This past weekend was my opportunity to thank a select group of my fans: Our Wellness Plan Participants. Every year, on the first Saturday in May, we gather around a shrine called a TV to watch some horses run around in a large circle to the left. There is much fanfare, wearing of some very strange hats, good food, good times, and adoration of Tony. After all the partying died down, I hit the computer on our new faster internet connection and researched this crazy thing called Thoroughbred racing.
As someone who is not very fond of exercise, I found this running thing a bit much. When I found out these horses are only three years old, I thought that seemed like a bad plan. Then a rare thing happened: I was wrong. It doesn’t happen often in the cat world, but if you felt a shudder of the earth, or a sudden chill on Saturday evening around 10pm, that was a cat being wrong. I found numerous well-designed research papers on the influence of early exercise in thoroughbred racehorses. Training as a two year old was directly correlated with a longer career as a racehorse. The horses didn’t necessarily have to race, just being in race training was enough to cause a positive effect. Based on my research, this effect is due to remodeling of lots of structures in the leg due to exercise. The cannon bone, tendons, and ligaments were all found to be stronger when exercise was started at 2 years as opposed to 3 years. In fact, there are studies which show that exercise started as early as 21 days of age didn’t cause developmental issues. I will say that these horses were exercised under very exacting schedules designed to allow the tendons, ligaments, and bone to adapt. Another aspect I found interesting was that the comparison group of foals were allowed free range pasture access. This wasn’t standing in a stall compared to exercising. This was turnout compared to exercising. Made this cat think….
While researching the young horse exercise thing, I found a lot of discussions about racehorses breaking those ridiculously-designed legs they run on. I mean, who designed the “run fast on four sticks” system? Just by its very nature it is bound to break sometimes. I did find out that there are some very interesting reasons racehorses break their legs the way they do and learned about research by veterinarians to try to prevent these fractures. One of the biggest issues trainers, riders, and veterinarians face is the horse’s love of the job. Unlike cats, especially black ones named Tony, horses love to run and do a very bad job recognizing pain when running around a racetrack with eight to ten friends. This means that if the leg starts to fail while the horse is running they are unlikely to demonstrate a lameness or give the jockey any indication of a problem until the leg actually fails. So, veterinarians are working to use standing MRI, CT scans, bone density scanning, x-rays to assess joint geometry, and ultrasound to try to identify early changes in bone and tendon that indicate a problem is coming. There are also programs in many States that perform in-depth post mortem exams on any horse who suffers from one of these serious injuries. As a difficult-to-impress cat, I was impressed by the level of dedication the racing industry has to keeping the horses safe!
Coolest fact I learned while playing on the internet: During each stride a racehorse takes the heart beats once and they take one breath. Here’s how it goes down: front leg of the lead they are on hits the ground, intestines push forward on the diaphragm, this pressure collapses the lungs causing a breath out, and compresses the heart. As the weight is transferred back to the hind end, the intestines slide back, opening the lungs, and allowing the heart to expand and fill with blood. How amazing is that?!?!!?
It may be difficult to admit but I have a little more respect for the athleticism of horses. I have lost a bit of respect for my staff around here after all those funny hats, but since they provide food I will keep them around. Until next week, may your litter box be clean and your food bowl overflowing.