We all know that bone fractures in a horse is devastating, especially in the legs. Equine leg fractures are messy affairs. Because of the way the bone typically breaks - splintered instead of clean - repair is nearly impossible.
We all know that bone fractures in a horse is devastating, especially in the legs. Equine leg fractures are messy affairs. Because of the way the bone typically breaks – splintered instead of clean – repair is nearly impossible. And even if the break can be fixed horses, unlike other mammals, have to be on their feet for their major systems to function properly, so they can’t lie around for weeks, or even days, waiting for their bones to heal.
Although we most often think of limbs when the words “broken” and “bones” are spoken of in horses, the University of Kentucky has compiled some numbers that says otherwise. According to UK’s Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center, the single most common fracture is a rib, or two.
During a three-year period (1995-1997) the LDDC conducted 5,440 equine necropsies, the horse world’s word for autopsy. Of that number, 462 cases involved a bone fracture as the cause of death or a leading cause. Of that total, 14 percent – or 64 cases – were rib fractures. Most often, these fractures involved multiple ribs on a side and were the result of trauma, such as a foaling injury, a fall, a collision with another horse or object, or a kick from another horse.
According to the report, 80 percent of the rib fractures were in foals less than one month old. Death resulted from a lacerated artery, heart or lung. On average, five ribs are fractured at a time. The breaks usually occurred in the mid-portion of the rib.
With respect to leg fractures, the most common causes were the ones most often seen: a fall, kick or collision. However, in many cases, the report said the cause was unknown. The horse was simply found with a broken leg. The front legs were only slightly more likely to suffer a break then the back.
The most commonly fractured bone in the front legs was the third metacarpal, while the most common in the rear limbs was the tibia. The study found that fractures below the fetlock were relatively rare.
Of the 60 cases of leg fractures occurring during racing or training, most were in the front legs. A total of 49 were in the front legs, while the rear leg was involved in only nine cases. Two horses suffered breaks in the a front and rear leg. A breakdown by gender found that racing or training fractures were found in 21 fillies or mares, 17 colts or stallions and 16 geldings.
A total of 127 fracture cases, or 27 percent, involved the skull, vertebrae and pelvis. The report said that skull fractures most often came about when the horse struck his head on the ground, the result of rearing up and falling over. Not surprisingly, the horse was usually being handled at the time. Death either came suddenly or the horse was so brain damaged that he had to be put down.
Vertebral fractures most often involved the neck vertebrae, primarily because of the flexibility in the neck and because it’s not as well support as the other middle and rear portion of the spine. Thoracic, or mid-spine, vertebrae fractures were the second most common type of breaks, followed by those of the lumbar or sacral region. Pelvic fractures were either the result of traumatic injury or a foaling accident.