Equine doctor talks about safety in horse racing industry

Equine doctor talks about safety in horse racing industry
Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 4:29 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - With calls for safety at horse tracks we wanted to know about the common injuries for race horses that can lead to their death.

“When you have clusters of deaths, it’s a big deal, and I think we should all take pause when that happens and certainly, the industry has,” said Dr. Alan Ruggles.

Dr. Ruggles has performed surgery on all types of horses at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital for the past 23 years. He says any time a horse, even one, has to be put down due to an injury on the racetrack it raises concern.

“The regulatory agencies and veterinarians look at, are there connections whether there it is all people involved or surfaces, etc.,” said Dr. Ruggles.

Dr. Ruggles says the most common injury on racehorses is on the ankle.

“In high-energy horses, meaning horses at high speed, those injuries tend to be very severe, so some of those injuries aren’t able to be repaired, but there are many injuries that we fix,” said Dr. Ruggles.

With the recent deaths, is the horse racing industry in trouble?

“I don’t think we are in trouble,” said Dr. Ruggles. “I understand the reaction. It’s reasonable. It’s natural. It’s human.”

Victor Puente’s Good Question segment from Wednesday showed a decline in deaths. The rate of fatalities has dropped from two deaths per 1,000 starts in 2009 to 1.25 deaths per 1,000 starts in 2022.

That data comes from the Jockey Club.

“We just do need to remember how well these horses are taken care of. How we’ve reduced the number of severe injuries,” said Dr. Ruggles.

Dr. Ruggles and other veterinarians at Rood and Riddle use preventative measures.

“We do pet scans, digital radiography, ultrasound to find injuries or signs of injuries,” Dr. Ruggles said.

These deaths might look like a blight on the horse racing industry, but Dr. Ruggles believes proper safety measures are in place.

“The public should be aware that the industry as a whole is working very hard to prevent every equine injury we can,” Dr. Ruggles said.