By The Numbers: Study Reviews 13 Years of Ontario Racing Commission “Death Registry” Data

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Barbaro is held by jockey Edgar Prado and a track worker after injuring his leg at the start of the 131st running of the Preakness Stakes, in this May 20, 2006 file photo, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Barbaro was euthanized Monday, Jan. 29, 2007, after complications from his breakdown at the Preakness last May. (AP Photo/Matthew S. Gunby, file)

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Beneath the facade, commercial horse racing subjects horses to catastrophic injuries and sudden deaths. Young thoroughbreds, standardbreds, and quarter horses die every week on racetracks from injuries sustained while training and racing. Remember Barbaro? He was euthanized at 3½ years old due to an injury he sustained at the Preakness. Eight Belles was euthanized at 2½ years old due to catastrophic breakdown after a second place win at the Kentucky Derby. And when Rachel Alexandra lost her last race she was shipped off to be a baby making machine. She suffered grave complications at the birth of her first foal.

The majority of racehorses will not survive past the age of 10 and only a small fraction will ever be “good enough” to race.  Approximately 70% +/- of all racehorses are thought to end their lives in a slaughterhouse.

A  new study was just published using 13 years of data from the Ontario Racing Commission Death Registry.  The ORC database was implemented on January 1, 2003; owners, trainers and veterinarians were, from that point forward, required to notify the Commission within two days of the death of any racehorse (Thoroughbred. Quarter horse, or Standardbred) where the death occurred within 60 days of the horse having been entered or qualified to race in Ontario Canada. If the death occurs within 14 days of the horse having been entered or qualified, post-mortems are mandatory and may include gross pathological examination results, histopathology, parisitology, bacteriology, mycoplasmology, virgology, and toxicology.

Of the 963 horses in the database, a postmortem was carried out on 56% of those or approximately 539 horses (presumably those horses who died within 14 days of a race or during a race).  Of these 539 horses:

68% died/were euthanized due to musculoskeletal injury (such as tendon or ligament injuries/broken legs/pelvic fractures/spinal cord injuries etc).  This represents approximately 367 horses.

16% died suddenly due primarily to cardiopulmonary lesions (possibly cardiac failure/pulmonary failure/pulmonary haemorrhage/blood vessel rupture). Approximately 86 horses examined by post-mortem died spontaneously.

4% died following an injection (possibly IV injection/performance-enhancing compound/anaphalactic shock).  Approximately 22 of the 539 horses were killed by an injection.

Of the 963 horses in the ORC database, post-mortems were not completed for about 424 of them, since presumably this was not a requirement by ORC rules.  The cause-of-death is unknown,  but they will not be forgotten.

The fact that these injuries and deaths occur are not surprising – the suffering of these and many other racehorses represents all that is detrimental to their welfare. Studies that break down the injuries and deaths are always useful for showing how healthy horses are pushed beyond their physical capabilities.  Since the profit motive is priority, horses are drugged so they can race while injured and physically compromised. Naturally,  these statistics do not include any horses who died or were euthanized outside of the 60 day window established by the ORC or were sent to slaughter at any point after their racing career ended.  The database reflects the fact that the approximately 74 horses who died each year in Ontario alone were only those that were required to be reported to the ORC according to the regulations noted above.

The racing industry promotes false imagery of race horses retiring to lives of luxury as pets, well-cared-for riding horses, or studs. While some race horses find good homes, the vast majority are slaughtered for meat even though virtually all of them contain veterinary drug residues prohibited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

 

Eight Belles suffered compound fractures of both front ankles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby and was euthanized immediately. At just over 3 years old, she was far too young to be racing.

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About heatherclemenceau

Hopefully as I've grown older I've also grown wiser, but one thing I've definitely become cognizant of is the difference between making a living and making a life. Frequently outraged by some of life's cruelties, and respect diversity. But.....I don't suffer fools gladly, and occasionally, this does get me into some trouble! I have the distinction of being the world's worst golfer - no wait, I do believe that there is a gypsy in Moldavia who is a worse golfer than I. Nor am I much of a dancer - you won't see a booty-shakin' flygirl routine from me! I'm also not the kind of cook who can whip up a five-course meal on a radiator either! And I've never figured out how to get an orchid to bloom a second time. I love to discuss literature, science, philosophy, and sci-fi , or even why Seinfeld is funny on so many levels. Words move me. I'm very soft-hearted about most things, especially animals, but I have a stoicism about me that is sometimes interpreted incorrectly. I do have a definite edge and an often "retro-adolescent" sense of humour at times. I'm a big advocate of distributed computing projects to advance science. Check out http://boinc.berkeley.edu/ if you want to find out more. I'm an eclectic (but not crazy) vegetarian, and as such, it's a personal practice of mine to seduce innocent meat-eaters into cruising the (salad) bars at every opportunity. You would be powerless to resist. I was recently surprised to find that a computer algorithm concluded that I write like Dan Brown, which is funny because I didn't think Dan Brown could actually write. Check out your own style - http://iwl.me/ Oh, and I love impractical shoes and funky hats.

4 responses »

  1. Pingback: By The Numbers: Study Reviews 13 Years of Ontario Racing Commission “Death Registry” Data | francaisdefrancesblog

  2. I remember the horrific death of a race horse “Go for Wand” and a pic of her continuing to run on a flopping foreleg as well as a photo of her distraught groom (a young woman?) as GfW was lying/being euthenized (?) on the track. It is burned in my memory as is the death of Hickstead. Heather, can you tell us more about Hickstead’s condition?

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