While fractures in racehorses get a substantial amount of research focus—and for good reason—there are fewer studies on fractures in other horses, from the pasture puff to the casual riding mount. But recently, Swiss researchers looked in the whats, hows, and whys of fractures in competition and leisure horses. And they’ve found that most fractures result not from riding mishaps, but from pasture accidents.
Contrary to what they expected, pasture injuries aren’t necessarily more serious than injuries sustained during work, said Brice Donati, DVM, of the Equine Surgery Clinic at the University of Zurich’s Vetsuisse Faculty.
“Pasture-incurred fractures do have a serious prognosis most of the time, but on average, they’re not more serious than injuries incurred during a fall while being ridden, for example,” Donati said during his presentation at the 2017 Swiss Equine Research Day, held earlier this year in Avenches.
Donati and his fellow researchers investigated 1,845 fracture cases, of which 52% were saddle mounts, with an average age of 10. Among the cases in which the fracture’s cause was known, 43% resulted from a kick by another horse, he said. The most common fracture site was the second metacarpal bone (the medial—inner—splint bone), but the head (primarily the jaw bone) incurred almost as many fractures.
Nearly 40% of the fractures to riding mounts occurred in the pasture, about three times as many as those in a stall or paddock, Donati said.
Among the riding mounts, 17% were euthanized, 36% were treated with conservative treatment, and 47% underwent surgery, mostly adding plates and/or screws to stabilize the vulnerable bones.
“There’s very little tissue around these long bones to protect them from blows,” Donati said. “Also, their strength is in their length, not their width. They’re designed to withstand high vertical pressures, but not strong lateral forces. So this makes them very susceptible to breaks.”
The team noted a high percentage of ponies and Icelandic horses in the group of riding mounts with fractures, he said. However, this could be due to the fact that these breeds are often kept in pastured groups.
“The solution is not to lock the horses up in stables to keep them ‘safe’ from fractures,” Donati stressed. “Rather, we need to be sure we’re following recommendations from equine ethologists to be sure that we’re managing group pastures correctly to keep injury risks to a minimum.”