They always stood out from other animals for their dazzling speed and unmatched strength and physical capacity. There is a reason the phrase ‘healthy as a horse’ is used to denote prime fitness of a person.
Horses have been used in combat, in the transportation of men and goods, and in activities that require immense physical labor (which is why a car’s engine strength is measured in ‘horsepower’). A horse with a broken leg (especially if the break is of the ‘wrong’ kind) is usually ‘put down’ or euthanized.
The bones in a horse’s lower leg (the spot where most injuries occur) generate huge amounts of power, but are also quite light. A horse’s lower leg contains a lot of strong but light bones.
Thus, if the lower leg of a horse breaks, the bones in it doesn’t just fracture… they often shatter completely. Even if they are somehow put back together, the horse would inevitably wind up with a badly fixed bone.
Therefore, a broken lower leg is bad news for a horse’s blood circulation too! Horses are very resistant to standing still; they like to keep themselves busy by moving around almost all the time.
Although it’s crucial that a broken leg get some rest so that the bones heal properly, horse owners know that they ’re going to have a hard time trying to immobilize their horse for days or weeks to come. Moreover, with such a heavy body, a horse develops pressure sores if it lies down for too long, so that’s another problem to deal with.
Therefore, unless it’s a very, very special and expensive horse, people tend to refrain from spending a lot on treating a horse’s leg, whose chances of complete recovery are pretty slim even with treatment. In order to spare the horse from too much pain and agitation, it is generally ‘put down’ or euthanized by its owners.
What is Quantum Entanglement: Explained in Simple Words Can We Harness Electricity From Lightning? Horses must be in good overall health, be able to adapt to new situations and have an owner that's willing to spend his or her time and money on follow-up prosthesis treatments .
Weight : Most horses are heavy animals and their legs and hooves are small in comparison. Slings that wrap under the abdomen and hold the horse up (taking the weight off the legs) are commonly used for short periods of time, but can't prevent laminates.
If a sling is used for too long, the healed leg can't bear the horse's weight properly and laminates could still develop. Movement : Horses are animals that like to move and there's a big risk they might reinsure themselves at some point during the healing process.
A horse with a more relaxed disposition, that doesn't mind having its movement restricted, usually has a better chance of properly healing. Because horses don't have muscles below their hock joints (similar to the human ankle), there aren't many blood vessels to carry antibodies to the site of infection, thus making it difficult to treat.
The severity of pain from common post-operative complications, such as laminates, lies at the root of a decision to euthanize. Cost : The long and complicated process of bringing a horse back to good health can be expensive, and there's no guarantee it'll work.
Besides being cost-prohibitive, rehabilitation can be hindered by an absence of available facilities that can treat severely injured horses and a general lack of knowledge. In fact, most of the 23 horse deaths at the California racetrack Santa Anita Park in recent months were due to limb injuries.
If that happens, the hooves on the other legs will start to separate from the bone, and his weight will be driven into the soft flesh of the feet. Modern steeplechase races have an average of just over 4 equine fatalities for every 1,000 horses taking part, according to the British Horse racing Authority.
This happens when the horse’s hoof tissue called the lamina separates from the end of its leg limb. At a rate of 2.00 fatalities per 1,000 starts, two Thoroughbred racehorses die (on average) every day in North America.
The blow (or shot) is intended to kill the horse instantly or stun it, with exsanguination (bleeding out) conducted immediately afterwards to ensure death. A foal with a broken leg may have a much better chance at recovery because they are still young and growing, and their bodies are lighter.
Incomplete fractures are when a bone under stress cracks but doesn't break, and those tend to be much easier to heal. In cases of bad breaks, an animal is quickly humanely euthanized because there simply are no treatment options (such as Eight Belles, who shattered two legs at the fetlock and cannon bone).
All horses are big, heavy animals on small legs and feet, and each foot has to support roughly 250 pounds. There is no muscle below the knee or hock joint, meaning those leg injuries do not receive the same amount of support or blood flow. This can lead to complications in healing.
Fractures that break the skin often contact dirt, grass, or manure, making the risk of infection very high. Ruffian's surgery to repair her broken leg was successful, but she continued to thrash and ended up injuring herself badly and had to be euthanized.
Nureyev broke his leg while free in his pasture when he was 10 years old, and he was saved because he tolerated slings and stall rest so well. Slings are used to help bear weight, but they can't be a long-term option because they do cause other problems, such as bed sores and discomfort to the horse.
The other legs can develop laminates or abscesses, and the horse may object to being in a sling and struggle, injuring itself further. Treatment options are also very expensive; the average horse owner cannot afford the thousands of dollars it can take to recover, or provide the care needed.
When Barbara fractured his hind leg (in more than 20 places) his owners went to great expense to attempt to save him. Surgically implanted steel plates, specially designed horse swimming pools, constant monitoring and pain management were all a part of his recovery attempt.
But they kept fighting with abscesses and painful laminates that developed, and he was euthanized 8 months after the initial injury. Even if an owner has the money to try to rehabilitate a horse with a broken leg, which most do not, there are few vets and facilities that can handle that situation.
The amount of pain and time that the horse has to be locked up in a small space to recover from a bad break is considered by many to be inhumane. Nothing undermines horse racer than the fact that its heroes may suffer a fatal injury at any moment.
It doesn't even need a hurdle or a steeplechase fence; one false step, one misplaced hoof may be all it takes for a bone to break in such a way that the horse cannot be saved. Then one day at Haddock, while galloping on flat turf between fences, he suddenly shattered a fetlock joint in one of his hind legs.
But, although exertion and the possibility of falls increase the risk, the main reason for these thoroughly upsetting moments is that horses often cannot recover from injuries that would pose no threat to humans. It can happen when they take part in any kind of sport or leisure activity, or even while they are messing around on their own in a field.
However much they are loved and however much money their owner is happy to spend on them, there is no way back from the wrong kind of break. Neither Barbara, the hugely popular Kentucky Derby winner, nor Rewinding, who pipped So You Think in a thriller at Royal Ascot this summer, survived their broken legs.
In search of explanations, I pitched my naive questions to two well-respected vets at the British Horse racing Authority. Professor Tim Morris is their director of equine science and welfare while Jenny Hall is a vet based in Labor who will be veterinary services' manager at the Olympics next year.
Another issue is what Hall called “plastic deformation”, meaning that the bone bends before it breaks and it is the bent shape that is preserved in the pieces. Even if it were possible to put the pieces back together, you would end up with a madly bent bone.
Hall continued: “When you look at their lower limbs, which is where a high incidence of these injuries are, there's very little soft tissue covering the bone. “If there was a fracture there, there's all the tendons, the nerves and the blood vessels that a sharp edge of bone could cut.
• A horse should not have to endure continuous or unmanageable pain from a condition that is chronic and incurable. • A horse should not have to endure a medical or surgical condition that has a hopeless chance of survival.
• A horse should not have to remain alive if it has an unmanageable medical condition that renders it a hazard to itself or its handlers. • A horse should not have to receive continuous analgesic medication for the relief of pain for the rest of its life.
• A horse should not have to endure a lifetime of continuous individual box stall confinement for prevention or relief of unmanageable pain or suffering. They get pressure sores if they're lying down all the time, things that are difficult to manage in people, let alone in a 500 kg horse,” says Hall.
Surely, I suggest, you could support the horse in a sling, sparing it the risk of laminates while its leg heals. Hall: “Because of the way the emergency services are deployed on the racecourse, the first opinion, the first veterinary surgeon to attend the horse, will be there very quickly because he will have been following the race .
In contrast to the fear behind my question, that critical decisions are being made very quickly, Hall and Morris cited a recent case at Sundown where some of those in the crowd apparently expressed concern that it took a long time for the vet to put a horse down after it had broken a limb in front of the stands. In fact, they pointed out, the vet had given the horse a painkilling injection as soon as he arrived on the scene, as is standard practice.
The horse was in no pain and there was time to make a thorough examination and reach an unhurried decision. Morris refers to a graph on the BHA's website that shows the number of equine fatalities each year, expressed as a percentage of total runners.
There are ups and downs but the graph shows a gradual downward trend over the past 15 years. Better anesthetics, better pain relief, better technology to hoist horses, stronger implants, better understanding of bone biology and how it heals, better diagnosis.
That's about a million runners over 10 years, so that's big enough to do stats, and we're looking at our entire racing database to see what causes and associations are.