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Why Are Injured Racehorses So Often Euthanised?
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Why Are Injured Racehorses So Often Euthanised?

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.

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  1. jst4horses
    I beg to differ with you. But more than nine years at the track I can tell you, the syndicates do NOT want to pay the medical bills, and the trainers and syndicates get NOTHING if they save the horse, if it is euthanized on or just off the track, the insurance is paid. My older son bought a two million dollar stallion colt after it had flipped on a wet turf work right before its first race. The trainer had to ask him to pay for the stallion papers just in case we did save him, we did, but my younger son and I are equine vet techs, and horse owners ourselves, and our friends WERE the track vets who helped us heal him. It is all about money and that is why we need to get the big bucks out of horse racing. A horse that twenty years ago sold for $500 as a yearling now sells for half a million. Syndicates buy them. Our colt was owned by a huge baseball team!!!! They could care less after he got hurt and was not going to get them a win at the Kentucky Derby or some other big stakes races. AND the handlers are often NOT horsepersons, or vet tech trained as we were............they are afraid of the horses and hit them on the knees with that huge wooden body brush, it often cracks the knee. Off to the track with exercise riders who are NOT properly trained either, and broken leg..............its disgusting. People used to race just a few horses, and took their horses HOME after their career. The grooms were often retired and had just ONE horse to care for, if it was retired, and not put out to stud, they were given the horse to take home for the family as a big beautiful pet, or lawn ornament, or for the grandkids to ride..........big bucks ruined horse racing, and now the illegal tracks all over the nation are killing both horses and riders. CONGRESS needs to do something besides arguing like kids and DO something to help these horses. One celebrity bred 90 to 100 foals a year, and if they did NOT sell at the weanling sale, he sold them to slaughter. Every year for decades. Sick.
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    1. Chestnut Mare
      Chestnut Mare
      Yes, I know it is all about big bucks in horse-racing jst4horses - that is the point I am making in the blog. They don't want to pay the medical bills as they just don't want to spend the money. We definitely need to get the big bucks out of racing, if not ban it completely! But as I mention above, even if horses are permitted to rehabiliate, there are often certain physical and medical issues which makes their recovery problematic. I am shocked by what you say, but not at all surprised.
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