A new study casts doubt on the benefits of a type of orthopedic surgery commonly performed on trotting horses.
Many trotters undergo a surgical procedure to remove ossified cartilage fragments from the upper end of the long pastern bone, within the fetlock joint. The procedure is often done before horses begin their racing careers, but it is sometimes performed on veteran racehorses as well. Although there is some evidence of the surgery’s benefits, there was no research supporting this intervention in young horses, where it was presumed to protect long-term soundness and reduce the risk of arthritis.
To determine the effect of the surgery on performance, researchers at Hallands Djursjukhus in Sloinge, Sweden, and the University of Saskatoon in Canada examined the medical records, radiographs and racing histories of 163 Swedish Standardbred trotters.
They found that the procedure did not have an impact on trotting speeds (average speed per 1,000 meters). Horses who underwent the surgery before beginning to race posted speeds comparable to horses who had not had the procedure. Horses who had raced prior to surgery appeared to achieve the same speeds afterward, but their times did not improve. The only variable that had any effect on racing speeds was the number of limbs affected—horses with fragments in three legs posted slower race times than did other horses.
Noting that they found no relationship between the timing of surgery and race speed or career longevity, the researchers conclude that “the potential benefits of this surgical intervention should be critically examined.”
Reference: “Racing performance in Standardbred trotting horses with proximal palmar/plantar first phalangeal fragments relative to the timing of surgery,” Equine Veterinary Journal, June 2014
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #444.