Why Can't Horses With Broken Legs Be Saved?

I mean, is there ANY way to avoid simply shooting them? What is it about a horse’s leg that makes it impossible to heal?


They can be saved. It’s just expensive. You actually have to rig the horse up in a kind of hammock, and set the leg, etc. etc. Long, expensive, and labor intensive. Your typical farmer or rancher can’t afford it.


It is possible to heal them, but it depends on the cooperation of the horse, who isn’t going to understand.

Horses have to remain on their feet; if they lie down too long, problems occur and they can suffer greatly. I believe it’s a matter of circulation – if they’re off their feet too long, they can’t ever get up.

A cast on the leg can give them a chance to heal, but most horses will just break off the cast. Once that happens, there’s little you can do.

At horse tracks, they don’t shoot them, of course; they use a lethal injection.

Well, it depends on three things: the horse’s worth, what it’s used for, and the type, site, and extent of fracture.

Race horses with carpal fractures will never return to optimal atheleticism, even if the fracture is repaired. Degenerative joint disease is a common sequela to such injuries, and typically lead to osteoarthritis or other bone diseases later down the road. Moreover, any lameness has the potential of indirectly affecting the other healthy limbs, because they are forced to bear more weight, causing more strain on ligaments and bony structures. A lot of owners just don’t find it cost effective to rehabilitate a race horse that will likely never attain the stamina and speed it once had.

A brood mare, however, with the same injury may buy more time if she is a good foal producer. Since all she’s expected to do is incubate and nurse, it’s not paramount that her limbs do anything more than support her weight. She will likely not be euthanized if her injury can be repaired with little difficulty and expense, she’s still her reproductive prime, and she’s got good genes.

So to answer your question: Horse’s legs are capable of healing following fracture, but they are large animals, spend most of their time standing, and have a lot of powerful muscles pulling on their bones. These things make it hard for healing to occur uneventfully. Add on the expense of surgery (most equine fractures require pinning or plating; casts are not very effective for these guys), and what you get is what you have.

ywtf, soon-to-be DVM

Reality Chuck I think circulation does have something to do with it (the pressure of the hoof on the ground is a pump to create circulation in the leg) but I have also read that the weight of the body impedes breathing, so that a horse lying down really is not breathing properly (and rarely will you see a horse down for more than half an hour at a time).

“will likely not be euthanized if her injury can be repaired with little difficulty and expense,”

IF IF IF and yet the expense does not tell the whole story. Look at Ruffian, the Champion Juvenile filly of 1974, undefeated, meeting or exceeding the track record in every start, the Filly’s Triple Crown winner… yet no amount of money could save Ruffian from a cracked sesamoid (the seasmoid is a small bone in the ankle, not a major long bone). If the horse cannot cooperate with treatment (thrashing wildly, kicking the cast off, etc.) then it will be put down. The difficulty is really the biggun (although the expense is considerable).

It’s an incredibly difficult and embarassingly silly process to train a horse to use crutches.

by Hello Again

Not sure what this post is supposed to mean, since the quote you pulled was specifically in reference to brood mares, not race horses.

I maintain that cooperation has little to do with it. Fractures sharply limit racing potential, decreasing the horse’s longetivity on the track by several years. Regardless of the bone size, the lower down on the leg you go the worse the prognosis becomes, so it’s no wonder why a sesamoid fracture would be a nail in the coffin.

No amount of docility in the injured horse will change that fact.

Gee, just realized I made a pun. Heheheheheh

I saw a news report once on a stallion that had broken one of his front shins badly enough that they had to put a peg leg on him; it was titanium and about half-again as thick as his regular leg. He was running around on it; the reason it was cost-economic to put him through this is that he was a nearly Secretariat-level winner, and was exponentially more valuable as a sperm-producer than the treatment would cost.

If you’re asking b/c of what you’ve seen in movies…remember that if you’re out on the trail it’s not likely you’re going to be able to get the horse back to camp to help it.

My horse broke his leg once, so I shot him.

Now he’s got a broken leg, with a gunshot wound in it. :smiley:

That horse ** Ethlirist ** was Spanish Riddle-Ol’pegleg as he was referred to by some in his stud duty.

A bit of trivia about the horse,other than a produce record (he was a sucessful sire),is he won the race immediately before Secretariat’s Belmont romp in track record time-a mile in 1.36. (abt.2 secs off TR)

Contrast that to Sec’s mile and 1/2,and you get a clear picture of Sec’s talent.SR also held a track record at 6f for a time at Saratoga.

You with the face actually I think we’re agreeing. What I’m saying is that sometimes all the money in the world can’t save a horse with a damaged leg. Your earlier post sort of implied that it wasn’t worth the expense. I was just giving an example of a very valuable horse (both in racing revenue and breeding terms) that was not able to be saved.

No one has yet mentioned one of the other risks: laminitis, or founder. Sunday Silence, the 1989 Kentucky Derby winner and a monster breeding stallion in Japan (value had to be at least $65 million), was euthanized this past summer from complications from just this disease.

A horse with an injured leg–broken, perhaps, but not necessarily–will shift their weight onto the other, uninjured leg. Doing so for an extended period of time will cause the horse’s bone (unfamiliar with the name this early in the AM…but it’s essentially the fingertip) to begin to slide down into the hoof wall itself, an excruciatingly painful condition. In most severe, and irrecoverable, cases, the bone penetrates the hoof itself and is visible on the outside.

Sunday Silence’s founder never quite reached that state (brought on following an injury to the other foreleg, requiring surgical repair), but the extreme pain he was feeling in both his forelegs caused him to rock back on his hindquarters–so now he was putting as much of his weight on his back legs as he could. This caused those muscles to deteriorate. In the end, the poor stud literally didn’t have a leg to stand on. He would’ve been euthanized earlier, but he was an immensely popular–and outrageously valuable–animal. Eventually his appetite waned, his eye grew dull, and he gave up the fight. It was time.

A horse in this condition would eventually lie down–and never get up. The extreme pain leaves them immobile, and in the wild, fodder for the scavengers. In our hands, a horse that goes down can’t always be brought up again–without a backhoe (yes, it is done). It’s the horse’s way of saying “I quit, please just let me die.”

Slinging him was not an option. Thoroughbreds are known for being high strung, and Sunday Silence was known for being a borderline monster. My trainer thinks slinging should have been tried, but I’d think his owners (and the insurance) would’ve looked into that certainly before opting to put him down. You don’t destroy something that valuable without considering every conceivable option.

So…a broken leg is only part of the problem. Surgical repair will help in some cases (in others, there is literally nothing left of the bone to fix–it shatters like glass, as is the case with Go For Wand in the 1990 Breeder’s Cup Distaff), but it’s the long raod to recovery that ultimately tests the fates.