More Then a Horse Race

This weekend, millions of spectators witnessed Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro make a misstep, and break his right rear leg in three places.

Local veterinarian Dr. Erin Taylor describes the machine that is the racing Thoroughbred. "They are athletes, they love what they do. They do run hard, and when they run at that speed under those conditions, these catastrophic injuries can occur. I mean unfortunately in this case he just took a really bad step. And given the speed he was running at and the impact... the conditions were right."

Dr. Taylor worked for a time in Kentucky with race horses, as well as at U-C Davis. She says this case has the interest of the general public, but that those in her profession also have their eyes on the horse's progress. "This type of plate they used on the horse is a new type of plate that we've just gradually adapted for horses from humans, from orthopedic surgery. This plate is a bit stronger and sturdier and will potentially allow this horse to survive."

Dr. Taylor says besides the plates, there have been other advances in veterinary medicine to give race horses and others the best chance at survival. For example, pool recovery systems used on Barbaro allow the horse to wake up from anesthesia without the fear of re-injury on solid ground.

But it will take months before the horse is completely out of the woods, Dr. Taylor says. There is always a chance of infection with plates and screws, as well as a compromised blood supply, and undue stress on the other leg.

In her experience she says she's seen where horses have broken two identical bones to Barbaro's - but never three.


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