major livestock species (cows, pigs and chickens). In these species, models enable precision feeding to meet performance goals.

Until now, less research funding has been given to such undertakings in the equine sector. The tools we currently have for diet formulation in horses are relatively basic compared to those available for other species.

This limits the ability of the equine sector to address complex challenges such as interactions between equine nutrition, management, health and welfare.

Unfortunately, this also means that many equine diets are not well-balanced and fail to optimally support the horse’s well-being.

For example, in our 2021 analysis of 6,515 feeding programs, we found that the vast majority of equine diets oversupplied energy (at 84.5% above requirement) and protein (at 97.9% above requirement).

Over-feeding can lead to weight gain, metabolic dysfunction, and painful conditions such as ulcers and laminitis. There are also negative implications for equine welfare and environmental impact.

Building a mechanistic nutrition model will improve our understanding of how these processes are influenced by diet and physiological state so we can make better, individually-tailored dietary recommendations.

Ultimately, this model will be adapted into a user-friendly, open-access digital diet formulation tool available to all horse owners and equine nutritionists.

Our equine nutrition model will also accelerate future research so we can continue to improve our understanding of metabolic processes and related disorders, reduce waste by focusing on precision feeding and support the development of new products and services for the equine industry.