Eight Belles, second-place finisher at this year’s Kentucky Derby, fell down with two ankle fractures after the race. She was then killed. A resuscitated Slate article, discussing another racehorse killed for having a broken leg, explains why horses with broken legs are frequently killed by their owners. Basically, there are several risk factors for a horse with a broken leg.
1. Little blood circulation below the knee of equine legs means that a break could disturb the blood connection between the broken part and the rest of the horse’s body, depriving the broken part of full immune responses and thus making it more likely to become infected.
2. Post-injury antibiotics are a tricky business. Too few, and the horse won’t feel the effect. Too many, and the horse gets life-threatening shits or ulcers.
3. An injured horse may favor its healthy legs, thus causing laminitis, in which the hooves separate from the bones and the horse walks on the soft flesh of its feet. Ow. To get the full impact of this disease, remember that a horse’s hooves are basically highly adapted toes. Their hooves are basically their toenails which, over the years, have developed into protective caps for the ends of their feet so that their feet can bear punishing weight and shifts in position. Laminitis means that the horse’s protective caps are coming off, which leaves the horse in the equivalent position of a human being doing ballet en pointe in bare feet without toenails. Yuck.
4. In a reason that is most fascinating to me, a horse will rarely heal from a broken leg because it will just not stay still enough to allow the bone to set. Damn fidgety equines!
The execution of broken-legged horses underscores the harsh reality of horse design and the brutal nature of racing horses. It also makes me wonder how broken legs would affect centaurs??