Catastrophic Injuries in Racing Quarter Horses Studied

Catastrophic Injuries in Racing Quarter Horses Studied

Researchers determined that 56.7% of catastrophic injuries occurred in the right forelimb, the opposite of what is most commonly seen in Thoroughbreds.

Photo: BillyPoonPhotos/Wikimedia Commons

Thoroughbreds demand much of the spotlight when it comes to racing, but they're not the only ones that compete on racetracks, And researchers recently turned their attention to Quarter Horses to gain a better understanding of the frequency of and risk factors associated with catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries in these animals.

Scott McClure, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, associate professor of equine surgery at Iowa State University, and colleagues studied 67 catastrophic musculoskeletal injures (CMIs) that occurred at two Midwestern racetracks between 2000 and 2011.

The team found that 56.7% of the CMI injuries occurred in the right forelimb, the opposite of what is most commonly seen in Thoroughbreds.

“We (also) followed the lead limb, and almost 70% of the horses in this study were on the right lead when failure occurred,” McClure said, adding that this serves as a reminder for regulatory veterinarians dealing with multiple racing breeds to closely evaluate Quarter Horses' right forelimbs.

The team also found that 34.3% CMIs occurred in the fetlock joint.

“The fetlock can suffer acute injuries from hyperextension or an awkward placement of the limb at speed, and it is subject to stress remodeling injuries of the distal metacarpus (lower end of the cannon bone), proximal sesamoid, or proximal phalanx (long pastern),” McClure explained. “It can also fail as a result of acute or chronic suspensory ligament injuries and/or a combination of all of the above.”

Horses with CMIs also had fewer starts, were more likely to have stumbled at the break, had a more erratic stride, were more fatigued, and trailed in the race, compared with matched controls from the same races, the team said. They also determined that CMIs were more prevalent within 10 yards of the finish line regardless of the race distance.

McClure said that when it comes to reducing the frequency of CMIs, appropriate fitness and training programs with adequate periods between races is a simplistic, but relevant, answer, in addition to an understanding of the situation: “We don’t know if the horses bumping and stumbling, etc., are doing so because of an underlying injury or if these actions initiated the injury,” he explained. “It would indicate that these horses—in a Quarter Horse race—are not going to typically recover to get on the board. Therefore, it may prudent to pull up.”

The study, "Frequency of and risk factors associated with catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries in Quarter Horses at two Midwestern racetracks: 67 cases (2000-2011)," was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association

About the Author

Katie Navarra

Katie Navarra has worked as a freelance writer since 2001. A lifelong horse lover, she owns and enjoys competing a dun Quarter Horse mare.

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