Catastrophic Injuries in Racehorses: Impact of Lameness, Medication, and Surgery

Researchers found no apparent link between previous surgery and catastrophic injury, but they did identify associations with medication use and lameness.
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Catastrophic Injuries in Racehorses
Previously identified risk factors associated with catastrophic musculoskeletal injury or fatality in racehorses include horse age, age at first start, horse sex, race distance, type and condition of track surface, class of race, and number of race starters. | Photo: iStock
Catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries are major causes of death for racehorses, yet their risk factors remain poorly understood and, thus, difficult to manage. Researchers have investigated many potential risk factors in past studies, but it remained unclear whether factors related to the horses’ previous histories of lameness, medication administration, and surgery had any impact on catastrophic injuries. So a team of scientists from the University of Melbourne, in Australia, and the University of California, Davis, conducted a study to find out.

Previously identified risk factors associated with catastrophic musculoskeletal injury or fatality in racehorses include horse age, age at first start, horse sex, race distance, type and condition of track surface, class of race, and number of race starters.

In the current study, Peta Hitchens, PhD, of the University of Melbourne, said the team’s aim was to find modifiable factors associated with horses at risk of catastrophic injury so they can be managed appropriately.

“We surveyed the primary veterinarians of racehorses that had died as a result of injuries sustained during flat racing or training (cases) and of horses that did not die (controls) to determine their history of lameness, medication, and surgery,” Hitchens said

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Written by:

Jill Griffiths is a freelance writer specializing in agriculture and environment and resides in Western Australia. She has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism. Through her work, she interacts with leading researchers across Australia, providing her with access to current research in many fields. A life-long horse lover, Griffiths came to horse ownership in mid-life and currently shares three horses with her young daughter. She enjoys groundwork, trail riding, flatwork, and just hanging out with the horses in the paddock.

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