Horses face big health risks

Horses face big health risks

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With reduced amount of physical exercise, race horses are in danger of developing a condition called Colic by which the gastrointestinal tract is compromised and equines don’t react well to this disturbance

Even as athletes in the country continue to find novel ways to keep their bodies in shape during the pandemic-forced lockdown, thoroughbred race horses stabled in India don’t have the luxury of a flexible fitness routine. And unlike in humans, lack of ample exercise could prove fatal for equines.

Due to social-distancing norms and the subsequent reduction in stablehands and riders at turf clubs, horses haven’t been able to get more than 45 minutes of a trot twice a day since the lockdown was imposed on March 22. In some cases, even that hasn’t been possible. 

While men-in-charge are carefully calibrating feed and working around the hitch with what is available, these horses haven’t been able to stretch their legs out with hard, long runs. One can brood about the disproportionate number of helpers to the horses stationed at stables, but owners and trainers are most concerned about the horses developing colic in the not-so-distant future.

Colic is an abdominal condition horses, especially thoroughbreds, tend to develop when they aren’t exercised vigorously and on a stringent schedule. Basically, the gastrointestinal tract is compromised and horses don’t react well to this disturbance. 

There are a number of methods currently in use to treat the condition, but if experts in the field are to be believed, prevention is better than tackling the repercussions. Colic is second only to old-age as the leading cause of death in horses! 

“This is a very real threat and it’s something a lot of the owners and trainers are worried about,” said Dr Hasneyn Mirza, a world-renowned equine veterinarian. “As is colic is a constant threat, now with the country in this situation, it’s nearly impossible to ensure they are worked out as per usual. They will reduce feed and walk them a bit but that isn’t enough.

“I am already attending to a few cases. I foresee more of this happening. What’s worse is that no one knows when they can return to doing what they’re bred to do: race,” he notes sombrely.

Suraj Narredu, one of the best jockeys in the country, sounded quite concerned but hoped the owners and the trainers will come up with a solution. “I am sure all the clubs have handled the situation very well till now, but what happens a couple of months from now... None of us in the business has ever had to face a situation like this before.”

He explains the process horses are usually put through pre-season: “We normally give them full rest for about a week and then take them out for long trots the next week and then start running them the week after. The season was supposed to start mid-May, so by now we would have had them running. Now, we obviously can’t do that. What’s scary is that we don’t know when we’ll be able to do it next because we don’t know when the lockdown will end.”

Rajesh Narredu, a premier trainer in the country, seconded his brother’s take on the matter. “We get to go to the clubs and look after our horses but we can’t run them. I think with the quality of feed and the amount of attention the trainers and owners pay to these horses, they should be okay.

"But I cannot say they’re entirely out of danger either. Colic is an ever-present danger, and situations like this exacerbate it.”

Several other trainers and jockeys, who spoke on condition of anonymity, too carried a worried tone, but hoped the tide would pass with the owners’ associations and trainers’ associations devising a way to overcome what could potentially be the worst biological threat turf clubs in the country have faced in years. Perhaps ever.