Factors associated with particularly high odds of musculoskeletal injury in Thoroughbred racehorses have been identified by Australian researchers.

University of Queensland researcher Kylie Crawford and her colleagues, writing in the journal Animals, said musculoskeletal injuries continue to affect Thoroughbred racehorses around the world, despite more than 30 years of research into the problem.

Many injuries and fatalities occurred during training rather than during racing, yet most studies report racing data only, they noted.

“There is a strong interest in developing training and management strategies to reduce their impact, however, studies of risk factors report inconsistent findings,” they said.

This meant the development of training strategies to reduce the risk was difficult.

By combining racing and training data, the true effect of risk factors may be more accurately represented, they said.

“Furthermore, modifications to reduce the impact of musculoskeletal injuries are more readily implemented at the training level.”

The study team set out to determine not only the risk factors for musculoskeletal injuries, but whether these are different for two-year-old and older horses. They also sought to determine whether risk factors varied with the type of injury.

The work focused on Thoroughbreds in training in south-east Queensland, with injury cases recruited from training stables, which were monitored weekly, over a 56-week period. Controls were recruited with every injury case added to the study.

Detailed training and exercise data were collected for both cases and controls through personal structured weekly interviews with participating trainers or their senior personnel.

In all, information on 202 cases and 202 matched controls were collected for analysis.

The study team identified four factors associated with particularly high odds of injury in this population of racehorses:

  • Two-year-old Thoroughbred who were the first-born of mares were found to be at increased risk, particularly for shin soreness, which is more formally known as dorsal metacarpal disease;
  • Two-year-old horses who had a total preparation length of between 10 and 14 weeks;
  • Thoroughbreds of all ages that ran a total distance of 2.4 to 3.8km (12–19 furlongs) at a fast gallop (faster than 15 m/s; 13 s/furlong; 900 m/min; 55 km/h) in the four weeks preceding injury; and
  • Horses three years and older that ran 3.0 to 4.8km (15–24 furlongs) at three-quarter pace and above (faster than 13 m/s; 15 s/furlong; 800 m/min; 48 km/h).

Read the full report HERE.