Horseracing apologists are forever crying how unfair it is for us to characterize stall deaths as industry casualties. These deaths, they say, can and do happen to horses everywhere horses are kept. Well, leaving aside that racehorses are enslaved – yes, I realize that’s inflammatory, but it is what it is – and anything that happens to a slave is the slaveowner’s responsibility, we do have science to bolster the case.
The three most common causes of stall deaths are colic, laminitis, and pleuropneumonia. Yes, of course horses die of these the world over, but…
Colic: A study by Dr. Nathaniel White, professor of surgery at Marion DuPont Scott Equine Medical Center, identified risk factors for developing colic. There were only 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. In addition, gastric ulcers are, at the very least, associated with colic; research indicates that up to 90% of active racehorses suffer from ulcers, most chronic, many severe.
Laminitis: According to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, three of the most common causes of laminitis are: excessive concussion to the feet (like the pounding a racehorse’s feet are forced to absorb); excessive weight-bearing on one leg due to injury of another leg (see Barbaro); severe colic (see above).
Pleuropneumonia: From the Merck Veterinary Manual: “Race and sport horses are particularly at risk [of developing pleuropneumonia]. The majority of horses with pleuropneumonia are athletic [emphasis added] horses younger than 5 years old.”
And that, is that.