A Canadian study investigating the cause of death for Standardbred racehorses has shown that age, sex, intensity of workload and workload volume—particularly cumulative workload—were strongly associated with fatalities. Researchers called these factors, which contribute to the likelihood of death, a “continuum of circumstances” rather than a single fatal event.

Dr. Peter Physick-Sheard and his research team looked at information provided by an Ontario-based racehorse injury registry on 978 Standardbred deaths that occurred between 2003 and 2015. Data for races and qualifiers, as well as formal workouts, were also compiled and available post-mortem exams were used.

The researchers found that younger horses have the highest mortality odds and stallions also have consistently higher odds of mortality. The research team also discovered that qualifying races at lower levels and intense competition at higher levels both carry high odds of mortality.

They determined that the deaths of Standardbred racehorse in the study were broadly associated with intensity, frequency and quality of work.

The scientists said that the way the harness horse racing environment is structured contributed to the Standardbred deaths, specifically how the horse handles the competition environment. The triggers for injury accumulation may be difficult to identify or control, but once recognized, these triggers can be managed or pre-empted to minimize an adverse outcome.

Read the study here.

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