There are lots of factors that contribute to the success of a racehorse. From the intensity of their training to the quality of their horse feed, all these different elements can make the difference between winning and losing.  Racing does pose some risk to horses and, whilst fatalities are rare,  injuries can occur. If you’re wondering what potential injuries racehorses can face, keep reading and discover the most common ones.

Inflamed Joints

The stress of racing can sometimes cause inflammation in the soft tissue around the joints of the limb. Heat and swelling can often be felt and the horse may appear lame or stiff. Just as for human athletes, inflammation can occur as a result of over use of unconditioned limbs or from sudden or sharp turns. Rest and cold therapy usually aid recovery.

Bone Fractures

Over the years, improvements in veterinary techniques mean that bone fractures don’t always have to be career-ending. Maximising bone strength is also key to reducing the incidence of bone fractures. Studies are indicating that the use of medications to treat gastric ulcers; a disease that is common in racehorses due to the types of horse feed commonly used, may also reduce calcium absorption. Recommendations are to increase the amount of calcium in the diet to help counteract this effect and reduce the risk of bone fractures.

Deep Digital Flexor Tendon (DDFT) Injuries

The DDFT is found in the back of the leg and attaches to the bottom of the pedal bone. It helps the leg flex and supports the heel but if  the tendon is overstretched it can easily tear or even pull away from the bone.  Overuse or strain can  result in inflammation or  tendinitis too. Similar to inflamed joints, heat and swelling may be apparent but if the injury is deep in the foot,  it can be hard to locate and so scans are often needed to identify the problem.  Tendinitis can put a racehorse out of action for  up to 8 weeks whereas  tears can take months to heal. . Once healed, the tendon is generally not as strong as it was before, so repeat injury can occur and careful management is often required. This may take the form of more rest periods and avoiding harder ground for example.

Suspensory Ligament Injuries

The suspensory ligament sits at the back of the cannon bone below the horse’s knee. It then splits  into two and goes towards the back of the fetlock and the long pastern bone. This ligament supports the fetlock joint and too much pressure  may cause it to fail. . At first, injury can be fairly mild but repeated issues can mean it eventually rupture and may cause bone fractures as it’s pulled away Apart from lameness, it can be tricky to know if a horse has damaged their suspensory ligaments especially if both limbs are affected as the lameness may not be very apparent.

Typically  rest and cold therapy will be used to help reduce the inflammation. Re-introduction to exercise should be done slowly and the intensity and duration built up gradually; all of which may take months and possibly even years to get the horse back to full racing fitness.

Bucked Shins

When a horse is training to race adaptive changes occur to the  cannon bone. If the training exceeds the speed at which the cannon bone can adapt, tiny stress fractures can occur. These can become inflamed and sore resulting in lameness in the horse.

Racehorse training should be gradual in order for their bones to develop and grow strong enough to withstand the stress.  Like most of the conditions mentioned in this article,  rest is often the most important form of therapy to recover from bucked shins.  Once healed, a horse can return to racing and training, but it will need to be done at a much slower pace.

The nature of racing means that racehorses are  at greater risk of more potential injuries than others. These injuries aren’t normally career or life-ending if addressed early. The skill of a racehorse trainer lies in finding the balance between training these elite equine athletes to reach their full potential without overdoing it.