Studying Horse Fatalities
While horses can sustain catastrophic injuries on cross country that lead to euthanasia, cardiovascular and pulmonary (lung) compromise can also cause sudden equine death in eventing.
The U.S. Eventing Association formed the Cardiopulmonary Research Group in 2008, led by Dr. Catherine Kohn, VMD, to study the risk factor for these types of fatalities in competitions and possible strategies to prevent them.
By obtaining autopsies from horses who die in competition, the USEA can determine whether horse falls, and ultimately fatalities, occurred due to underlying heart or lung disease. Since beginning the study in 2008, the Cardiopulmonary Research Group has found that extensive pulmonary hemorrhage (blood in the lungs) and abdominal bleeding (due to rupture of a large blood vessel) were a factor in numerous equine fatalities.
In the study’s recent update, Dr. Kohn recommends event riders have a veterinarian carefully listen to their horse’s heart prior to the first competition of the season.
“If the horse’s heart rhythm is normal and there are no heart murmurs, schedule annual reevaluations to ensure that heart function continues to be normal,” she said. “If your veterinarian detects an abnormality in heart rhythm or a heart murmur, your horse should be evaluated by a veterinary specialist with experience and advanced training in equine cardiology.”
Read “Research Update: Equine Heart Health” in the May 2016 issue for more information.