Before most horse racing jurisdictions shut down across the country and threw the economic balance of the sport into question, the industry’s biggest problem was its need to reduce racing and training fatalities. Veterinarians and scientists are still learning about the causes of catastrophic injuries and, so far, it seems there may be a number of risk factors at play in any given injury.
One theory that many people have offered over the years is that the practice of allowing horses to race at two years old is either the direct cause of early breakdowns or predisposes horses to serious injury later. Many such hypotheses equate training and racing a 2-year-old with putting an elementary school-aged child into the Olympics. For more than two decades, the sport has heard calls to put an end to 2-year-old racing. Those calls have been renewed recently, as some fans have seen the racing shutdown as a good time to reevaluate and modify its structure and improve equine welfare.
The problem, according to Dr. Larry Bramlage, top orthopedic surgeon and Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, is the halt of 2-year-old racing and training wouldn’t be a net gain for welfare or fatality rates – it might actually be a loss.
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