Ever since the death of Olympic Champion Hickstead at a Fédération Equestre Internationale World Cup event on Nov. 5, there has been an increased amount of public interest in the secret lives of horse’s hearts. Luckily, not all murmurs or rhythm abnormalities are career- or life-threatening.

During the 12th Congress of the World Equine Veterinary Association, held Nov. 2-6 in Hyderabad, India, Rikke Buhl, DVM, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Large Animal Sciences, Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, was scheduled to review some of the most common arrhythmias and murmurs in horses and indicate which ones could potentially influence athletic horses’ performance. Unfortunately, illness kept Buhl from participating in the conference, but TheHorse.com caught up with her shortly after to learn about cardiac abnormalities. Buhl began by reminding that blood flows through the heart and blood vessels in a "laminar" pattern, which means the blood flows in parallel layers with no interruption between them.

"When laminar flow is altered, turbulent flow ensues that causes vibrations of cardiac structures, such as the valves that exist between the different parts of the heart to ensure one-way flow of blood," she said in the post-Congress interview. "These vibrations can be heard by the veterinarian when auscultating (listening via stethoscope) a horse’s heart. Some veterinarians can become so adept at auscultation they can pinpoint the exact cause of the murmur, but in many cases an ultrasound of the heart is necessary."