‘Training for Prevention of Injury’ topic of Maryland seminar

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Nov. 7, 2018

Employing training methods that can help racehorses avoid injuries and suggestions on how to combat ulcers were the focus of the second informational seminar sponsored by Beyond The Wire and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Nov. 6 at Laurel Park.

As part of its mission, Beyond The Wire, the Maryland Thoroughbred industry’s aftercare program, aims to educate owners and trainers on management practices that can keep racehorses healthy and more likely to be suitable for second careers upon retirement. The program’s initial seminar was held earlier this year, and plans call for seminars to become a regular offering.

“That’s the plan,” said Jessica Hammond, who administers Beyond The Wire. “I’ve already thought about other speakers and subjects for the future and have received suggestions from attendees. In my opinion it went really well. I was happy with both presenters—they discussed things that are applicable to training—and I was happy to see an increase in the number of trainers present compared with our first seminar.”

The speakers Nov. 6 were Dr. Sue Stover of the University of California-Davis and Dr. Amy Burk of the University of Maryland. Along with providing information on the causes for injuries and ulcers, respectively, they recommended practices that can help combat them.

Stover, who is involved with the California Horse Racing Board post-mortem program, explained the importance of maintaining a healthy skeletal structure in lessening the chances of injury. She said distribution of material in bone affects strength, and that “repetitive loading” can cause stiffness, which reduces strength and can lead to injury.

Stover used the following example: Jogging or running on the beach at the water line, in the semi-wet area or on dry sand put different loads on human bone and work different muscles, and that’s a good thing for training. Doing the same thing over and over with little or no variations isn’t optimal for growth.

“Training ideally strengthens bone,” Stover said. “Overload causes micro-fracture generation and weakens bone. Training is an art. Too little training doesn’t push the skeleton to develop, but too much pushes the process too far.”

Stover said bone trains to the level of exercise, not to the amount of exercise; a short but vigorous workout—an eighth of a mile, for instance—is better for strengthening bone than consistent, methodical gallops.

“The highest loads guide training response but you only need 36 strides per day,” she said. “You only need a little bit of damage to get the body to respond. The rest is trauma.”

Stover also told horsemen that lameness really isn’t the problem, it’s just a sign of a problem caused by repetitive stress to the skeleton. Injuries, she said, can be associated with over-training.

Burk provided an overview of ulcers in horses and said they can develop through intermittent feed depravation, limited turnout or confinement, and changes in routine. Signs of ulceration are change in temperament, change in eating patterns, poor performance on the track, colic symptoms and weight loss.

She said gastroscopy is the only means to be 100% sure a horse has ulcers, but that process can cost $350-$600 depending on the veterinarian. A common treatment is GastroGard (omeprazole), which can cost $32 per dose every day for 28 days; Burk said within four weeks 92% of horses that have received GastroGard have ulcers again.

Burk said “feed management” is a way to reduce the risk of ulcer development—alfalfa, beet pulp and a reduction in high-starch products can be effective, as can slow-feed hay nets and making water available for horses at all times.

“Good feeding practices and housing management are the key to prevention,” she said.

Video of the seminar is available here at the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Facebook page.