MRI to Predict Catastrophic Fetlock Fractures in Racehorses

Researchers say MRI might be useful as a screening test to identify racehorses at increased risk of fetlock fracture.
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Catastrophic fetlock fractures are the leading cause of euthanasia in Thoroughbred racehorses worldwide. And it’s not just by chance—during training and racing this structure is under extreme tension.

"Flexing the fetlock while racing places the suspensory ligament and sesamoid bones under tremendous tensile forces, which then acts like a sling shot so the sesamoid bones compress the back of the condyle (the end of the cannon bone that fits into the fetlock joint)," explained John Peloso, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, a surgeon at the Equine Medical Center of Ocala, in Florida.

When pre-existing disease or bone changes are present, the condyles can then fracture. If veterinarians could just detect these changes pre-race, they could intervene and take steps to prevent the fetlock from fracturing.

"Is MRI the tool that will help us do better?" Peloso asked during the 2014 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 6-10 in Salt Lake City, Utah

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Alexandra Beckstett, a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as assistant editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse. She was the managing editor of The Horse for nearly 14 years and is now editorial director of EquiManagement and My New Horse, sister publications of The Horse.

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