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Breakdowns - age, or training and care?

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  • Breakdowns - age, or training and care?

    I've been thinking more and more about this issue. It would seem that 2 is a very young age to race a horse, and that such early racing could be largely responsible for many of the breakdowns that occur. But is that really the main factor? People have said that the horses of years ago were much tougher than they are today - they raced more often and into older age. Are our breeding programs different, or are our training and health care methods different? "Old-timers" like Preston Burch believed in methods that favored soundness, stamina, and longevity, even with the classic races for 3-year-olds. Is our focus now shifting to early (age) speed with less regard for stamina, longevity, and ultimately, soundness? Years ago, fewer medications were available. Now, it is hard to find a whole race card with one horse that isn't on Lasix. Many racehorses - including Sky Mesa - are routinely raced on bute. Just like ailing humans (and dogs, cats, etc.) that are subjected to conventional treatments, racehorses are loaded up on drug after drug on top of the drug they're already on. Take Sky Mesa as an example. Kenny McPeek said he was going to be given bute for the Juvenile. If the tendon strain had occurred just a day later, the bute would have masked it and Sky Mesa would have run on an unsound tendon, likely with disastrous results. Conventional, modern treatments, generally, are founded on masking the symptoms that warn us that something is wrong - and if he don't heed the warning, we will eventually cave in or break down. Racehorses are not spared this absurdity. Is it not so much the age of the horse, but the management of it, that really matters in the tragic end?

  • #2
    I say management plays a huge role.

    Trainer Bruce Headley has been working with horses for over 40 years. He has never lost a horse to a life-ending injury on track...ever. This has been documented in the Daily Racing Form. (He has lost horses due to illness and colic, however.)

    Bruce handles his horses with extreme care. He very rarely races two year olds, and even his three year olds are raced sparingly. As a result, he has not had exceeding popularity with owners who want results earlier and bigger.

    When a horse is sore for whatever reason, he gives them extended time off. Royally Chosen, a stakes-winning 4-year-old, (I believe) bucked a shin. She's been given nearly 8 months off, enjoying the rolling acres of a large ranch, resting, standing in icy river water to treat her joints, and basically having plenty of time to be a horse...no pushing to Be Ready to RUN ASAP.

    It's this kind of treatment that enables Headley to have 7, 8, 9, even 10 year old stakes winners in his barn--and no breakdowns.

    I used to think the world was against me. Now I know better...some of the smaller countries are neutral.
    SA Ferrana Moniet 1988-2011
    CP Trilogy 2002-2015
    My bloggity blog: Hobby Horse: Adventures of the Perpetual Newbie


    • #3
      Let's not forget that conformation plays a huge part too, as well as training and care. If a horse has inherent defects conformationally then that horse is much more prone to break down than an equivalent horse of "correct" conformation.

      Member: TB Clique, Georgia Clique, Rust TS Clique, Willem FC, DIY Clique, Ebayers Anonymous Clique, Reads Forums At Work Clique, Lawn Ornaments For Life Clique
      "The standard you walk by is the standard you accept."--Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Austalian Army Chief


      • #4
        <BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>Originally posted by Thoroughbred:
        Now, it is hard to find a whole race card with one horse that isn't on Lasix. Many racehorses - including Sky Mesa - are routinely raced on bute. Just like ailing humans (and dogs, cats, etc.) that are subjected to conventional treatments, racehorses are loaded up on drug after drug on top of the drug they're already on. Take Sky Mesa as an example. Kenny McPeek said he was going to be given bute for the Juvenile. If the tendon strain had occurred just a day later, the bute would have masked it and Sky Mesa would have run on an unsound tendon, likely with disastrous results. Conventional, modern treatments, generally, are founded on masking the symptoms that warn us that something is wrong - and if he don't heed the warning, we will eventually cave in or break down. Racehorses are not spared this absurdity. Is it not so much the age of the horse, but the management of it, that really matters in the tragic end?<HR></BLOCKQUOTE>

        And on what study are you basing your comments? Do you have factual information regarding the drug levels present in racehorses? If you look at the number of horses that race every day and the number of positives that come up, they are few and far between. The vast majority of trainers operating at the higher levels of the sport are clean. I can't speak for the bush tracks, but I've been around the NY_KY_FL and mid atlantic scene for a while.

        From my conversations with vets and trainers, I see a big increase in joint supplements such as Legends, Adequan, gluco, etc. These are nutraceuticals, and are not drugs. They are beneficial to most horses and do not have any side effects. They are legal.

        These horses are athletes, just like football players, hockey players, baseball players, runners, etc. There will be injuries, and most of them will have aches and pains somewhere at some point in their lives.

        Most trainers, riders and grooms are fond of the horses and very attuned to each horse's peculiarities and daily condition. My husband "heard" a couple days ago that Rock of Gibralter lost his coat. The horse was still training good and feeling good, but he didn't really run his race, did he?

        Aiden O'Brien was quoted as saying that the American pace is much faster than the one in Europe. Which I guess reflects our emphasis on speed. As great a sire as Mr. Prospector was, he was unsound and passed that along as well.

        Lasix has been proven to increase a horse's performance, and you would be stupid not to use it if you can get your horse on it. Just because a horse is on Lasix does not mean he gushed blood. The vet could have found a drop of blood way down in the horse's lungs, which is pretty much normal.

        [This message was edited by Flash44 on Oct. 28, 2002 at 10:02 AM.]
        Man plans. God laughs.


        • #5
          and if you go over to the Horse Care forum, you will find many many threads on injured and sick horses that are not race horses. They are backyard horses, show horses and horses that are doing no where near the same amount of work as a race horse.
          Man plans. God laughs.


          • #6
            <<Take Sky Mesa as an example. Kenny McPeek said he was going to be given bute for the Juvenile.>>

            FWIW, Sky Mesa is trained by John Ward, not Kenny McPeek.

            Management is a huge factor, but horses in the barns of very capable, conscientious trainers do break down. Hats off to Bruce Headley for an amazing record, but I truly believe that other trainers of comparable skill and compassion have lost horses on the track that gave every appearance, even to the most skilled horseman, of being quite sound.

            This may be a very unpopular point of view with many people, but, is it better or worse for the horse to spend its entire life with top-notch care, suffer a devastating breakdown, and be euthanized immediately, or to spend its entire life lacking adequate food, shelter, caring human attention, and veterinary care, and die at some point as a result of neglect, benign or otherwise?


            • #7
              I think we all know or have heard a story about a horse breaking its leg in the pasture? I know of at least 2. Horses get training injuries all the time - in dressage, hunters, jumpers, barrel racing, you name it.

              Not sure I'd be out to flame the TB racing trainers 'just yet'. If you flame them, you need to go and hit the eventers....foxhunters.....jumpers....reiners.....


              • #8
                I'm *so* with Clive's Mom on this one. My rescue TB never raced - he is strictly a victim of the A Circuit, where he was jumped to the point of death, drugged up, and jumped some more. When he couldn't even *walk* any more, they dumped him at a feedlot auction.

                There are cr*ppy people in every discipline. And racing in fact I think is making such a conscious and discernable attempt to clean up its act that it may very well end up leading the pack in this regard! At least racing has long since *acknowledged* that there is a problem. I've yet to see any such thing from USAE.

                Of *course* they race too young, etc., but I think the market dictates that. If *owners* started saying "I don't want my horse raced until it's 3" things might change.

                Member: TB Clique, Georgia Clique, Rust TS Clique, Willem FC, DIY Clique, Ebayers Anonymous Clique, Reads Forums At Work Clique, Lawn Ornaments For Life Clique
                "The standard you walk by is the standard you accept."--Lt. Gen. David Morrison, Austalian Army Chief


                • Original Poster

                  I'm not condemning racing at all or comparing it to any other sport. I'm talking about the current situation and what's causing it. And when I said "drugs", I meant legal medications. The word "drug" doesn't necessarily mean cocaine or marijuana. That's not what drug stores sell - they sell Aspirin, Motrin, etc.; all legal medications. You get the point. And sorry about the misprint - I did mean to say John Ward, not Kenny McPeek.

                  Janet Del Castillo has much to say on medications in her book, "Backyard Racehorse". I think she has a lot of excellent points. The situation basically is no different than with humans - the pharmeceutical companies are making millions by playing with our health and "trying to fool nature", if you will. But it's worse with racehorses, because when one is given an anti-inflammatory medication (not to offend anyone with the word "drug"), they may pay a severe price, when the painless yet unsound leg - which looks sound because the natural healing process of inflammation has been artificially suppressed - is injured in a race. The horse may bow a tendon, injure a fetlock or tear a ligament - it is said that the horse "took a misstep". Maybe the horse was just running on a leg that looked and felt sound because of the symptom-masking medication, but really wasn't.

                  Furthermore, how many racehorses are allowed turnout? Being stalled for 23 1/2 hours and then galloped on a hard track, is very unhealthy. According to Del Castillo, this is the scenario that makes a horse prone to breakdown. Add to this a whole cocktail of medications and injections, and it's no wonder why so many people have been turned away from racing because of the injuries and deaths that occur.

                  People also don't like hearing what the "L" next to the name of every single horse in a race means. It's little consolation that there's a medication for lung hemorrhages - any caring person would say, and rightfully so, that so many horses shouldn't be bleeding in the first place! (I've even seen first-time starters on Lasix.) Obviously something is wrong. Del Castillo has taken horses off the bleeders' list simply by giving them some R&R in the pasture, allowing their lungs to heal themselves. Interestingly, she also notes that MSM/DMSO could possibly be a cause of bleeding. She was instructed to give a certain dosage of DMSO to a filly she was training. She did exactly as she was told. At the same time, a friend of hers was suffering knee pain, and decided to try DMSO on himself. As soon as he began taking the DMSO, he began having massive nosebleeds that often required him to go to the hospital. He stopped the DMSO, and the nosebleeds stopped. He resumed taking the DMSO, and the nosebleeds resumed. Meanwhile, the filly on DMSO was galloped, and bled. Still on DMSO, she was given Lasix, and she bled through it. Pure coincidence? I think not. It's happened all too often that medications and remedies had to be recalled, or at least warned against, after enjoying enormous popularity, because not enough studies had been done on it initially to realize there were serious side effects.

                  These ideas aren't popular, but no holistic or classical principles have gained - or regained - much popularity yet. Why? Because money talks, and old habits die hard. Unfortunately, the victims die hard too. Being a "convert" myself - that is, from conventional, modern riding methods to holistic, classical horsemanship - I think it's always worth rethinking the current system.

                  Again, I am not trying to condemn horse racing. But we all know that many horses have broken down, and continue to break down, and that's a problem. I don't think there's anything wrong with looking for answers to problems.


                  • #10
                    I started a thread similar to this one a while back and got a lot of defensive responses. It seems that if you try to discuss known problems in a horse sport, many people will jump in, comparing it to other sports and say, "Well, its no worse than what happens to many hunters/Tennessee Walkers/backyard horses, so why let it upset you?" Well, honestly these things do upset me, I guess I am too sensitive.

                    I read Janet DelCastillo's book about 5 years ago and found it very interesting. Back then I was planning to get my trainer's license and I really thought that she had good methods that an everyday horse person who wanted to get into racing AND was concerned about the welfare of their horses could follow. BTW, I mentioned it here to see if anyone else had read it and someone made fun of it. I decided not to pursue training though, because I just saw too much @#*& on the backside and it was not a place I felt good about spending my life.

                    It would be interesting to see what would happen if ALL drugs were eliminated from racing (Not that that will ever happen.) I personally think that breakdowns would decrease but there are so many other factors involved too. My husband thinks that horses bodies (in general) were just not built to handle that level of intensity and stress and that breakdowns really are part of horse racing no matter what we do.


                    • #11
                      Not everyone has access to such wonderful riders as Mr. Bluejeans and an orange grove to gallop their horses through. [img]/infopop/emoticons/icon_rolleyes.gif[/img]

                      And I'll say it again because it is worth repeating: The vet only has to see ONE DROP of blood in a horse's respiratory system to prescribe Lasix. Just getting the scope down there can cause one drop. Just because a horse is on Lasix does not mean the horse gushed.

                      And the amounts of most drugs that are allowed to be in the system of a horse are so minute that it is argueable that the drug has no effect on the horse at that level. Most of the drugs given to horses on the track are VERY SIMILAR to those in your medicine cabinet. Do you have anti inflammatories (like ibuprophen), cough syrups, decongestants, vitamins, minerals, joint supplements or antibiotics? I've taken all but antibiotics during the past year. Does that make me a junkie? Am I unhealthy?
                      Man plans. God laughs.


                      • Original Poster

                        I'm not one to give up and back down just because I don't like what I currently see. I didn't turn away from dressage because the majority of today's dressage riders have corrupt methods and ideals (from the horse's point of view, at least); I found what was right - classical dressage - and now, one of my main goals in life is to spread the truth. If I am so lucky as to be able to get involved in racing, I hope to do the same in this discipline as well. If you know something is wrong, fight it, and go down fighting if you must - but don't just turn away and ignore it.

                        Truthfully, I actually don't like the fact that Del Castillo's horses live so close to an orange grove. Groves are heavily doused with dangerous chemicals that survive in the soil for many years, so this is not favorable.

                        Actually, Flash44, that's quite a lot of medications you've used in the past year. Except for an antibiotic for what my doctor said was strep throat, but turned out to be an incorrect diagnosis (it was an irritation caused by iced tea) - and that has me really mad - all I've ever taken in the past few years was an occasional underdose of Motrin when I really needed it. I try to avoid any kind of medication as much as possible, and get along just fine - even through colds - without it. But that's kind of besides the point.


                        • #13
                          Since I'm a working mother and often have to sacrifice what I know is good for me (like sleeping, exercising, eating a good meal, etc) for kids or work, some things are just plain out of my control.

                          Ibuprophen - I run and ride, but these activities can be inconsistent due to my busy schedule. Hence the need for occasional ibuprophen.

                          Cough syrup and decongestant - I have seasonal allergies (thanks, dad) and my son generously shares whatever bug he picks up in school. I have over 150 sick hours credited to me because I never really get sick enough to take a day off work. [img]/infopop/emoticons/icon_rolleyes.gif[/img]

                          Vitamins and minerals - everyone should take them.

                          Joint supplements - again, every athlete over the age of 20 should take them.

                          Antibiotics - I will only take them if I have some kind of raging infection, and don't even use antibacterial soap or hand wipes. I think the last time I took antibiotics was when a horse struck me in the head and cut me, about 8 years ago?

                          Thoroughbred, how can you possibly formulate such strong opinions on how to train race horses when you have never worked in racing??? Get a clue.
                          Man plans. God laughs.


                          • #14
                            I've stated this in other threads, but to me it seems to be the basis of so much that is "wrong" in any horse discipline.

                            Trainers have to have owners or else they wouldn't be in business.

                            Owners are usually in the business because they want to WIN WIN WIN! And they want to win RIGHT NOW!

                            With so much money currently at stake in the two-year-old races, they are pushing young horses harder than ever before. Why? Because the owners want to WIN! WIN! WIN!

                            If a trainer isn't producing winners for his owners, the owners dump the trainer like yesterday's news and go find a trainer that will do "whatever it takes" to get a horse to the winner's circle.

                            So the trainer often does what is necessary to give the owners what they want, which can sometimes produce a promising colt that will never make it because he fractured his ankle at the ripe old age of 22 months.

                            So, what is the answer?

                            Who wants to be the one to make two-year-old races a thing of the past? Who wants to be the one to make the Triple Crown a campaign for five-year-olds? Who wants to be the one to make it a law that you must disclose any orthopedic corrections made to any Thoroughbred under the age of three?

                            No one, because any of these would be a devastating blow to the racing and breeding industries. But in my mind, that is what needs to happen to stop them from pushing these babies until they break.

                            Rest in peace, Landseer.

                            "I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship."
                            -Louisa May Alcott
                            "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." ~ Jack Layton


                            • #15
                              You also need to remember that the trainers get a percentage of the purse. It is in their best interest to win. They can not live on day rates alone. Winning is the name of the game and that is how we stay in business. Please dont assume that all owner race their 2 year olds. I sure dont. I have a 2 yo that is still at the farm growing up. He told us that he was not ready to race, but now he is starting to say different and will be at the track in the next couple of weeks. However, last year I did run another 2yo because he was ready. He had no trouble and did not break down. I stand behind my trainer, and if the horse is not winning, we look for other alternatives to try..(equipment change, training , nutrition, etc). We (owners) are not evil people, we care about our horses!


                              • #16
                                I am generally a fan of racing and don't have a problem with it in principle.

                                I am not a fan of 2 year old racing particularly, but many horses that run at 2 live long, sound lives. I worry more about the blistering speed that they go for in the 2-year-olds-in-training sales, and the fact that most of these horses don't get any long, slow, distance work.

                                Breeding fast but unsound horses doesn't help.

                                And, of course, there are management issues that some trainers use, like bad shoeing (long toes, toe grabs), etc. They are not unique to racehorses.

                                Bute certainly doesn't "numb" a leg - it is just for aches and pains. But what 2 year old or 3 year old should be running with aches and pains in the first place? I don't mind bute for older jumpers and dressage horses, but I really dislike its use in baby racehorses. If they ache, they should have time off. Worse, if they ache, you can expect them to compensate in the gait, which can lead to more damage somewhere else.

                                There are a lot of new techniques for finding and treating problems early, like thermography. I hope trainers will use them and they will prove beneficial.
                                If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket


                                • Original Poster

                                  I agree with Poltroon. And as for the fact that I'm not a trainer? You don't have to be a racehorse trainer to know that bute isn't a substitute for a totally sound horse, or that horses stay sounder and healthier when given turnout than when stalled 23 1/2 hours a day. I'm calling for more holistic care of the racehorse, that's all - and I think it could make a big difference.

                                  One thought about Lasix and heart attacks. Lasix is a diuretic. In other words, a bleeder may become slightly dehydrated before a race. For me, if I go too long without drinking water, and then exercise or take a shower, I get heart palpitations. Clearly, lack of proper hydration puts stress on the heart. Overheating is also a major factor, and when you're working hard (and thus sweating) and not drinking water - and, insult on top of injury, on a diuretic - you're going to get severely dehydrated and overheated. This could account for some of the heart attacks suffered by racehorses and eventers.

                                  Again, all I'm asking for is more natural and holistic horse care. That's all!


                                  • #18
                                    My apologies if anyone took offense at my earlier post. I certainly don't mean that ALL trainers and ALL owners are greedy and care more for winning and $$$ than they do for the horses. Thankfully, those types seem to be in the minority. But unfortunately, they are there.

                                    I still hate two-year-old races though. And I agree 100% with Poltroon about the two-year-old-in-training sales. Having an twenty-month-old colt breezing an eighth in ten flat on a deep track? It just defies common sense.

                                    "I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship."
                                    -Louisa May Alcott
                                    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world." ~ Jack Layton


                                    • #19
                                      Bute use has decreased with the increase in equine sportsmedicine and alternative therapies that help prevent and heal injuries. As a runner, I begin taking ibuprophen the night before a race because I know I will be exerting myself and will be sore after the race. It has nothing to do with soundness.

                                      There are training centers where horses can be turned out part of the day such as Payson Park and Fair Hills, but trainers have to pay for stabling there. REalistaically, you will never have adequate turnout for all race horses in training. A horse that is racing fit is usually too rambunctious to be turned out in anything larger than a round pen. The risk of injury is too great. They all go to the farm for a rest every year anyway.
                                      Man plans. God laughs.


                                      • #20
                                        Some break downs just plain come under the "S#!t Happens" catagory! In racing and in the pasture.

                                        I know there are horses that break down who seem to have been perfectly sound and happy before the race. It is the nature of the stress of running, same to some degree with cross country jumping.

                                        However, I also know of some terrible, cold, callous
                                        things that are done/said at the track as well as other disciplines.

                                        I have to admit it gets harder and harder for me to watch races and own racehorses. I have seen so many racehorses break down(not ours) with tragic results that I find myself just hoping no horses break down...
                                        I don't seem to have that problem watching horseshows!(or owning show horses)

                                        When discussing fatal breakdowns in horse sports, to me comparing racing to almost any other horse sport is like comparing apples an ornges(sp). There is no comparison.

                                        Does anyone know of any studies done on the percentage of fatal break downs per sport?

                                        I think in all disciplines serious/long term injuries would be less if people stopped trying to cover up injuries to keep the horses going and tried to cure them instead. Like someone said about the trainer with no breakdowns. In addition to changing the narrow mindedness of the breeders who breed for speed without regaurd for soundness and brains!
                                        ~*Adult Pony Rider Clique*~