Harness horses race on much harder tracks than Thoroughbreds, and while these tracks may have some benefits, a new study shows they also increase risk of injury. Researchers used diagnostic imaging on twelve 3-year-old Standardbred racehorses to look for damage to ligaments, tendons, muscles and bones.
Dr. Nathalie Crevier-Denoix and colleagues followed the Standardbred racehorses, all of which had similar breeding and body type, for four months. Six of the horses worked only on a hard track; the other six trained only on a softer track.
The horses were worked three days a week for 16 weeks, save for one week where they trained only once. A complete work-up was done at the beginning and the end of the study, including diagnostic imaging of the limbs.
Researchers determined the horses that worked on the hard track had more lesions, and more serious lesions, than those who worked on the softer track. Fifty percent of the hard-track trained horses had “marked to severe” superficial digital flexor tendon lesions. In the soft-track group, this injury was less common and less severe. Hard-track worked horses also had swelling-type lesions of the bone marrow in the front limbs as well as in the lower condyle of the hind cannon bone.
While horses go faster on harder tracks, softer tracks can lead to injury to the hind limbs from the force required to push the horse forward. This injury risk in minimal compared with constant training on a hard track, researchers noted.
Researchers concluded horses should avoid hard tracks and should also switch directions to balance strain between left and right legs.
Read more at The Horse.
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