Why Equine Bones Break and Tendons Rupture

Understanding anatomy and physics can help prevent severe injuries

Article last updated: March 29, 2021

The life of one of the most promising racehorses of our time was cut short in 2006 after a long struggle to recover from a shattered fetlock.

Barbaro’s injury at the Preakness Stakes and the heroic attempts to save him by the New Bolton Center at University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine drew a lot of attention to the question of why so many young performance horses suffer from broken bones and ruptured tendons. Are these kinds of injuries inevitable? Should we give up trying to solve this problem?

During the 2016 International Hoof-Care Summit in Cincinnati, Ohio, veterinarian Renate Weller, professor of comparative imaging and biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, answered that question with a resounding “no.”

Research into equine biomechanics began in 1791 when the Royal Veterinary College was founded and began trying to figure out what made the most famous racehorse of the time, Eclipse, run so fast.

The very first biomechanics calculations ended up being incorrect, but eventually led to the development of the Royal Veterinary College’s Structure and Motion Laboratory. Studying a variety of animals — from dinosaurs to cockroaches — 55 researchers aim to understand locomotive biomechanics. The horse research group within the lab is most interested in what limits performance and causes injury. The conclusion is that biomechanics link performance and injury together, creating a triangle of problems.

Very Little Safety Factor

What do a racehorse, the Tower Bridge in…

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Audrey pavia

Audrey Pavia

Audrey Pavia is a freelance writer and author of 23 books about animals. She lives with a host of animals at her Norco, Calif., home.

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