If you have participated in contact sports, you know there is a risk of injury involved in the game. The harder you play, the more likely it is you could be hurt, but if you really enjoy the
game, you go for it.

"Horses are competitive by nature. If you watch them in nature, there are two things they
innately do…run and ‘fight’ (or play)," states Dr. Mark Martinelli, a veterinarian at the
University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, "Running is in a horse’s

Equine athletes, like their human counterparts, are also susceptible to injury. When a horse
breaks down it is a career-ending, and often life-ending, injury sustained while the horse is
competing or performing. The breakdown may not be severe enough to cause euthanasia,
but it usually ends the horse’s racing career.

Most breakdown problems occur in the lower portion of the leg, the area comparable to
the human foot. Muscles have been replaced by tendons and ligaments in the horse leg. The
horse’s weight and the speed of racing add to the likelihood of fracturing bone or tearing
ligaments or tendons. When this area of the body is injured it takes longer to heal because
there is less blood supplied to tendons and ligaments than there is to muscle.

"A few years ago, when a horse broke its leg, it meant the animal had to be destroyed," Dr.
Martinelli notes. That is not necessarily the case anymore. Recent advances in life-saving
surgeries have allowed casts, plates or screws to be used to repair the damage to the limb.
In some cases, the horse can be converted from a racing animal to a breeding animal, a low
grade performance (riding) horse, or a pasture-sound pet.

Whether today’s owners obtain their racing prospects by breeding or from yearling sales,
more care and attention are being given to the animal’s conformation. Owners and their
veterinarians are looking more closely at the horse’s joints to see if there is a problem or a
potential for one and what can be done to prevent it from ever happening.

Joints and legs are scrutinized because that is where the trouble is most likely to occur. "The
leg has evolved for speed in a horse," states Dr. Martinelli. "The muscle of the horse has
shifted up to the top portion of the leg to allow for speed."

Veterinarians use varied approaches for treatment and therapy of lower leg injuries. Drugs,
rest, swimming, passive resistance exercises and light workouts have been used to help
bring the horse back to racing potential.

If you have any questions about breakdowns or their therapies contact your veterinarian.

Contributed By: Linda March (Information Specialist)
University of Illinois / College of Veterinary Medicine

Original Article: http://www.cvm.uiuc.edu/petcolumns/showarticle.cfm?id=258