We look at the future as an exciting chapter of human evolution, but what about the animals? In this captivating episode, Doctor Awesome introduces Dr. Stephen Coleman, a molecular biologist and Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics in the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University. Dr. Coleman shares his journey to becoming a trailblazer in genetic research for horses, taking us deep into the intricacies of mapping genes and decoding the horse genome. Explore the high-stakes racehorse industry, discover the impact of genetics on performance, and navigate the ethical landscape of genetic manipulation in horse sports. Plus, learn about the future of horses as Dr. Coleman dives into cutting-edge topics like the microbiome’s role in horse performance and envisions a future where gene editing enhances performance and addresses genetic diseases. Join today’s conversation on the frontier of molecular biology and its profound implications for the future of our equine companions.

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The Future Of Horses – A Conversation With Dr. Stephen Coleman

We are talking in the present but talking about the future with Dr. Stephen Coleman who is a molecular biologist but has done a lot of work on the field of horses and all the different things that science affects those animals. Thanks for being with us Stephen. Realistically, when I was introduced to you, I was reading an article about a horse that had sold for $2 million at auction and I was like, “What?” I didn’t even know that was available.

I know that in certain circles, these are beautiful and amazing animals with a lot of science that goes into making them like that. I’m interested to talk to you about how that science affects them and probably animals at large because I know a lot of people like myself have pets at home and they’re probably interested in all the different science that is happening to them. Tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got into this field, as well as the work that you’re doing right now.

Journey Into The Field Of Molecular Genetics And Horses

Thank you very much for inviting me to join you here and talk about all of this. As an undergraduate, I was in a major at the University of Kentucky called Agricultural Biotechnology, which was all about the application of genetics and recombinant DNA technology in plants and animals. The University of Kentucky had one of the first programs of that nature and I was attracted to go there for that reason.

I got to get into all of this stuff about genetics and all of these cool things that we were learning to be able to do. That got me into that. The molecular side of genetics as part of that program, we had to do a research project in our senior Capstone experience for that major. I had no real idea what I was going to do for that.

There were a lot of options at the university. A lot of my fellow students would go to the med school and work with researchers and scientists there. That was interesting but maybe it might not have lit the fire way down deep. My dad is a professor at the University of Kentucky and he’s been into horses his entire life.


The Futurist Society Podcast | Stephen Coleman | Future Of Horses


There’s a researcher at the University of Kentucky named Ernie Bailey who initiated a lot of this work. I’ve been at the forefront of a lot of work in the genetics of the horse so I ended up going to work in his lab and started with a small project to map some genes using one of the maps for the horse genome and that got me into the horse side of things.

We moved to Kentucky from Canada. One of my first experiences is funny, you’re talking about reading about the horse that sold for $2 million and that’s a middle-of-the-road price for a lot of the racehorses in Kentucky. In one of the first Falls, we were there in Kentucky. We went to the yearling sales at Keeneland. We ended up sitting right near a person who bought a horse for $4 million and that’s interesting to be there and watch it live. It’s amazing.

Maybe my number of digits was off but I remember reading it and I was like, “I cannot believe there’s so much money in buying an animal.”

It’s a lot of money to put in and a lot of money to invest in something that may or may not pay off. In some ways, it might be the ultimate optimistic view of the future if you’re buying this horse. For racing, it would never been raced when some people buy that for that much money. They’re hoping that it’s going to go and perform as a racehorse. If it’s a male horse, they’re hoping to send it to stud so you can make more horses and convince other people to make the same bet that you did.

I was at the University of Kentucky for all of my training. I did my undergrad there, stayed and worked with another researcher named Jamie MacLeod. Our lab there did musculoskeletal research, but I got involved with Jamie because he was building a tool called a Microarray, which is a tool that allows us to look at gene expression across a large number of targets.

We use that in my field for Craniofacial disorders. It’s a quick test to make sure that a child doesn’t have a certain set of genes that would be exposed.

That’s the brilliant application of them now. At the time, where we didn’t know anything about the horse genome but Dr. McLeod had developed these tools or was developing this tool. At the time, it was pretty brand new for the horse, but it came with a whole bunch of problems and questions like how do we know what genes the markers we have on our micro AR.

I got into that not because I knew anything about it, but because I wasn’t afraid of the computer side of things so my training is very much been in the molecular biology side of it and the application of computers or bioinformatics to that as well. I ended up being in the right place at the right time. We were one of the first groups to use next-generation sequencing which is for the research side.

As you said, cutting-edge, bleeding-edge stuff is where we’re able to look at all of the profile, all of the expression, and in a tissue or a sample, but we were running the first to get to do that and got us involved. I jokingly say my claim to famous that I was one of the many researchers who got to be involved with the sequencing and publication of the equine genome, which was cool to be involved with.

I came to Colorado State University and worked in a lab associated with the vet school with Carol and Jeff Willis that was on RNA biology. What happened was spent a lot of time learning about how to make the different parts of different genes, how they’re expressed then what you do with them after they’re made.

My lab now has come to where we’re trying to apply those things and those skills that I learned to understand more about how homeostasis or balance is achieved in the gastrointestinal tract. We’re looking at the interaction between the microbiome and the various microorganisms that live in there. How do they interact with the horse? The horses are models for a host right now.

The Science Behind Genetics And Microbiome

I feel like that’s another thing that I was interested I’m talking about because when I think about the popular stuff that’s happening in molecular genetics right now. The microbiome is one of them, genetics is one of them, and longevity and human performance are one of them. Are you guys having any sort of breakthroughs that are translating to horses being better at running or any of the tools that you’re they’re used for?

The microbiome is a crazy little place to go into because it’s right now in humans and horses in all of it. It’s because there’s so much more left to learn about it, which is exciting but so much of it is unknown. It’s a little bit like a magic bullet, almost. The microbiome is going to do all of these things and I don’t know if we know that yet, but it’s exciting to look into that. We know that there are changes in the microbiome associated with training.

Some groups have looked at horses but in other species, so as you do more training, there’s a shift in what the different compositions of the microbiome might look like. That could be an interesting potential tool. Can we manipulate that? If we start to push a horse’s microbiome in the direction of what an athletic individual looks like, can we help support improve performance in someone that hasn’t or an animal that hasn’t been trained yet? That may make the training more effective. Maybe, it is a little bit more rapid. We could potentially get a horse from untrained to trained much quicker.

There’s one of the places, the microbiome and the brain. That brain access is a big thing and that may be from a trainability standpoint, for horses may be an important place. Can we manipulate what’s happening in the gut to help the horse be more trainable or that it takes less time and effort? That’s better for the horse, and better for the people.

What are the preliminary results for that? That’s something that I’m looking into my stuff independently. There are all these companies out there that are selling probiotics, different strains that increase testosterone or increase the absorption of nutrients or decrease the absorption of nutrients. They allow for less carbohydrates on experimenting with that myself, but I mean, there’s no real definitive data for humans. Do you guys have any for horses at all?

Unfortunately not. The approach that we have taken is trying to underwrite. Micro, probiotics, prebiotics all that sort of stuff are exciting, but they have never been demonstrated to have the long-term ability to change what our microbiome looks like. You can go and buy that supplement, buy the pill or whatever, and take it. If we were monitoring, we would see that those cultures or those strains show up in your microbiome or a horse’s microbiome.

The moment you stop taking them, they’re gone. They will be clear and I think some of the approach or the idea that we have about that is shifting. If you look at publications from five years or ten years ago about the microbiome, they would say things like the most important factors for determining are diet, environment, and all of these external factors. There are even papers that conclude that genetics has no impact.

They’re like, “Genetics has very little impact on us,” because they didn’t see heritability in terms of strains that might exist or whatever. That never made sense to me because, from an evolutionary standpoint, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to leave something that seems to be so critical to our systems entirely to whatever was external.

We focused on a paper from now, I think almost eight years ago, but they did an interesting experiment looking at how these non-coding RNAs from the host have a role in managing. I always describe the microbiome as like a party. Who gets to come to the party and who gets to stay? If you start causing problems, I imagine the party itself regulates it but, whoever’s hosting the party is also regulating that.

Bouncer, if you will.

We focused on and wondered if that was a bouncer and we got to focus on it. We started out looking at the microbiome and had one undergraduate student, we looked at the horses a great model for looking at the microbiome because the horse relies so much on it. We are auto enzyme digesters. We process most of what we eat with enzymes that we produce but we still have some fermentation that occurs in our large intestine.

We get 10% to 15% of our energy and absorb nutrients from that process that happens. I will probably default to calling the hindgut because that’s how we refer to it in the horse. Horses get 80% of their energy and nutrients, a lot of their energy particularly, but also some important nutrients from fermentation that happens in the hindgut that microbes are responsible for.

Horses get 80% of their energy and nutrients from fermentation that happens in the hindgut that microbes are responsible for.

Horses are connected to it. It makes a nice system because changes are going to have a strong influence on how that horse performs and does normal digestion. The undergraduate student and I weren’t the first to do it but looked at the micro composition of communities in different parts of the hindgut. The hindgut of a horse particularly.

It’s like a balloon animal. It’s like big compartments that are floppy and it turns around on itself and a massively long intestinal tract is packed into a very small space. I had the student, Kaylee and she looked at different spots and there were dramatic differences in the communities. One of the places that there was this dramatic difference was in what’s called the ventricle colon and the dorsal colon.

It comes out of this caecum, which is a well-developed chamber for fermentation and it finishes in the ventral colon and goes through a structure called the pelvic flexure, which is ironically right near the pelvis, but it’s 180-degree turn in the intestinal tract. Before and after that structure, the populations were very different. That got us thinking about, “That’s interesting.” In understanding how the horse and the microbiome are interacting with each other because things aren’t supposed to stop at the pelvic flexure. If they do, it results in impaction.

In horses, that’s a colic and it can be devastating to horses. If there’s a surgical solution, that’s a $10,000 to $15,000 cost that the owner will incur and it’s not a guarantee that they’re going to even save their worse as a result. One of my associated responsibilities at CSU is I’m the faculty advisor for our polo teams.

We had a polo horse with colic and fortunately, we were able to resolve it medically with IV fluids and some other stuff but that’s still a $3,000 or $4,000 charge all because of impaction. We wanted to know why what’s keeping certain bacteria on one side of this flexure and not on the other side. That’s where we got into looking at gene expression in the different tissues, both protein-coding, but also looking at these non-coding transcripts because I think that’s going to be a key part in terms of how the two things interact. That then gives us a future outcome if we can start to understand how the horse manages its microbiome. That’s potentially manipulative. We might be able to manipulate that.

If we can start to understand how the horse manages its microbiome, that’s something that’s potentially manipulative, we might be able to manipulate that.

Horses And Supplements

That’s what I’m most interested in because one of the surprises for me was the entire ecosystem. It’s not something that I was familiar with. When I saw that this horse sold for that amount of money. I did a deep dive into it. You mentioned polo, there’s so much money in polo. You have to be sure that this animal performs at the highest level.

You talk about supplementation. There’s this stigma or whatever for supplementation and experimentation for humans in sports. I think it was the Oracle founder who recently proposed the idea of making an Olympics for people who take all steroids and everything. I think that’s a very unnatural way to play sports but if anybody’s doing it, it must be in these animal sports.

If anybody’s supplementing, if everybody’s trying to maximize the animal as best they can, I feel it’s a little bit more morally palatable for that to happen in animal sports. What are people doing? What is allowed? What is not allowed? Right now, especially in molecular genetics, people are dipping their toes in altering their microbiome, their diet, and honestly, even genetics.

They came out with a sickle cell treatment that cures people of sickle cell. It’s like a genetic editing tool so that people are manipulating their genetics too. We have the technology that manipulates all these different facets of physiology. How is it happening in the horse world because there’s so much money in it? We’re dealing with animals, I feel like it’s a little bit more morally gray.

That’s a good description of it. Supplementation is a big thing. There’s a giant market for all of these things. This supplement is going to do this, this is going to do that. This feed, this formulation. A lot of those are based very much on science. I have a colleague here, she’s been here for about a year, Devan Catalano. She worked for a feed company and used her training as a nutritionist to develop feeds.

She likes to point out, some very high-performing horses have been on her formulations but then, you’ll have companies that say, “This will do this, this will do that.” We give horses supplements that for sure make their hair look nice. Some of the supplements, you can paint as a nail polish for horses so that they look their feet are shiny.

Racing is a big and performance areas are a big place where you will see supplementation. Some supplements are allowed, some are not, and different things that you can add. That’s going to be the challenge with horses is that different places have different rules associated with them. There’s a condition that exists in horses it is called EIPH. What happens in these horses if they have it is their blood pressure goes up as they are exercising and it can cause leakage through some of their membranes and they bleed out of their nose.

That has some potential impacts on performance. In lots of environments, you’ll have a drug given called Lasix which lowers blood pressure preemptively so that when the blood pressure goes up, it doesn’t get to a point where it’s going to go over. That is widely appropriate in lots of places and allowed. In other places, they’ve decided that it might be masking a dangerous condition. New York may have made that illegal for racehorses.

If you’re running your horse in New York, you can’t use Lasix but in Colorado or Kentucky, you could. That’s different places there are some things that you can give, medications that you can give that are useful for treating certain conditions. Erythropoietin is one. If you need to increase blood cell volume.

If you’re going to give that, you have to stop it before a performance event and stuff like that. One of the things that is likely coming in that you mentioned with the different gene editing technologies is the idea that you could do gene doping. You could alter the DNA of your horse. Potentially alter and go from one set of alleles to a different one and those new alleles may have positive impacts on performance. The one limitation at this point is our knowledge of what you might want to change. We know so much about so many things but what we don’t know would fill the Encyclopedia Britannica.

I think that’s something that we’re dipping our toes in with human beings and I guess I assumed that there would be more progress in animal animals because animal models are the first stage. For example, there’s a gene that affects myoglobin in humans and there are talks about that being a potential target for people who want to build muscle. I don’t know if that analogy exists in horses in such a way that these people can do something like that.

One of the genes that people focus on a lot is one called myostatin. It is a negative regulator of muscle growth and it has some impact on the muscle fiber type so fast-twitch versus slow-twitch.

I think that is actually what I want to say, myostatin.

There’s a mutation in cattle of myostatin that produces what are called double-muscled cattle. They look like Popeye after he’s taken spinach. They are all sorts of muscles. In horses, the interesting connection that they found in that genus is there’s a snip in one of the introns of this gene. Depending on which genotype they have it associated with. There was a CC genotype associated with short-distance performance.

Quarter horses had this, they ran on a quarter mile. If you looked at longer-distance thoroughbreds or Arabian horses, they would have the alternate allele, which was TT. Horses that ran mid-distance had a heterozygous genotype. They had a T and C. That was cool because that’s more probably a product of our selection. We’ve selected horses to run short distances and we’ve selected horses to run longer distances and that’s probably why the association is so clear, but there’s a lot of focus on that.

Even to the point that there’s concern that that would be a target for gene doping in horses is that you would let’s say want to run short distances, but the horse you had had the TT genotype. You could use gene editing tools and the most modern one is something called CRISPR cas9, which is effective at targeting certain places, you would use that to make the TT genotype a CC genotype. The timing of it would be important, you need to do that before all the muscles develop but you could influence the genetics of your horse in a nonselective breeding approach. Maybe you make faster progress. Is that entirely wrong?

I don’t know, I feel like I’m not a bioethicist. I’m not interested so much in the morality of it. I’m interested in the fact that this is possible. For literally millennia, human beings have been trying to select specific genes in horses. They select outcomes in horses to give them some desired traits. You said selective breeding is what we’ve been using and for some reason that’s okay. Whereas selective breeding using CRISPR Cas9 is not okay.

I’m not here to weigh in on the morality of it, but I think it’s interesting that we’re here. We have the genetic capability to do something like that but also the possibilities. I didn’t know this gene existed and that you might be able to turn it on and off and maybe we could have horses that run forever.

It’s an animal that’s so ingrained in human culture. Personally, I live in the city so I’m not around horses a lot. I know Kentucky is horse country and that’s something that you’re probably closer to but for a lot of people, they look at horses as something that doesn’t affect their daily life but for a lot of people in the world, it’s something that affects their daily life. Honestly, the whole sport around it, it’s something that I wasn’t even familiar with. Polo, horse racing, and all this stuff. There’s so much big money in these things, and I’m sure some of that is trickling down into scientific investment to make horses perform better.

Addressing Genetic Diseases

The irony is, I think in some ways, yes. In other ways, not as much as you think. There’s certainly potential in altering myostatin. I think the real value for horses and us is not necessarily to do it from a perspective of “I want to enhance performance”, but we know there are a lot of diseases that have a genetic component or even their etiology goes back to a genetic cause.

The real value for horses and for us is not necessarily to do it from a perspective of enhancing performance, but to address a lot of diseases that have a genetic component.

Those would be the things that would be valuable to address because those are the things that even limit a lot of perfect performance genetics. In Quarter Horses, there are a number of mutations associated with muscle function. One that’s big is called HYPP. It’s a Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis. It’s a mutation in a sodium-gated ion channel in the muscles. It prevents them from closing and it prevents the muscles from relaxing after a contraction and humans have different mutations. Same genes, same result.

There are these kids that by the time they’re five, they look like Arnold Schwarzenegger because their muscles are contracted all the time and so the response there is to build muscle and that is an issue and horses and it worked out well for Halter show horses. These horses were heterozygote, they had one copy of the mutation and one regular copy. They would have increased muscle tone and so they would be selected.

Several studies showed that if you had that mutation you were more likely to win versus not but now, because of the negative impacts you are less likely to breed a horse that has HYPP but those horses may have other good performance genetics associated with them. The HYPP is keeping them from getting it. If you could alter HYPP so that they don’t have that. Now, you can access that.

There’s another condition called Herda which relates to skin. Their skin’s stretchy. It’s very similar to something called Ehlers-Danlos in humans. That was one of the causes they originally investigated for this. It’s genetically different but again, there are a lot of great cutting horses that people may want to be able to access genetics. They’re hesitant because they may carry Herta. Again, if you could address that, that’d be an interesting place to go with that both, horses and humans.

That’s something I always thought of as the next logical step for genetics is to screen all of the bad and then fix the bad. You can tell science fiction is a big influence in my life. It’s what brought me to do this podcast and makes me always think about the next generation, but that was one of the origin stories for Superman. Where the Kryptoians would select all the bad and everything that was left with was this perfect human being and I think that’s like a realistic starting point for genetic editing because you’re right.

There are a lot of morally gray areas with genetic editing in general, especially as you get older and you want to start making modifications that may seem a little bit unfair, but if we start all the same baseline, if we say, “This is the model such that everybody should be able to not have paralysis. Everybody should be able to, not be blind because of genetic blindness.” Everybody has a symmetrical face they’re not born with some sort of Cranial Facial Syndrome that causes them to have difficulty speaking, chewing, or swallowing.

I think that would be something that would be an interesting future and maybe that’s something that exists for horses because horses especially in the developing world, they’re important for production they’re important for people’s livelihoods. If we could create some sort of animal that is stable in most conditions and it’s not susceptible to a lot of these diseases that you’re speaking of. I feel like that’s the next logical advancement to genetics.

I think horses are a good sort of place where you could potentially test some of that because it’s certainly in our country, we’re not going to eat them. For the most part, the limitation of genetic editing and things like that in cattle and other agricultural species that is there’s probably some good logic behind it. You know people who are worried about eating, a genetically modified cow.

We did this, we already have that and there’s been some logical reasons for that. Remember there was a BT corn, which had a gene inserted into it to help with pest resistance. It has caused an allergic reaction in certain people. There are these off effects that were not aware of people to be a little bit concerned about those in their diets and whatnot.

Horses would be for the most part not under that. I think in this thing, as long as you don’t start with performance-enhancing modifications, there’s a way to look at that and ask can we improve the welfare of our animals by making some of these changes? That’d be a valuable place to start. I always think it’s funny too. Science fiction, Star Trek is a big influence.

Bringing in formative experiences and that’s one of the things that it ends up being a little bit of a back and forth because we can do all of these things. One of the messages of Star Trek and one of my favorite characters was always Geordie and he exemplified a reason to not necessarily eliminate all negative. He is blind, his strength and insight came from the fact that he saw differently.

Like they said, there’s a path to follow. It’s not maybe absolutely fixing everything but certain things might have been before we started recording the brief conversation you talked about like eliminating sickle cell. That might not be a terrible thing or taking productive and efficient cattle from the United States and using some of those tools to modify them so that they can go to more tropical.

Can we improve the efficiency of these production systems by making changes? We reduce methane production from cattle. We make feed efficiency higher so that we can still produce for people all over the world but continue to reduce the environmental impact of producing that. Can we make force systems more efficient? Can we make horses more adaptable to better lives in more urban environments so that, people in Boston get to and interact with them?

That’s a vision of the future. I guess number one, I didn’t think about so much but also it’s something that I would want to subscribe to which is an awesome view, I appreciate that. I love Star Trek a lot too. That’s the best utopian vision for our future, we’re a post-scarcity society, money is not a thing anymore and every human being is able to live and maximize their own potential.


The Futurist Society Podcast | Stephen Coleman | Future Of Horses


Deep Into The World Of Horses

That’s important to have like a bar that’s set so that everybody can achieve, but thanks for sharing that I appreciate it. We are getting close to our time before I get into our three questions. I do want to ask you out of curiosity. You grew up around horses, your father researched them as well. What is your favorite horse sport? Are you more of a racing guy or like you said you were a polo advisor, you like that game? For somebody like me who’s a beginner into this. What’s a good introductory sport?

I’m going to be entirely biased now and tell you that it’s polo. I was introduced to polo very late. I don’t know that there was a good reason that I became the polo advisor other than needing a horse guy. My experience with horses was my dad was an extension professional. When we lived in Canada, he went around to farms and they had questions or they’d be like they’d ask about things and that was my experience when I went with him.

I was always trying to steal part of the salt block from the horses that was sort of my purpose when I was 6, 7, or 8 years old. Polo is an amazing sport and I said, I was 100% biased towards it now it was this thing. I didn’t realize that I needed it in my life, but it’s like hockey and NASCAR. It’s the most high-intensity but wild and when they play it well, it’s one of the most beautiful.

I need to get into it. My wife is from Afghanistan. They play this game called Buzkashi, it’s like polo but involves a goat carcass or something like that.

I am familiar with it. That is potentially one of the origin stories of polo may have come from. It gained prominence, it’s called The Sport of Kings which makes it a little bit exclusive and that can be unfortunate but it was a way for the British military and a lot of military to train their cavalry.

I know you’re from Colorado. The Denver Nugget’s Jokic. He has this chariot. What is that about? Is that a European thing? I did a deep dive into horse sports before we found you as a guest.

I’m unfamiliar with exactly what he does with his horses, he’s a great story though because he’s so good at his chosen profession. It seems like it’s not his primary focus which is brilliant.

I know he’s an amazing player. I look at him. He’s like us. You go to your job and some people are all about their job, I feel like I’m one of those people. Some people are like, “I’m here. I’m going to work but my real passion is my family or whatever.” His real passion is horses. He goes to work and he goes home and he enjoys himself at home more than on the basketball court.

There’s a meme and you probably might have seen it. “I work hard so my horses can have a better life.” The polo is great. There’s a lot of great polo up in the northeast.

I’ll check it out. I’ve been introduced to this world but this one news article and it’s been Illuminating. It’s interesting to speak to somebody like you who’s been in this world almost their entire life. I enjoy finding out about cultures that I didn’t know existed. Horse culture is so deep. It’s been around for millennia.

I like to point out to my students. In one of my classes, we talk about the evolution of the horse and whatever. I think it’s important. There have been some very successful and well-developed societies. Aztecs and the Pueblo Anasazi, all of those. We can see the remains of those cultures but they’re all past cultures and one of the defining, I don’t know if it’s absolute, but these cultures have risen to providence and then fallen away. One unifying factor is that they didn’t have horses and integrated them into their culture.

All of the cultures that have sustained and go on have had horses involved. For me, it speaks to the importance of what they can provide for us and it changes over time. A big thing that CSU leads well on is something that’s now called Equine Assisted Services. Using horses to better the lives of people. We have physical and mental therapy associated with horses. It can be a useful application to help and be useful for veterans after they complete their service. That would be a place where a lot of these what we talked about especially genetics. Could we produce a perfect therapy horse?

I think that the relationship between human beings and horses is something that was Illuminating in this whole deep dive that I’ve done. It’s an animal that we don’t use for food that has this entirely work-oriented application in our society, and not like dogs which are our friends or livestock that we eat. It’s its own thing.

Three Questions With Dr. Stephen Coleman

I appreciated learning about it, but we’re getting to the end of our time now, I appreciate having you on Stephen. Let’s talk about the three questions that I asked all my guests. Number one. We talked about science fiction. It’s a big motivating factor for me. What motivates you? What gets you excited about the future?

I would say two things. I got into this and I continue to be. The thing that motivates me is I want to understand why things work the way they work. I want to know why things are. The other part that motivates me and this is a surprise to me in my life because it was not something that when I was a graduate student in training I thought was going to be a part of it.

The teaching part of my job is probably one of the most rewarding parts of my job and I get to do that in a formal setting in the classroom. I like to believe that I’m giving them an experience that they don’t get in other classes but I might be a revolutionary for my teaching perspective. Even that’s the part about polo, I don’t think I knew what I needed was the teaching, the interaction with the students on that level and hopefully, help them to become the best versions of themselves.

I agree. I teach the residents at TAPS University and it’s so motivating. It keeps you young for sure. I appreciate that. This is called the Futurist Society and I want to know where you see horses and our interaction with the animal in 10 to 20 years. What do you see coming out of all these scientific breakthroughs that are happening?

Horses have enriched a whole bunch, a whole host of parts of our lives. It’s enormous fun to go watch them race. It’s fun to go to a rodeo and see the skills there. It’s fun to watch a polo match and see that display. It’s awesome to hang out with them and to be able to interact with them. The therapy side of all of those things. We’re at a bit of a crossroads where racing is exciting to watch but sometimes horses get hurt.

Sometimes the athletes get hurt. There are questions about whether are we doing the best for our animals. Horses are in weird places and we have the people who do the horse stuff. Like you said, there’s a whole aspect of society that loves horses, interacts with horses, and wants horses to be there, but is unsure about the management of the production side.

I think we’re in a position with all of the scientific breakthroughs and scientific Insight that we can provide where we can hopefully help to bridge that. We can say we are doing the best. This is why we’re doing the best and where we can demonstrate that and with that in the future, we can solidify a place for horses in society similar to what they have, not where we benefit from them as a society, but we know that we’re doing the best we can for them.


The Futurist Society Podcast | Stephen Coleman | Future Of Horses


The analysis of data to create best practices for horses. I agree. I think that that’s something that we have for humans. We don’t have that for animals at least that I can think of.

People have a lot of opinions on what it is.

Can I tell you what I hope happens? I have a lot of hope in man-to-animal communication. The citations, I think we’re going to be like whales and stuff are going to be first. There’s like a big investment in AI analysis of how they communicate with each other and they’ve made a lot of progress.

I was listening to a Joe Rogan podcast on artificial intelligence and the two guys that were basically saying a lot of negative aspects of artificial intelligence. That’s their side job. They’re activists to promote some sort of oversight for artificial intelligence but their day job is there working for this Whale Communication project and I thought it was so interesting and it’s something that I looked into. They’re making progress. That’s something that would be interesting but the ability to communicate with our dogs, the ability to communicate with our animals like horses, and that stuff. I think that’s going to be a fun future to live in.

It is exciting to I think understand the communication with their animals. There’s very clear communication between me and my dog. I don’t know that either my dog or I appreciate that we get the point communicated by intent.

Do you have kids at all?

I have two kids.

I look at it like you’re interacting with a toddler versus interacting with a nine-year-old. Totally different experience and I think that I feel right now human human-animal interaction is similar to how you’re talking to a baby. There’s some sort of understanding there, but it’s not as much as you would like.

Horses are a good example of that. If you watch people who get a lot out of their animals. Watch polo players, the people who have that intuition. I think some people have achieved that like they’re working with their partner. It’s like a partner. That would be cool how that would be amazing in terms of how we would interact with them. We would know more about how to address their needs and how to do that. The one with the citations, the whales, they might need a Vulcan.

Last question, I want to zoom out for a bit. Let’s not talk about horses. Let’s talk about Stephen Coleman, the molecular biologist. What scientific breakthroughs are exciting to you right now that are coming down the pipeline? Outside of your field, what is something that you can’t learn enough about like you’re so excited about independently as a hobby?

The amount of data that we can generate is phenomenal and it’s a little overwhelming some days but it’s also exciting because there’s no lack of questions. That may even be a problem for me. I need to finish something that I started but there are three other questions. This would be cool to ask. It’s come up a couple of times like AI.

Especially from the education side of things, there’s a lot of apprehension about it. They’re like, “How are we going to teach writing when a computer can write it now?” It’s fun to play around with that and tinker with it, but also as a fan of Star Trek from the ‘80s, I joke and say I’ve been waiting for AI to catch up to this point. All of these things, all of this busy work that we could.

Now we’re close to being what computers were supposed to be, which is to make our lives easier so we can focus rather than being like, “Oh you have to write this report.” Now you can go focus on what does that report mean. How are we going to apply that? How are we going to make things better? We didn’t have to do all of the busy work. It required a shift to some of what we talked about, we can focus on being better not doing all of the things that we decided are important.

We’re close to being what computers were supposed to be, which is to make our lives easier.

I can’t wait for my own personal assistant that take care of all the admin work of 2024, paying bills, redoing my license and registration, all of this extra stuff that like takes away from experiencing the things. I want to experience. I would take it a step further in that the thing that I’m looking forward to is automated robots that allow us to do the chores that we don’t want to do like watering plants and folding laundry. that’s going to be amazing. I can’t wait until that happens.

The robot that gets the laundry from the dryer to the dresser. That’s going to be revolutionary.

Those robots could brush your horse or make sure that its maine is nice and well-kept. I think that that’s going to be an amazing experience for everybody. Thank you so much for speaking with us. I appreciate having you on I’m sure our audience is now enlightened a little bit more to this part of the field of science that they may not have been exposed to otherwise. Thanks, everybody. Have a good one.


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About Dr. Stephen Coleman

The Futurist Society Podcast | Stephen Coleman | Future Of HorsesDr. Stephen Coleman is an Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics in the Department of Animal Sciences at Colorado State University, where he is a faculty member in the Equine Sciences Program, the Animal Breeding and Genetics group, and the Cell and Molecular Biology Graduate program. His research group – the Animal Molecular Genetics Lab – uses molecular genetics and bioinformatics to investigate and understand how homeostasis is established and maintained in the gastrointestinal tract and how challenges to homeostasis can impact function.


By: The Futurist Society