Why are lame horses shot rather than treated? © Getty Images

Why are lame horses shot rather than treated?

Though the practise seems cruel, but 'destroying' a racehorse is usually more humane than forcing the horse to endure the recovery.

Asked by: Denise Best, Didcot


Around 150 horses are ‘destroyed’, as the racing community calls it, mostly by lethal injection, at racecourses each year, usually after sustaining badly broken legs. The speed with which the horses appear to be assessed and put down has led to accusations that owners simply aren’t interested in paying for expensive veterinary treatment. But the real reason is that decades of experience have shown that horses sustaining serious fractures can’t be treated effectively by techniques used on humans, such as pinning and splinting. That’s because horses can’t endure long weeks of convalescence, and must be able to stand on all four legs within a day of treatment. Unless the repair is relatively minor, it would be weeks before it could support the horse’s weight, which averages around 500kg. “They don’t tolerate slings well, and they can’t go round on three legs like a dog,” says Henry Tremaine of the British Equine Veterinary Association, who is an expert in equine surgery at the University of Bristol. “They’re more like a car.” The decision to destroy a horse is not taken by the owner in any case, but by two vets, trained to assess whether the injuries are too severe to hold out hope of treatment. Once a decision is made, the horse is ‘destroyed’ quickly to minimise its distress.


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