The recent deaths of 21 racehorses at Santa Anita Park in California have left many questioning why all of these injured animals had to be put to sleep. It is a sad fact of the horse-racing industry that this happens all the time. It is rare for the lives of hurt horses to be spared, especially those who have suffered devastating leg injuries, like the ones at Santa Anita. Below are the main reasons why they are not permitted to recuperate:
1) Broken Equine Legs Are Not Like Human Legs: In order to make them able to run faster, horses have been selectively bred to give them very light legs in proportion to bodies weighing around 1000 pounds, with ankles around the same size as human ones. This means that the leg bones very often shatter through impact injuries, rather than a clean break, which does not necessarily happen with humans.
2) Horses Do Not Respond Well to Surgery and Rehabilitation: Horses are usually very disoriented when recovering from an anesthetic, and they may fight against recovery aids such as slings or casts, thus causing more injury, according to an information sheet published by the Horse Fund. In order to recuperate properly, they have to remain immobile for weeks, and they get pressure sores if they are lying down all the time. This is a medical issue that is difficult enough to manage in people, never mind in a 1,110-pound horse, according to a veterinarian quoted in the Guardian newspaper in 2011. Horses are sometimes placed in slings as they are convalescing, but this can then lead to sores and internal problems because when a significant amount of the animal’s weight is taken in this way, it then compresses the intestinal tract, among other things.
3) Laminitis: One of the most deadly possible complications that can affect a horse recuperating from a broken leg is the painful, incurable hoof condition laminitis, which can then develop in the other three legs. This occurs when the fibrous tissue attaching the hoof to the leg starts to become detached. It is due to the fact that instead of the weight of the animal being evenly distributed over four hooves, the other three come under extra pressure from the weight when one leg is out of action due to injury, hence the hoof tissue starts detaching.
4)The Cost of Surgery for Broken Bones: Due to the expense of repairing the fractured legs and the fact that the horse will never race again, most owners choose to have injured animals put down.
However, new advances in equine veterinary medicine could well mean fewer euthanized horses in the future. Besides the proposed use of better anesthetics and diagnostic methods and improved technology to lift horses, there are suggested alternatives such as prostheses and partial amputation of limbs which could be used instead of euthanasia.
Some veterinarians have proposed MRI scans of horses before the start of a race, which would help to prevent such catastrophic injuries in the first place, and reduce fatalities to zero, or near-zero. This would naturally be the ideal outcome all round, a reform which from the welfare stand ought to be pushed through as soon as possible.
Picture courtesy of www.bbc.co.uk.