"The injured population was compared against the uninjured population to identify trends, risk factors, risk markers, exercise
history or race-related information that is consistent with an increased risk or a decreased risk," says Mary Scollay, DVM,
Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and EID Committee member. "Not only were we looking for things that point out the horses
with increased risk, but also those to identify things that appear to be protective. If we found factors that appear to be
protective, people can elect to engage in those practices in order to increase the safety of their horses."
Bramlage says to determine when a horse becomes at higher risk for injury, one must know what the injuries are, document the
database, and then see if there are commonalities in the database that point to an item that increases the horse's risk for
injury. "Those will probably be twofold," he says. "One, the horse's bone characteristics and, second, the characteristics
of the surfaces they are going over, which will include things like weather, maintenance and so on." Eventually, all of that
data will be integrated.
He also says it doesn't really help to know that colts get injured more commonly than fillies, but if you were to say that
the training pattern used on colts predisposes the horses to injury at a much higher rate than the training pattern used with
fillies, then you might find the difference. In other words, how you're training a horse might be a key to preventing injury.
Do the colts and fillies go the same number of high-speed training furlongs before they go to the races? Do they get a chance
to get a layoff as often as the fillies do? Does the horse's sex have an effect when you look at the difference between the
way colts and fillies are handled?
"From Parkin's analysis, we don't know what all of these data are going to show us," Bramlage says. "But we do know horses
that are training after having a period of time off, depending on how long they've had off, have somewhat more porous bones
than horses that are heavily training." On the other hand, he says, horses that are going on a lot of high-speed furlongs
on a continuous basis—their bones get dense enough that they begin to get brittle. So, the ideal training path is somewhere
in the middle. And that's what researchers want to find out.
Identifying risk factors
Scollay says this process is going to allow veterinarians to be more strategic in their response to horses with different
characteristics. "When we identify a horse as being at increased risk, that doesn't mean the horse is going to be injured,
but it means that it warrants additional scrutiny," she says. "By identifying that horse, we can then identify opportunities
to better understand that horse's condition. That may mean physical inspections at times other than race day."
This tool could potentially be a huge benefit for racing regulatory veterinarians, Scollay says. It could enable them to understand
which horses warrant more scrutiny so they can be more efficient in using limited resources to truly understand the conditions
of those horses.
"For example, if a horse is sound, he's going to be sound any time you look at him," she says. "If a horse has physical limitations
that could put him at risk of injury and you look at him enough times, you're probably going to get a more accurate picture
of his condition than if you just look at him once."
Scollay also envisions the tracking system to be a valuable tool for trainers. "If they become aware of things that are associated
with increased risk, they may monitor that horse differently than they would a horse that is in a low-risk category," she
says. "This isn't saying that those horses can't race—it's not a blanket prohibition on their participation. Instead, it's
saying this horse or this group of horses is different than another group of horses, and the difference is that they are in
a group that is at increased risk of sustaining an injury. That means that that group needs increased protection."
It's hard to have a crystal ball into a particular horse's potential for injury. "We have to wait and see what the data tell
us," Scollay says. "Hopefully, it will enhance our ability to protect these horses while allowing them to be the athletes
that they are."
Ed Kane, PhD, is a researcher and consultant in animal nutrition. He is an author and editor on nutrition, physiology and
veterinary medicine with a background in horses, pets and livestock. Kane is based in Seattle.