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Horse Health: common injuries and ailments of the thoroughbred racehorse.

Descriptions of horse racing injuries and how they are treated.

Bucked Shins

The thin sheath or membrane that covers the cannon bone is called the periosteum. When a calcium deposit (periostitis) develops, new bone growth occurs and gives the appearance of the shins being ‘bucked”. Bucked shins are common among young horses that have not fully grown and are being trained heavily. Soreness is the result and rest is the cure. Bucked shins are very common.

Bone Chips
Bone chips are very common in horses and are actually broken pieces of bone from the knee or ankle. They can be very troublesome and painful or be of no bother at all. The size of the chip and its location determine whether or not removal is necessary. Arthroscopic surgery is the usual course of action and is followed by rest and rehabilitation. Most horses can resume a racing career after chip removal.

Bowed Tendon
A bowed tendon is a serious injury. Less than 50% of horses that suffer a bowed tendon are able to return to racing. Usually caused by severe strain, a bowed tendon is an inflammation and enlargement of the flexor tendon which is located at the back of the front cannon bone. Horses that are “back at the knee”, have long or weak pasterns, or are improperly shoed are more likely to experience this injury. The best treatment is long periods of rest. Enzyme injections and surgical procedures are often used to aid in treatment.

A common problem with racehorses, bleeding or Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH) is commonly found in horses after exercise or in racehorses after or during a race. Some studies indicate that from 70 to 100 percent of horses in training experience EIPH. During a race or training conditions, the blood pressure in the vessels of the horse that lead from the heart to the lungs is very high. The walls of the vessels
can break and force blood into the airways. The physical make-up of the horse in action can also contribute to bleeding as the muscles that are used in running act as a pump against the chest cavity further exasperating the problem. After a horse bleeds during a race or training they are usually declared ineligible for at least 10 days. A second bleeding incident can put them on the shelf for 20. There is record of bleeding in thoroughbreds as far back as the 18th century. Bleeding Childers, whose name was later changed to Bartlett’s Childers was a bleeder and also the grand sire of Eclipse, who can be found in the bloodlines of over 75% of modern thoroughbreds. Bleeding is often treated with lasix. Lasix can lower the blood pressure of the horse and is also a diuretic that dehydrates the animal. The reduced BP with less fluid pressure against the chest cavity can alleviate bleeding, but is not a cure.

Condylar Fracture
A fracture of the condyle of the cannon bone. The condyle is the bulbous bottom or distal end of the cannon bone that fits into the fetlock joint. Condylar fractures can be repaired surgically. The prognosis for survival and a return to racing soundness is dependent on the severity of injury. In uncomplicated cases, after surgery to fix an uncomplicated condylar fractures, the horse normally is given stall rest for one month, followed by stall rest and hand-walking for another month. After this 60-day period, follow-up x-rays are taken to determine the rate of healing. If all is going well, there likely is another two to four weeks of paddock exercise before the horse might resume training. In the case of more severe fractures, the recovery period could encompass many months before the horse is ready to return to training.

Sesamoid Fracture
The sesamoids are two small, delicate bones located at the back of the fetlock, held in place only by ligaments. These little bones located just behind the pastern serve as pulleys over which the deep digital flexor tendons pass. A fracture to the sesamoids usually involves an injury to the suspensory apparatus. Depending on the severity of the injury, surgery can be performed to treat the fracture.

A hard enlargement on the rear of the cannon bone immediately below the hock. It begins as an inflammation of the plantar ligament and the inflammation leads to a thickening of the ligament.

Grabbed Quarter
While running, the horse "grabbed" one of its front hooves with a rear hoof, tearing skin and tissue. Cost and amount of training time lost depends on the extent of the injury.

Quarter Crack
Under stress, or if improperly shod, the hard substance of the hoof (similar to the human fingernail) can crack and become a source of pain - sometimes including the development of an infection in the exposed soft tissue underneath. This ailment can be corrected with a fiberglass or epoxy patch, and shoeing. Cost and amount of training time lost, if any, depends on the extent of the injury.

Colic is a general term used to describe pain in the gastrointestinal tract of a horse. Colic can happen any time to any horse and has many causes. It is the number one killer of horses. Treatments vary depending on the type of colic and its severity. A "simple" colic may cost around $100 for treatment. More severe or prolonged colics can cost several hundred dollars to treat. If the colic is severe enough to require surgery, the cost of treatment can be several thousand dollars.