Race Horses are large athletic animals who are bred to run fast. One of the consequences of this is that they are subject to enormous forces on their tendons, muscles and bones, and also incredible workload for organs like the heart and lungs. Just as in human athletes, this constant exercise increases the risk that some of the tissues cannot withstand these forces, leading to injury, bleeding, swelling, stress etc.
The most common injuries are tendonopathy/tendon tear, muscular strains, and joint inflammation. Imagine the force from 500kg traveling at over 60km/h! These are mostly treated as they are in humans – relative rest, hydrotherapy, anti-inflammatories, and then progressive increase in strength training and gradual return to sport.
The most recent examples yesterday of two unlucky horses that did not survive after Melbourne Cup day, Admire Rakti and Araldo, are a very sad happenstance for an industry that gives its athletes the finest in veterinary and physical health care.
Admire Rakti died shortly after the favourite finished the race, and an autopsy has confirmed the cause of death as acute heart failure due to ventricular fibrillation. This rapid uncontrolled beating causes the heart to pump out of sequence and so it becomes ineffective. The increased size of the horses’ heart and the rapid beating caused by exercise can lead to the electrical signals that control the heart going bezerk. While this is not a common complication of exercise, it can happen in horses, humans, and any other mammal.
Araldo was a victim of bad luck. A young spectator waved an Australian flag, and the horse was spooked by the movement, causing it to break its leg on a fence. While a broken leg would be easy to manage in a human, who can use crutches or remain non-weight bearing for 4-6 weeks to allow healing, a horse cannot remain non-weight bearing, and thus cannot support its weight. They are not smart enough animals to realise this and lie down until it mends, and so the most merciful treatment is euthanasia.
Our thoughts are with the connections of these two beautiful animals.