Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Eight Bells-Where do we go from here?

The AAEP list serve ( American Association of Equine Practitioners) has been having a vigorous debate about the tragic death of Eight Bells and where we need to pursue changes to help prevent these catastrophic injuries. While the statistics show only a 0.2% occurrence rate , it is still awful when it happens. Unfortunately many pundits are stating opinion and not science and filling the 24 hour news cycle with talk about what is wrong with the racing industry. I'm sure there are those that don't like horse racing or people doing anything with a horse for that matter (ie.PETA). Thats OK, it's there opinion....I don't like soccer, so we're even. The public needs to be made aware of all the oversight that occurs during a horse race, from drug testing to physical exams . Video of each race is reviewed by the stewards to look for any action that is deemed to be abusive or dangerous, which can lead to fines or suspensions. I'm not sure why Veterinarians are perceived as somehow responsible for these catastrophic injuries. Perhaps it's associated with older books and movies that present Veterinarians as doing anything to get the horse to the track, similar to the team doctor in sports movies that push the needle to get the player onto the playing field. This could not be further from the truth. We as Veterinarians must do everything within our power to resist the pressure from our clients to "get the horse back as quick as possible". In a way we are like the bartender that serves the last drink, if we medicate an injury and let the horse compete when it is still weakened then we have done a disservice. At higher level performance sports I'm sure the existence of some level of injury/discomfort is always present, from muscular pain to joint and foot pain, just as in the NFL. The difference is the horse can't say what might be there in the background. We must find better diagnostics that can be used as screening procedures . While I admit that I don't think these will ever stop such injuries from happening they may find some occult problem and be able to stop them from becoming career ending.
The Veterinary community is working constantly to find ways to prevent injuries to performance animals with many changes already implemented. The following is a list of current suggestions on the AAEP list serve posted by Dr Gary Norwood that will hopefully yield results in the future.

-AAEP started the "On Call" program to better explain these injuries to the public

-the RMTC is working on medication issues that will lead to better regulations and uniformity

- track surfaces are being studied...hoping that a safer surface will eventually be discovered

-encourage more turf racing at longer distances

-we have increased the thoroughness of and the number of tracks doing pre-race exams

-post mortem programs like those done in California could and should be expanded

-the injury reporting system recently initiated is way overdue and all tracks should be required to participate

-prevention of catastrophic injuries by use of better imaging equipment, ie: digital, scintigraphy, ultrasound, MRI, etc.

-directing more monies toward research on cause, prevention and treatment of these injuries

-better analysis of bloodlines and breeding that lead to higher incidences of injuries

-should the Triple Crown schedule be changed?

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