Sport Horse Deaths…some thoughts

4 Feb


A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing…and a very little bit possibly even more dangerous.

But this is the internet—and the amount of knowledge floating out there in the cloud is so vast as to be virtually  incomprehensible:

                  Are you suffering from hearing loss? Could be the ibuprofen you popped a few times a week (it reduces blood flow to the ear’s cochlea);

                   Is your horse suffering from …just about anything? There is a study out there, somewhere, that will both prove and disprove your hypothesis and cause;

Which leads me to be so bold as to talk about the sudden deaths from heart failure in horses in sport.

A Thoroughbred racehorse’s spleen  is about FOUR feet long, by 8” x 4”. When the heartbeats get up to about 200 bpm (beats per minute), the spleen massively  contracts and ‘dumps’ the store of oxygenated blood into the horse’s system. This is rresearched phenomenon and many papers are written about how best to use all this rich, oxygenated blood to benefit performance.

In the wild, this is a useful occurrence—the horse senses a predator, goes into fear mode, takes off, dumps blood, gets an extra ‘kick’ and outruns/outlasts whatever wanted dinner.

But research is now showing that our performance horses are a looong way from the generations of  horses  that actually worked all day just to either stay alive themselves or to help human masters put food on the table.

Because performance horses’ heart rates do not often enough get high enough to dump all the blood in the spleen, some of the blood cells get ‘old’—and ‘old’ blood cells lose their round, flexible, soft edges. Instead, they become hardened ,rough-edged and  inflexible.

red blood cut

And yet, all these blood cells must get through capillaries whose diameters are smaller than that of a single blood cell. Stiff, ‘old’ cells can cause  blockage. Blockage may result in pulmonary hemorrhage, some colic situations, and even death.

In any case, racehorses have a routine—they walk around part of the tracks, trot a bit, canter a bit, get into the starting gate—a true adrenaline trigger. They explode out of the gate, dump their spleens, and then canter around for a while after the finish line to get their systems closer to normal.

But sport horses routines often include: being held on cross-country courses; having to gear up for a qualifying jump course and then gear up again for a jump-off; being held at vet checks on endurance courses and then taking off at speed again ; being schooled early in the day and then brought out again for a quicker warm-up right before competition.In all of these situations, the horses heart rates go up and down and up and down–but possibly not in an optimal way.

Maybe it is this part of the routine, as well as the final cooling down, that needs to be fine-tuned and adjusted


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