Horses and broken legs.
Barbaro broke his leg in the Preakness this weekend, and all of these people are saying that after surgery, he only has a 50% chance of living. Iâ€™ve heard this before: that a broken leg is a death sentence for a horse.
My question is: why?
After surgery and screws and plates and casts, canâ€™t they come up with some sort of arrangement that keeps the horse alive and it heals his leg?
Humans break their legs all the time, and itâ€™s a non-issue. Why is it a big deal for horses?
Thanks in advance.
It has to do with the nature of the beast. No, really.
Horses stand up. That’s what they do. They stand. They stand to eat. They stand to move. They stand to sleep. If a horse isn’t standing, it’s either freshly born, or very sick. Hence, a horse that breaks its leg is in very rough shape indeed. A horse, by nature, is moving around and stamping and the like. When a horse breaks a leg, the only way for it to heal is for the horse to not stand on it – and 3 legs just doesn’t cut it. So, the horse has to be in a body-sling, which supports most of its weight, and then it has to be willing to not thrash around for the months it takes for the leg to heal.
Horses don’t have good blood flow to their lower legs. If the circulatory system of the leg is damaged when the break occurs, chances are good that the blood flow will be reduced to the point where infection is more likely. And since horses are so large, to kill an infection you would need to fill the horse with huge amounts of antibiotics, which will kill the horse’s intestinal bacteria and give the horse massive diarrhea (while it can’t move around). Not a pleasant thought. On the other hand, the anasthetic may give the horse massive constipation, to even things out. But when the horse comes out of the anasthesia, it might thrash a bit. Horses have been known to break their other legs when they come out of it and thrash wildly. (This can be offset by floating your horse in a giant pool of warm water so it can thrash to its heart’s content, but finding a large enough pool of warm water can be troublesome). Finally, if the horse favors the unbroken legs, and puts most of its weight on them, then a condition known as “laminitis” can develop, where the hoofs detach from the bone and drive themselves into the soft flesh of the leg. Then the horse can’t stand, which means it is very sick, and it gets deadly sores on its skin.
For all of these reasons, coupled with the age of the horse and its relative health, many times a broken leg is a death sentence. Many owners do not have the resources required to handle all the issues associated with a broken leg, and others simply feel that the chances of success are too slim to risk putting the horse through all these painful and/or uncomfortable activities.
But I hear that Barbaro is doing well! And he did get the “suspended in giant pool of warm water” treatment. So, go Barbaro! Get well soon!
“Having raised horses, I can testify to the fact that they can and do occasionally sleep laying down and not just when sick. They like to take naps in the sunshine, much like cats.”
It’s true! They do lie down to sleep from time to time. BUT for the most part, they spend life on their feet. Still, I feel the need to confess to the fact that my original sentence (preserved above) may have been misleading. Thanks Jes!