By Tyler Bui
The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation is the industry’s leader in equine-research funding. Since 1983, the foundation has given $32.1 million to 45 institutions across 412 projects, with the goal to provide the highest level of research toward equine health and develop the most innovative technology to combat illness and injury.
The foundation was established in the late 1930s by a group of horsemen who not only enjoyed horses for pleasure, but also as a form of transportation. The men began gathering funds in 1939, and by 1940, they were able to give out their first grant to the University of Pennsylvania.
The foundation is named after Admiral Cary T. Grayson, who was the head of American Red Cross, personal physician to President Woodrow Wilson, and the owner of Blue Ridge Farm, home to several champion racehorses. In 1989, the foundation merged with the Jockey Club to become the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. Today, the board of directors is led by chairman Dell Hancock, who has helped the foundation grow and expand with her commitment and passion for horses.
“Disease, virus, and maladies don’t go up to an animal and ask what breed it is, what discipline it participates in, or how big it is. Those things just happen to the equine community,” says Jamie Haydon, President of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. “Even though the Thoroughbred leaders were providing most of the funding and have been traditionally, all of our research benefits all horses, it is not set aside for one breed or discipline.”
Since its establishment, the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation has provided funding for research covering everything from joint injury to a Novel Strangles vaccine. The research is largely funded by the donations of individuals and organizations in addition to corporate partners. One recent project that was widely successful was the use of a Positron Emission Tomography (PET scan) on equines.
“In 2016, a group at The University of California-Davis brought us a project and they said they would like to PET scan a horse. It had never been done outside of humans,” says Haydon. “It finds tumors, but it also finds bone bruising, and the group at UC Davis was able to adapt a human PET scan, anesthetize a horse, turn him on his side and scan him. In 2019, they came back with another PET scan project that’s a new machine. It has a breakaway ring where you only have to mildly sedate the horse and it goes to scan all four limbs from above the knee in about 40 minutes. There will be eight of those machines in the United States and one in Melbourne, Australia, by the end of the year. So from 2016 to 2022, we took on stuff that had never been done before in horses, and now it’s going to be at eight different veterinary clinics around the world.”
One project in particular has a unique origin, as researchers were able to gain valuable insight from the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, at Texas A&M University, a team is conducting research to develop an mRNA vaccine delivered by inhalation to protect foals against pneumonia caused by Rhodococcus equi.
A lot of information “came out of the use of mRNA with the COVID-19 vaccine, so it has helped expand into our equine research as well,” says Holly White, Director of Development, Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.
Most recently, the foundation received a donation of $2 million from Dr. John Ballantyne and Fargo-Moorhead Area Foundation to go towards research focusing on a vaccine for equine herpes virus (EHV).
“This year, in addition to the $1 million+ we hope to give out, we will also award out special grants just in the area to cover EHV,” says Haydon. “The designation for this will be to develop a vaccine covering all variants. It really is just a way for us to not only further the understanding of the disease but hopefully eradicate it.”
The foundation undergoes an intensive process every October in which each grant application is carefully vetted. There can be anywhere from 50 to 70 grant applications from universities across eight different countries.
The grant applications are reviewed by the foundation’s Research Advisory Committee, which is made up of 32 individuals, led by veterinary consultant Johnny Mac Smith, DVM, Co-founder of Peterson & Smith Equine Hospital. The chairman of the committee is Stephen Reed, DVM, from Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital. The remainder of the committee is made up of veterinarians who are academics and private practitioners.
When the foundation receives a grant application, Dr. Smith will review it for content and assign a group of four to each one. That team will be made up of two academics and two private veterinarians, whether they be surgeons, racetrack vets, sport horse vets, etc. “We don’t ever want to fund research that’s not impactful, so we want to have those practitioners there to see how we are going to implement it in the field,” says Haydon. “They will debate and score those and then recommend those to the board.”
The score that each grant application receives is based on scientific approach, the feasibility of the team, the probability of completion, the impact the research will have, and the budget. Once awarded, the team is given a timeline with certain deliverables they must provide the foundation.
“They’ll complete their research, and after their manuscript has been submitted to the publications, then the peer reviewed journal publication, and after the individual investigator and research team review period, it will go to publication,” says Haydon. “Usually, one-year grants will be published 12 to 18 months after the completion of the grant.”
Not only is the research directly impactful to the universities and veterinarians involved, but to each and every horse owner. The research the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation funds is equally important to every discipline and breed within the sport.
“I had a horse that went through colic surgery and had some different treatments done to him that came out of Grayson-funded research,” says White. “We’re helping the veterinarians come up with the protocols and treatment strategies, and, in some cases, life-saving strategies to protect the health of the everyday horse. If we don’t have the support of the general horse ownership community, then we can’t continue to do what we do to provide the practicing veterinarian the tools to help treat your horse in their moment of need.”
The foundation hopes to gain support from more associations similar to their partnership with the United States Eventing Association, in addition to individual donors.
“All these associations are made up of people who love horses and love the sport, and they themselves don’t have dedicated areas that are funding research,” says White. “If we could get more equine groups to work in partnership with us, that would significantly help fill the void.”
The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation aims to continue in their journey to find and develop the best equine-research and science possible, to better understand and overcome the issues the industry faces.
“We’re the largest provider of equine-research funding on a yearly basis, and it’s not enough,” says Haydon. “We’ve never left our room thinking that we’ve funded bad research, but we always leave wishing we had more to give out.”
To learn more about the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation or to make a donation, visit www.grayson-jockeyclub.org/.
*This story was originally published in the August 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!