Kennesaw State student’s research aids in approach to deadly horse ailment

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jun 1, 2022

Kennesaw State University’s Lauren Christian knows the importance of the phrase “healthy as a horse.” As an equestrian, she’s been around horses her whole life and used her undergraduate research to help horses and their owners.

Photo of Lauren Christian standing beside horse
Lauren Christian

Growing up in Marietta, Christian has been riding horses since she was a child. Several years ago, her horse, Jagger, a mustang, experienced a severe case of colic and ended up at the hospital.

“Horses who have colic experience abdominal pain caused by problems in the digestive tract,” said Christian, who graduated last month. “It may seem harmless, but colic is the No. 1 killer of horses.”

Luckily, Jagger survived and has been thriving with Christian in mounted archery competitions. The sport incorporates several skills — riders shoot arrows at targets while using their legs to guide the horse down a track or through a field.

While completing coursework for her bachelor’s degree in computational applied mathematics, Christian connected with Susan Mathews Hardy, senior lecturer of statistics.

“She wanted me to find a dataset that I really loved and enjoyed,” Christian said. “I’m passionate about horses and know how scary it is when your horse has colic. I knew I wanted to help other horse owners and save more lives.”

Christian knew all cases of colic could result in dehydration, so she took variables in a dataset used by veterinarians to classify a horse as dehydrated: pulse, capillary refill time, packed cell volume, total protein and mucous membrane color. She then studied the relationship between dehydration and whether the horse was in pain, had surgery, and whether the horse lived, died or was euthanized because of the colic.

“As dehydration becomes more severe, the horse is more likely to be in pain and is also more likely to have surgery or die,” Christian said about her findings. “I also found that owners are euthanizing their horses when they are in pain but not dehydrated. Caution also needs to be taken to not choose surgery too soon because surgery, according to my research, predisposes the horse to colic in the future.”

Hardy said Christian has not only taught her about the importance of this data but has enjoyed watching her student shine.

“As an equestrian competitor, Lauren sets her bar high and she does the same in her academics,” Hardy said. “Her research poster and corresponding notebook she made to explain her variables, code and analyses will be my example for years to come for future students.”

Photo of Lauren Christian walking beside a horse through a field

In December 2021, Christian presented her research at Analytics Day, a special event put on by KSU’s School of Data Science and Analytics for undergraduate and graduate students to showcase their analytics research. Her research poster and presentation won first place in the undergraduate research category.

“Watching her present her research inspired me,” said Hardy. “You can tell she’s passionate about this issue and wants to get the word out. I always encourage my students to make a handout that benefits others and services the community, and Lauren’s handout will be invaluable to horse owners.”

Christian has been accepted into an online graduate school, where she plans to continue her studies in statistics. The online program will allow her to continue training and participating in mounted archery competitions.

– Abbey O’Brien Barrows
Photos by Judith Pishnery and Jason Getz

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit