The effects of an extended photoperiod (EP) in Thoroughbreds colts and fillies from winter at one year old to spring at two years old on the gonadal functions, coat condition, and endocrine changes were investigated. Sixty-two Thoroughbreds (31 colts and 31 fillies) reared in the Hidaka Training and Research Center (Hidaka), Japan Racing Association were used. Thirty of them (15 colts and 15 fillies) were reared under EP conditions from December 20 to April 10, and the remaining 32 horses were reared under natural light alone as a control group. For EP, a 100-watt white bulb was set near the ceilings of stalls, and lighting conditions of 14.5-hr light and 9.5-hr dark periods were established. Blood was collected from the jugular vein once a month from October at one year old to February at two years old in both colts and fillies, and then twice a month in colts and weekly in fillies after March, and the coat condition was evaluated in January and April in 56 horses. To investigate endocrine changes, the plasma concentrations of prolactin, luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), immunoreactive (ir-) inhibin, testosterone, estradiol-17β and progesterone were measured. No significant difference was noted in the coat condition between the two groups in January, but they changed from winter to summer coats (molting of winter coats) in April in the EP group compared with the control group. Regarding endocrine changes, the plasma concentrations of prolactin, FSH, ir-inhibin and testosterone were significantly higher in the EP colts than in the control group from January to April. The plasma concentrations of LH tended to rise in the EP colts from January to April compared with the control group. In the EP fillies, the plasma concentrations of prolactin, LH, ir-inhibin, estradiol-17β and progesterone were significantly higher during January and April, but a significantly high level of FSH was noted in the control than EP group in January. The ovulation day was advanced in the EP fillies compared with the control group. The present study clearly demonstrated that EP treatment during rearing advanced the molting of winter coats in both colts and fillies. These results suggested to be due to the action of prolactin being increased by EP treatment. In addition, EP treatment stimulated the hypothalamus-pituitary-gonadal axis even in yearlings, and advanced ovulation in fillies. Since EP treatment-induced changes in the yearlings were within the physiological range, and the method is safe and simple, EP treatment may be an effective technique in horse husbandry.
Keywords: Thoroughbred colt and filly; endocrine changes; extended photoperiod; gonadal function; molting of winter coats.