Monday, May 05, 2008

Eight Bells -Tragedy strikes again 1 year later

Like everyone else I was amazed at the performance of Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby and terribly saddened at the tragic loss of eight bells. Here we are almost a year after Barbaro was injured and the racing industry suffers another setback and the fans must witness another heartache.
Sadly another thing to come from this is the media whirlwind that has spun up creating an endless stream of stories about the dangers of horse racing and all that is wrong. PETA has even taken the opportunity to grab some headlines at the fillies expense by saying the jockey should be suspended , implying "he must have known something was wrong" and that the winnings for 2nd place should be withheld. They complained about the use of the crop saying " the merciless whipping of the horse". First you must realize that the average jockey is not much bigger than most 8th graders (no offense) , is perched atop a 12oo lb animal going faster than 30mph while reaching behind them to "whip" a horse. The crop is a signal to go....since yelling GO just doesn't work that well. You don't see them whipping them at the start....only when they need to make a move. The jockey finds a gap or has to move past another horse and needs the horse to accelerate and signals them to do so. If the horse has nothing left, then they just have nothing left and no amount of whipping is going to make them go faster....and all jockeys know this. In the case of Eight bells you can see that the horse is moving well ,has her ears up and is not falling behind or getting passed. She moves freely through the finish and is near the 1/4 pole when she goes down. She fractured one fetlock exposing the bone and also a sesamoid bone on the other . Unfortunately there is nothing that can be done with these cases. There is literally no leg to stand on. When the fetlock joint breaks down there is a tremendous amount of soft tissue damage as well. The flexor tendons are frequently torn as are the palmar digital nerves and arteries. So on top of the fractured bone you also have a compromised blood supply and poor innervation. Since the horse puts 60% of their body weight on the front legs you have 600-700 lbs of weight on damaged limbs....not a good combination. As with Barbaro, it would be great if you could do surgery and then confine them to bed rest as if it were you or I, but the horse has to stand and has to do so right after surgery. The horses musculature and chest size won't allow them to remain recumbent for long. While these types of injuries have been around for along time and happen even in the paddock ( we lost a clients horse to a fetlock fracture this weekend) the claim that "well, this just happens" won't cut it. Every meeting I go to have sessions on just this subject, trying to find answers. I'm not sure what is needed but mindless reporters and those with political agenda's sure are not the answer. Perhaps shortening the distance (although Barbaro was within the 1st half mile) or changing the surface may be considered. We may need to limit the racing by 2 year olds . All TB's are considered 2 years old on January 1st. Perhaps if we use the actual birthday you could be racing horses that are 2 1/2 coming 3 in prep races and 3 1/2 coming 4 on derby day.This may not even have any effect as suggested in some studies. Whatever is done I hope it is dictated by science and not panic or pressure( especially from the likes of PETA) since you never make good decisions under those circumstances and you could be ruining the careers of jockeys and trainers everywhere.


Dirk VanderLaan said...

I'm not sure what I found more distasteful in reading this post. Your cavalier, sophmoric demeanor, or the peppering of the post with technical veterinary jargon clearly intended to boost your position. Stating that people must "realize that the average jockey is not much bigger than most 8th graders (no offense) , is perched atop a 12oo lb animal going faster than 30mph while reaching behind them to "whip" a horse." is almost laughable. You're a vet? Have you ever been close to a racing crop? A crop which is longer and designed with more 'flex' in it that most common riding crops in order to get more 'action' out of the business end? I've watched more than one jumper rider crack their horse two or three times while in the air over a 4'9" oxer. Implying that rate of speed or the size of the animal the jockey is on in some way mitigates his ability to smack the tar out of it is ridiculous. I suggest that you hand some eighth-grader a racing crop and let him take a few whacks at you with full arm extension and see how that feels. I think you'll find that you're motivated to move away from him, not because you're a team player and want to win but because it hurts. I currently have an OTT Thoroughbred who left racing when he was three. He's 11 now and is still terrified of anything that resembles a crop. Is that because he's just not a team player or could the more reasonable explanation be that he remembers what being 'motivated' by an 'eighth grader' feels like?
Man up and call a spade a spade. Yes, horses are bred to race. Yes, many of them do love to run. Yes, there is collateral damage inherent in the sport. But minimizing the realities of what these animals go through in the name of sport is shameful and misleading, especially from someone who is supposed to be a healer.
I also noticed that 'comment moderation has been enabled' which I find laughable from a blogger. Apparently you'd like to get your ideas and thoughts heard on the WWW but have no interest in being challenged on them.
Once again, I have to wonder...You're a vet?

Dr. Alan Weldon said...

Dick, sorry you were so offended, however I stand by the basic point,
it's not the Jockey or the crop that is causing these injuries. I see these injuries in horses running in the crop. I have an 8th grader by the way and if I weighed 1200 lbs she could have at it....she now anyway. I use Humor and a cavalier attitude and sophomoric demeanor,peppered with technical jargon to get the point across without posting an entire scientific article (which nobody would read).The comment moderation is enabled to prevent the spam that comes through, which is significant. I publish all comments and enjoy the debate, yours included.