On January 8, the racing industry could not resist gushing over the 100th race of 10-year-old gelding Our Dexter. An industry article spoke of what a ‘tough’ horse he is and racing.com dedicated several tweets to talking up the big occasion at the Stawell track.
In an industry where the average number of times a horse is raced before being killed or retired for being too slow or injured (to most likely be killed) is just 10 times (1), and where only 8% of horses have been found to survive its regime for more than four years, reaching 100 races is most certainly a rare achievement.
Whilst the industry bragged about such a triumph, they failed to mention the many studies that have proven bone fatigue is the leading cause of fatal injury in thoroughbreds.
In a 2013 study (2) funded by RIRDC, the Australian Government and Racing Victoria themselves, it was stated “Up to 70% of Thoroughbred racehorses have bone bruising, or joint surface collapse of the cannon bone and condylar fractures which propagate from this joint surface are the most common cause of fatal breakdown injuries. These injuries are due to bone fatigue, damage that accumulates due to repeated high loading produced by high speed galloping.” The study examined “subchondral bone turnover in the fetlock joint of racehorses both when in full race training and when resting from training” with the aim of “providing information on how to better manage horses to prevent a common injury”. THE most common FATAL injury.
Among other things, the study found:
“prolonged training periods are undesirable for Thoroughbred racehorses as fatigue damage accumulates faster than it can be repaired increasing the risk of joint injury and fracture. Therefore, these horses should be regularly rested from training to allow bone repair.”
“Trainers should be educated to understand that bone within the lower limb joints has a limited fatigue life and that regular rest periods are required to allow repair.”
A later study in 2017 (3), funded by the same three bodies, backed up the findings. More here.
In the 12 months leading up to the Stawell event, Our Dexter had been forced to race a gruelling 19 times. He survived the race, running 10th of 14.
5-year-old thoroughbred Opposite, was not quite so lucky. Raced 20 times over the 2020 period, he was killed on Boxing Day after suffering “an injury to its near-fore fetlock”
One might ask why the Australian Government, and more recently the Victorian Government, is using tax-payer dollars to fund studies only for the findings and recommendations to be ignored by an industry that seems hell-bent on not only racing horses to death, but also celebrating the process of their demise. If they are going to ignore their own studies, perhaps their funds would be better spent on a retirement program for the 10,000 plus horses vanishing from the industry each year.
1) Profiling the careers of thoroughbred horses in Australia between 2000 – 2010 – Velie, Wade & Hamilton, University of Sydney 2012
2) Bone repair in Thoroughbred racehorses. The effect of training and rest – Whitton, Holmes, Mirams & Mackie, University of Melbourne Equine Centre 2013
3) Prevalence of subchondral bone pathological changes in the distal metacarpi/metatarsi of racing Thoroughbred horses – Hassan, Mirams, Mackie & Whitton, University of Melbourne Equine Centre 2017
sandra kyle says
Excellent article highlighting the extent of injuries and other sufferings racehorses endure. It’s tragic that the recommendations have been ignored.
Tom W says
Pity the connections of Melted Moments didn’t read the article, broke down in the Ballina Cup today 9yo having its 93rd that’s correct 93rd start hadn’t had a proper spell since November 2017. Unsure of his fate as yet didn’t look promising.
Unfortunately we was killed
Ruth Lester-Scott says
For God’s sake, there is clearly something very WRONG here. Yes, it’s a great little money spinner for the trainer, the jockey, the owner……does anyone actually consider the HORSES???!…..How many have to die before you stop this????
Hendrina korte says
People dress in their finest to applaud and gamble to watch an event, that will cost or maim the life of one of those beautiful creatures, just for people amusement and or greed.
CHRISTINE PRESTON says
It infuriates me that these poor defenseless horses have to suffer like this. I am ashamed to call myself ‘Human’. I would like to do to them what they do to horses and see how they like it!!! Humans aren’t the supreme form of life – ANIMALS ARE!! I could actually shoot the people who do such shocking, unbelievable things to animals – in particular horses, because I have a long-standing love for them. As a kid, all I ever wanted was a Pony to love and cherish, but it never happened. Horses are the most beautiful creatures in the world & people who mistreat them are nothing but scum! I’m as mad as Hell about this and the fact that no one in authority is prepared to do anything about it. They just pretend it doesn’t happen. People should have their eyelids taped open to force them to sit and watch exactly what does go on with animals (behind the scenes) and NOT just in the Slaughterhouses either!!! Take a look at the Auction sales & how terrified these horses are, some only weanlings for God’s sake! THE WHOLE THING DISGUSTS ME BEYOND EXPLANATION!
It’s a racket. If faced with the knowledge that a TB has a fatigue fracture in evolution in, say, the cannon bone but is otherwise looks sound in pre-race lameness checks the trainers/owners wont hesitate to race. Despite the known risk to the horse and the rider for that fatigue fracture to potentially turn into a complete fracture and the bone snaps mid race. Like a grenade waiting to go off. What is scientifically unknown is how these TB’s can run on “clinically” silent bone stress fractures. Humans can talk and say ouch it hurts in my shin but TB’s can’t – but still you would expect some lameness however these equine athletes seem to fight through the injury. In any event the churn is the most important driver in the industry. Wastage leads to more sales further up the chain. If more horses were enrolled into preventative sports medicine then they would likely race longer and pain free however that would not be good for yearling sales where the top end really makes it money. Currently they keep feeding the beast and if replacement TB’s are no longer required then business models go sour. Meanwhile the rivers of gold from betting ensures that the Ministers office will run interference for the industry and only occasionally act when major incidents occur with some green washing.