Failure of Racehorses to Train and Race

It's commonly known that racehorses endure extreme physical and mental stresses preparing for a racing career, which can lead to injuries and illnesses. In a University of Cambridge study, researchers sought to quantify ailments endured by today's racehorses.

The study followed 1,022 Thoroughbreds from conception to age four. Of those, 562 entered training with one of 161 trainers registered for the study in either their 2- or 3-year-old seasons in Britain or Ireland. A sizable amount of those (34%) returned to race at age four. However, before age two, 58 horses had either died or were euthanatized.

Of those that made it to the track their 2-year-old season (52%), sore shins and inflammatory airway disease (IAD) were the two most common ailments. Other ailments reported were joint problems, fractures, tying-up, knee chips, tendon problems, soft palate problems, colic, and roaring.

Only 80% of the horses that raced as 2-year-olds returned to the track the following year. The most common ailments for the 3-year-olds were joint problems (degenerative joint disease, osteochondrosis dissecans, etc.) and sore shins.

Interestingly, colts and geldings in the study suffered a higher rate of musculoskeletal injuries than fillies. The study found that 63% of the 2-year-olds and 50% of the 3-year-olds suffered from at least one ailment that required veterinary attention. Only 4% of the 2-year-olds and 9% of the 3-year-olds had career-ending injuries.

Researcher Sandra Wilsher BSc (Hons) of the University of Cambridge Equine Fertility Unit in Newmarket, United Kingdom, explained, "The study was carried out as a starting point for further research, for the industry to identify areas they may or may not wish to address. Furthermore, we wished to see if since the last similar survey (Jeffcott, et al.1982) 20 years ago, if things had changed."

Since the research didn't examine factors that affected the study's results, Wilsher said she was unable to offer suggestions on training regime changes. "However, certainly in the literature it has been reported that different surfaces and training regimes, for example, can markedly affect the incidence of sore shins," she explained.

Researchers for the study published in the April issue of the Equine Veterinary Journal included Wilsher; William Allen, CBE, ScD, FRCVS; and James Wood, BSc, BVetMed, MSc, PhD, DLSHTM, MRCVS.

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for .

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More