Pastured horses have a big advantage, says prominent vet

Dr Larry Bramlage
Dr Larry Bramlage

Horses kept in a field have a huge advantage over those living in confined conditions, prominent American equine surgeon Dr Larry Bramlage told delegates at this week’s Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit.

Bramlage was discussing bone issues and safety in a one-on-one conversation with Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation president Ed Bowen during the summit in Kentucky.

“Good trainers seem to have a sense to push a horse to fitness without pushing him to injury,” he said. “Trainers can sense when horses are thriving and doing well.”

Bramlage emphasized the importance of keeping horses moving and the huge advantage of keeping them in a field because it kept their circulation moving.

He said he believed that today’s horses were not as tough as they used to be primarily because they were handled differently.

Ed Bowen
Ed Bowen

Bramlage, a partner in Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, expressed the view that trainers were generally handling lameness cases better than ever before. This was because they realized that, rather than being the problem, it signaled that something was going wrong.

“If you’re a trainer and a horse becomes lame, you can’t train them. In the past lameness was the enemy and the goal was to get rid of the lameness.

“The ones that are the best at training horses and having them have long careers recognize the lameness as a sign that the musculoskeletal system is getting behind. Something is not keeping up with the process.”

The summit, the sixth to be held, placed special emphasis on racetrack surfaces, equine and jockey injury databases, continuing education, and post-mortem programs.

The conference, in the Keeneland sales pavilion, brought together about 200 people – a cross-section of the thoroughbred industry, including owners, breeders, horsemen, veterinarians, jockeys, track managers, and regulators.

Dr Tim Parkin, an equine epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow and a consultant to the Equine Injury Database, discussed risk factors associated with fatalities. He said the risk of fatal injury increased by 30 percent if a horse had suffered a previous injury that was recorded in the Equine Injury Database.

Parkin also said that there was widely held misconception that horses should not run as two-year-olds when in fact it was better for bone development when they did run at that age. He added that the highest risk of fatalities in the US occurred in sprint races up to six furlongs.

In a segment devoted to track surfaces, Glen Kozak, vice president of facilities and racing surfaces for the New York Racing Association, discussed how equipment for track maintenance had evolved and said track superintendents “can always do more” to improve maintenance and safety.

“One of the biggest safety factors for track superintendents is evaluating the cushion of the track and the moisture content and the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory helps us do that,” Kozak said. “Sharing information with our colleagues at conferences like this is also immensely helpful to all of us.”

In the segment on continuing education, Dr Rick Arthur, the equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, said “there has been a cultural change [in recent years] and we have to prove to the public that we are doing our best to care for our horses”.

“We have an obligation to protect both the horse and the rider. We have to care and we have to be proactive. Continuing education is a way to do that; many injuries are preventable.”

Dr Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, moderated a panel focusing on lessons learned from post-mortem programs.

She talked about detecting medication usage patterns through the use of out of-competition testing and expressed concern that medication usage masks unsoundness during high-stress exercise in workouts.

“Losing an opportunity to see if horse has orthopedic disease, I would submit, does not represent acting in best interests of the horse,” she said.

Scollay encouraged regulators to use out-of-competition testing and study the medication usage patterns they observe.

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