A new technique that uses ultrasound findings to predict a racehorse’s likelihood of returning to racing after a tendon injury has been described by researchers.
The study team say the new system will significantly improve racehorse welfare in both the short and long term. It will enable vets and racehorse trainers to make early and informed decisions on a horse’s future – whether to prescribe rest and recovery before racing again, rehabilitation for another career, or immediate retirement.
The ultrasound technique was developed by researchers at the University of Nottingham and Oakham Equine Hospital, both in England, and the Hong Kong Jockey Club.
The researchers created a scoring system for grading tendon injuries in racehorses when they first occur and used this in a large study to determine which ultrasound features will predict whether the horse will successfully race again after rehabilitation.
They have been working with a veterinary ultrasound company, BCF Technology, to develop an app that vets can use to record their ultrasound findings using the new scoring system.
The study team, whose findings are reported in the Equine Veterinary Journal, focused on injuries to the superficial digital flexor tendon. Damage to this tendon is an important health and welfare concern in racehorses. It is generally diagnosed with ultrasound examination.
Standard treatment for tendon injury in a racehorse is the three ‘Equine Rs’ – Rest (until able to race again), Rehabilitation (toward an alternative career) or Retirement.
The authors set out to determine whether the features of such tendon injuries seen in ultrasound images of the front legs of Thoroughbred racehorses could predict a successful return to racing, completing five or more races.