Expert: Racehorses at a Higher Risk for Colic

We are oft told by the apologists that horses can and do suffer and die from colic wherever horses are kept – that it’s not just a racetrack thing. (A similar argument is frequently posited for the proverbial “bad step,” but I won’t dignify dumb.) Therefore, they say, it’s unfair for me to call a racehorse who has died from colic an industry casualty. Well. A study conducted by Dr. Nathaniel White, professor of surgery at Marion DuPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Virginia, identified risk factors for developing colic. There were but three that presented a “higher than normal” risk:

fed grain before hay at meals

horses in training for racing or eventing

horses confined to stall more than 12 hrs/day


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  1. Article after article from reputable equine peer-reviewed studies point to these 3 factors that put horses at high risk of colic.
    As we know, racehorses fit all 3 categories.
    Another factor that was prevalent in many studies was change of habit for horses, which is a result of change of ownership translating to change of feed, change of stall, change of husbandry habits.
    Racehorses often fit this category because about 80% of this business is the “claiming ranks,” where horses are bought and sold on a daily basis resulting in significant changes in daily routine.
    Drugs was another one that came up, the side effects of drugs, and especially drugs that are given orally tend to affect the natural gut balance of the racehorse, which leaves them at high risk of colic.
    Habits such as cribbing, wind sucking, and stall walking contributes to the high risk of colic category as well.
    These habits seem to be a result of boredom – from being confined about 23 hours per day.
    Every single thing that an active racehorse is subjected to places them at high risk of colic.
    When you take any animal, and deprive them of everything natural – how they were designed to live, then you have a recipe for disaster, and this is seen in practically every confined animal for profit business.
    I was watching a news clip of the coverage on Saratoga, which showed the HRW protesters, and then showed the crowd at the rails yelling, and screaming at the horses coming down the stretch, and all I could see is a bunch of barbarians supporting an antiquated, tortuous business that kills racehorses – how shameful.

  2. I have posted this information previously on the blog but it is worth posting again. This doesn’t come from me but comes from a respected company in the horse industry…Smartpak.

    In the past, I received a SmartPak brochure that talked about the Health Risks and Unnatural Stress In Every Barn. It applies to every single horse but especially the TB racehorse.

    1) Large, infrequent meals and limited grazing – can contribute to ulcers and colic – may lead to behavioral
    2) Exercise and training – can cause excess acid to slosh around in an empty stomach, splashing the sensitive
    upper lining and leading to ulcers – also contributes to wear and tear on joints and soft tissues.
    3) Changing herds – can cause stress as the “pecking order” is re-established.
    4) Trailering and travel – Increase risk of ulcers – stress on the immune system.
    5) Increased stall time – may raise risk of ulcers and colic – can contribute to joint stiffness.
    6) Sudden changes in hay or grain (type or amount) – Shown to increase a horse’s colic risk by 5 – 10 times.
    7) High grain diets – increase risk of ulcers and colic – can lead to excess energy and excitability.

    Four out of the seven items mentioned contribute to colic. Five mention ulcers. Yikes! As anyone with minimum intelligence should know by now, horses are herd animals and need to be in a herd/pasture environment as much as possible. Horses at the track are kept stalled 23 hours a day yet when a racing person posts a picture of a horse acting out in his stall like the energizer bunny, that person gets hundreds of “likes” on her FB page. I have to believe that the people “liking” the post are ignorant when it comes to really knowing anything about horses but perhaps they are just true “ass kissers.” and are star struck by someone who they perceive to be at the top of their game even though the horse pays the price. Patting the horse on the forehead, kissing the horse on the nose and giving that same horse peppermints in NO WAY diminishes the damage done to the animal.

    Another page in the SmartPak brochure talks about a horse’s natural state. We often hear the racing apologists babble about how horses are bred to run and love to run yet, according to SmartPak, horses evolved to lead consistent, uncomplicated lives, including:

    – Roaming freely in a herd
    – Grazing most of the day
    – Rarely exerting themselves

    In regards to rarely exerting themselves, it says that “left to their own devices, horses spend most of their time slowly walking as they graze, only occasionally running from predators or for play.” That is EXACTLY what I have observed over the years.

    Of course, we, who have been around horses for years and years, have known these facts. I guess the racing folks have been focused on continuing to spread lies with the intention of deceiving the public or perhaps even themselves.

    • Thank You Mary Johnson.

      I agree with everything you have said including in your post including the following:

      “the racing folks have been focused on continuing to spread lies with the intention of deceiving the public or perhaps even themselves.”

  3. When we worked at the track all the horses were fed grain before the hay and even many times before being galloped on the track. We now realize practically every thing done was incorrect in regards to caring for the horses.We appreciate all the related experiences of others on this website and especially appreciate you Gina for telling and inviting us to comment here.We have heard of many colic cases in horses at our local track especially now since they have gone to wood shavings / pellet bedding only, now for bedding. Which of course is now just discarded in a land fill several hundred miles away instead of being reused in mushroom growing operations as in the past.

    Can someone please explain what is The Consequences to the horse- LIFE IN SHAMBLES – of what was done
    according to article below: Other than the Fact- that putting horses into Claiming races is slave labor and these people should be thrown in jail for horse abuse.

    From Paulick Report.
    My QUESTION: Does what they have done mean they can throw this horse back into a race Faster and thereby run the Risk of even greater Harm to LIFE IN SHAMBLES ?


    “The New York State Gaming Commission handed down 20-day suspensions to trainer Tom Morley and owner Peter Proscia for an improper transfer of a horse, and both will also have to pay a $5,000 fine, reports Trainer Steve Asmussen and his assistant Toby Sheets were also fined $5,000 each.

    Morley claimed the gelding Life in Shambles for $80,000 on June 18, signing the ticket as both owner and trainer. The 6-year-old by Broken Vow was claimed away from Asmussen and Proscia; on July 7, Life in Shambles was found to have been transferred back to Asmussen and Proscia.

    New York state rules prohibit the transfer or sale of a claimed horse for 30 days following the claim, except by means of another claiming race. A claimed horse is also prohibited from returning to the care/management of its former owner and trainer for 30 days, except via another claim.

    Sheets was fined for acting as Proscia’s authorized agent in the transfer, and Asmussen was not suspended because Proscia took responsibility for actively pursuing the horse.”

  5. Speaking of Racehorses .
    This horse – SONGBIRD – is being retired. How many other horses are running with injuries ????

    I have No doubt there are Thousands and Thousands and Thousands. Only they are not “Champions” so they suffer in silence and are drugged til they drop.- or til they are murdered at a slaughterhouse


    Two-time Eclipse champion Songbird has been retired from racing, it was announced Thursday morning. Owner Rick Porter made the announcement via his Facebook page.

    After the filly’s second-place finish in the G1 Personal Ensign, owner Rick Porter had her sent to Kentucky to be examined by Dr. Larry Bramlage at Rood & Riddle. It was there that it was discovered that both Songbird’s hind suspensories were enlarged. Further examination showed a potentially more serious injury developing, so the decision was made to retire her.

      • And Danzing Candy just retired after having sustained a fracture of the leg after a workout at Del Mar.. Will undergo surgery to repair , then most likely to become a breeding stallion. (Because what else can they do with a broken down, expensive, unsound, injured tb?) So now he will most likely pass on his infirmities to his offspring.

    • Thank you, Kathleen, for recognizing Songbird. Following is some additional information regarding Songbird’s veterinary evaluation – taken right from Bramlage’s report;

      “Prognosis: Guarded for complete resolution. She has proximal suspensory ligament desmitis in both hind limbs. This is older than her most recent race, as the inflammation is progressing down into the body of the suspensory ligament which takes some time. When she is blocked sound behind she shows the forelimb lameness, again nearly bilaterally symmetrical [‘cannon bone problem’].”

      In other words, Songbird was lame in all four limbs. At four years old. (but horses won’t run if they’re hurting, apologists?)

      • Thanks for posting that ugly truth Joy. Dr. Bramlage even made the comment in the report that this mare has done well in spite of this because she is so determined, and that they needed to stop on her continued training. And to think – these people had the money to have this mare checked from head to toe. How many small time trainers are out there running horses with these types of injuries with minimal vet involvement because they can’t afford it? Or they figure they can patch the horses up and keep them together to save money. Sad

    • And the one thing I had forgotten – these are the same people that had Eight Belles break both ankles in the Kentucky derby a few years ago.

  6. I bought one of my TBs off the track. Multiile colics later, we scoped him and found more than 10 stomach ulcers. $3K later, he recovered and has been healthy for 17 years. No question that the stress of training, particularly a 2 or 3 yo that doesn’t want to go or is too mentally immature, causes ulcers. Well established for many years.

  7. Danzing Candy -yet another victim of the brutal, and inhumane training regimes of Bob Baffert.
    He’s nothing but a racehorse killer in my opinion, and I wouldn’t even send a donkey to him.
    Yet, this industry not only protects this animal abuser, but reveres him to a god-like status.
    Abusers, and enablers of the abuse – nothing more nothing less – this is horse racing.

    08.28.2017 From Paulick Report

    Iowa: Quarter Horse Trainers, Vet Suspended After Barn Security Finding

    Stewards at Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Iowa have summarily suspended a Quarter Horse trainer, assistant trainer and a veterinarian after the assistant was seen by security hiding syringes in the barn area.

    Suspended pending the outcome of hearings were trainer Kenneth Laymon, assistant Victor Ibarra and vet Verlin Jones. According to the stewards’ ruling, on the afternoon of Aug. 25 a security officer was conducting a barn patrol when she spotted Ibarra walking in front of her. When Ibarra got to the middle of the barn, the officer saw Ibarra place something behind a bale of hay. The officer, Victoria Palmer, asked him to hand over what he just stuffed behind the hay.

    Ibarra produced two syringes encased in bubble wrap. Each syringe had a yellow cap over the 1 1/2-inch, 9-gauge needles, and each contained 12 ml of an unknown red substance. Ibarra told the security officer veterinarian Verlin Jones had give him the syringes and said to hide them.

    Per Iowa regulations, “a person found within or in the immediate vicinity of a security stall who is
    in possession of unauthorized drugs or hypodermic needles or who is not authorized to possess drugs or hypodermic needles shall, in addition to any other penalties, be barred from entry into any racetrack in Iowa and any occupational license the person holds shall be revoked.”

    According to Equibase, Laymon has 126 victories from 1,154 starts and has won three graded Quarter Horse stakes since 2011. In 2017, he’s won 14 of 98 starts.

    • Thanks for sharing Kathleen.
      Yes, doping is rampant in horse racing, and has been for years.
      They have never cleaned it up because there are people that are financially benefiting from these policies while the rest suffer.
      Even when caught, Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Steve Assmussen, Doug O’Neill, Michael Maker etc etc, little to nothing is done.
      These doping, cheating, and high rate of dying trainers are STILL training!!!
      Victim after victim goes into their barns and dies in the dirt under their direct care, and training methods.
      It seems reasonable that these racehorses are nothing more than lab rats there to be doped, tested, and see what works – even if the outcome is dying!
      The supposed “loving” and “caring” owners send their “beloved” racehorses directly into these drug dens, and torture chambers subjecting them to mandatory operating procedures that is legitimized animal cruelty.
      You have a choice to risk your racehorses life to win races or lose races, and money.
      This is the system in place, and that’s why racehorses are dying, will continue to die at high rates as a direct result of liberal drug policies, and liberal reinforcement all to the detriment of the racehorses.
      Anybody even thinking about getting into this business run far away, and anybody thinking about going to the horse races for the day – run away just like the others because this is what you are supporting.
      Just remember this: we – as autonomous individuals can run away – the racehorses can’t.
      They are forced profit slaves for an industry that doesn’t give a crap about them or their life.

      • Gina,

        Thank you for your Post.

        When you have time, Can you please create a Master List of all the Trainers that you know that are drugging their Horses. I want to create a Hall Of Shame Post.

        Thank you

  9. Stall kept horses are more prone to colic. Free roaming horses don’t tend to colic and if they do, the fact that they can move freely can also relieve them of any colic incident. It is also the nature of horses to paw at any other horse that is down to get it up and moving and healthy again.

  10. How many times do we read that this horse or that, is at Aqueduct/Belmont/Santa Anita for training? These tracks don’t have large pastures where these herbivores can move about and graze! This is how nature designed them to eat-grazing while moving about. Not cooped up in a stall for 23 hours a day, being fed on OUR schedule, and not ours. Is it any wonder these horses have colic so often? And much more serious cases of colic, than horses turned out in a pasture? You can’t force an animal to a schedule that is against the way their bodies were designed, without serious consequences.

  11. And the owners can’t see what they, are doing to drastically cut these horses lives short. Why isn’t there a watchdog looking over these businessmen’s (women’s) practices?

    • Horse racing operates with total impunity.
      They create their self-governed “racing commissions” that appear to care for the racehorses, but they are nothing more than public wallpaper.
      The racing commissions strip racehorses of any legal protections under our Felony Animal Cruelty laws, although sorely inadequate, that would otherwise hold them accountable in some capacity.
      The participants/supporters/owners/trainers can dope, beat, deny vet treatment, neglect them, sell them knowing that they have pre-existing serious painful conditions with ZIPPO accountability.
      That’s precisely why the top “trainers” like Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen etc. have a long list of doping violations (dope that keeps painful conditions masked so they run until their leg or ankles snaps-off) and have killed racehorses under their custody.
      Now one could argue that the killing is not deliberate, but when you dig deep it’s a widespread mentality that exists at every level and was clearly exposed when “Trainer” Gordon Elliott sat on top of a dead racehorse to take a phone call – a racehorse that he killed with doping cocktails, most likely, and forcing it to run beyond its natural ability.

      • Gina, I’m quite certain you’ve seen Doug O’Neill’s latest violation? Lidocaine. But of course it’s another case of “contamination”. Yea, sure it is, Druggie.

        Oh and his suspension? – 10 days and during that 10 days his assistant just keeps business rolling as usual. Oh, ouch…such a deterrent.

        • Horse racing’s recent claims of “reforms” and “cleaning up” horse racing is nothing more than lip service as evidenced by this recent O’Neill Lidocaine positive and the slap on the wrist response.
          It’s also clearly seen in their Racing Hall of (Sh)ame whose Trainers are all doping, cheating racehorse killers and their jockeys have a long list of fines for beating the crap out of a racehorse.
          So much for treating them “royally” right?
          Their industry condones doping, cheating beaters and killers because it’s a widespread mentality and also required to keep physically sore and emotionally deprived racehorses flipping a buck for these parasitic asps.
          There are no reforms or clean-ups for horse racing because this is business as usual and it will never change.
          So we the people, living in a civilized society must shut this down because it’s the only change that will stop it.
          Thanks Joy for all your dedication and hard work on behalf of these magnificent creatures.

          • It takes all of us, Gina, and I know I’ve said this before but it bears repeating – I am so incredibly grateful to everyone who supports this cause and has chosen to speak up for the horses of this industry…not one of us can fight this Goliath alone.

  12. This is beyond saddening. It is so unnecessary and so gluttonous that it’s despicable. Find another way to waste your money and time and leave these beautiful animals alone!!

  13. O’NEILL has a long history but he is still in business!!!
    O’NEILL is STILL drugging horses because he knows he can get away with it like all the others.
    Lidocaine is not an “over the counter” drug so how are these people getting their hands on such drugs!? Are the vets. complicit?!!
    Further, we know pain is a protective mechanism but when it is disguised the horse is in grave danger of a fatal injury.
    Racing does not care about the life of the horse and so it follows the jockeys are also dispensable.
    Where is OSHA in all this!?
    Racing is a criminal enterprise. We need look no further than what the favorite trainer of Monmouth Park, Jorge Navarro, et al, got away with for soo long!!!!

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