Veterinary experts from around the world have stepped closer to defining guidelines for the identification of pre-fracture pathology in the racehorse fetlock at a meeting held last week. 

The two-day collaborative workshop was hosted by the Jockey Club Estates, Newmarket and sponsored by The Gerald Leigh Charitable Trust and the Beaufort Cottage Educational Trust, together with a number of other industry contributors.

Injuries to the racehorse fetlock are rare: it is one of a number of racecourse musculoskeletal injuries which are collectively estimated to occur in around 8 of every 10,000 race starts in the UK. Nevertheless, fetlock injury can be extremely impactful and can be career-ending in some injured horses.

On the first day of the workshop an expert panel discussed how diagnostic imaging prior to racing can contribute to risk reduction.

Radiography is currently the most widely available tool used to identify tiny fractures which will heal effectively, providing exercise is reduced. However, advanced imaging such as standing MRI, standing CT and PET scanning, have the potential to identify pathology even earlier. At the workshop, the expert panel reviewed existing knowledge and discussed how to generate the research evidence, which is essential if these novel technologies are to gain a place in effective pre-race risk assessment programmes.

The following day a larger group of stakeholders reviewed the expert panel’s conclusions and discussed the need for greater transparency, education and communication amongst the racing industry stakeholders, all of whom share responsibility for ensuring racing continues to collaborate and enhance racehorse safety and welfare.

Prof Celia Marr, Editor of Equine Veterinary Journal, who chaired the meeting said: “Racing has an excellent safety record and the injuries we are talking about are extremely rare. The low prevalence of fetlock injury makes it very difficult to pinpoint the affected individuals. But it is essential that we continue our efforts to do so ever more effectively because if silent injury is not detected it can progress to become much more serious."

Pete Ramzan, Partner at Rossdales LLP, who co-ordinated the workshop said: “There was a great need to get some of the key experts leading these new technologies together in the same room to correlate their findings and work out how to translate them into tangible reductions in serious injury rates. One of the somewhat unexpected outcomes of the discussions was that despite the fact that we are riding the crest of a wave of technological advances, basic radiography still has much to offer; better education around the application and interpretation of radiographs has real potential to allow vets like myself at the coal face to detect injuries at an early and recoverable stage”.

Photo: A radiograph showing of a racing thoroughbred’s fetlock joint. The arrow points to linear radiolucency in the parasagittal groove of the lower cannon bone, a finding that is frequently detectable before progression to serious injury. Image courtesy of Dr P. Ramzan, Rossdales LLP, Newmarket.

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