Most experienced trainers will know from bitter experience that a seemingly tiny wound can have a big impact if a horse is unlucky enough to sustain a penetrating injury right over a critical structure like a joint capsule or tendon sheath. Collectively, joints and tendon sheaths are called synovial structures, and synovial infection is a serious, potentially career-ending and sometimes life-threatening problem. A team of veterinary researchers from Liverpool University Veterinary School, led by the writer, have recently published a study in Equine Veterinary Journal that examines factors influencing outcome and survival.
Injuries are an inevitable risk in any sport involving elite, high-performance athletes. In thoroughbred racehorses worldwide, injuries are one of the main reasons for horses failing to train or race. There are obvious welfare concerns associated with racehorse injuries, which also have substantial economic implications and impact on the public perception of the sport.
Over the last two decades the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) has funded substantial research to understand how various body systems respond to training. For example, because of this HBLB investment we now know that the hearts of thoroughbred racehorses get bigger as a response to athletic training and that big hearts are typically associated with better performers. We also know that bones respond to training by remodelling and hence become better prepared for the strains associated with galloping.
Worldwide, when there are new disease outbreaks – human or horse – there seems to be a link between climate change and infectious disease risk. Warmer environment and changing weather patterns influence many factors that encourage disease outbreaks, disease transmission, and the emergence of new diseases.
Stress fractures not only lead to training interruptions but if they are not identified early and managed appropriately they can be associated with subsequent catastrophic fractures. Stress fractures of the humerus, tibia, ilium and cannon bone (aka third metacarpal bone or McIII) are most common. Stress fractures are a late stage on a pathway of stress-related bone injury.
The interaction of a horse’s foot and the ground surface is complex. Stance—that part of the stride when the foot is in contact with the ground—can be divided into three phases, which determine the loading environment of the limb: impact, mid stance and push off. Loading of the limb determines how it functions and also influences where injury may occur. Research funded by the Horserace Betting Levy Board at the Royal Veterinary College has focussed on the foot and is allowing a greater understanding of the effect of changes in surface or shoeing on stance, on remodelling of the tissues and ultimately on the risk of injury.