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Robertmiller.com - Full Article

By Robert M. Miller, DVM

The Nation was shocked when Barbaro broke down shortly after leaving the gate at the Preakness. I saw the repaired fractures in TIME magazine. What I think happened is that the sesamoid bone fractured, a common injury. As a result, the fetlock collapses causing the pastern bone to explode into multiple fragments, probably with the next stride or two.

The last time the general public was exposed to a racetrack tragedy like this was when the great filly, Ruffian, fractured; the injury eventually resulting in her death.

The news media focuses on great champions like these, but what most people don't realize is that such injuries are relatively common occurrences in horse racing.

Part of the cause is that we have bred athletic power into our racing breeds far exceeding what nature requires for the horse to survive in its natural environment. All wild horses need to do is outrun a big cat. We have selectively bred for speeds that the anatomy of the horse cannot always cope with.

In addition, we train and race them long before they are mature. The immature are often capable of spectacular athletic performance. Every time I watch an Olympics and I see gymnasts as young as 13, 14 or 15 years of age, I wince at the thought of the damage I know is occurring to some of their bodies. I started a year of gymnastics at 17 years of age, and I wasn't very good, but I still managed to do damage that manifested itself many years later. Fortunately, I was drafted into the Army at 18, which ended my gymnastic career.

Half a century ago, when I was cowboying, "colts" were started at four years of age or older...

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