When starting research on injury rates and types of injuries in young Thoroughbreds in training, University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Center scientist and veterinarian Dr. Allen Page discovered he had no current statistics for North America with which to make any comparisons.
Page is hoping to fill this gap with an ongoing appeal to Thoroughbred breaking and training centers in the U.S. and Canada to provide weekly injury and illness reports on 2-year-olds that have not been breezed yet.
"One of the things we noticed as we applied for funding was a lot of data from other countries on horses in training, but there is nothing contemporary for North America," Page said. "We know training methods are different and surfaces are different, so it makes it difficult for us to try to extrapolate the work we are doing to North America."
Working with Dr. Tim Parkin, a professor of veterinary epidemiology at the University of Glasgow who does statistical modeling for The Jockey Club's Equine Injury Database, Page has developed a survey that should be easy for trainers to fill out on a mobile phone or tablet.
Trainers are being asked to answer a handful of questions each week about the horses in their care, including the number of training days missed and the reasons for the missed training—bucked shins, stress fractures, exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, respiratory illness, colic, or another non-exercise related injury (such as a laceration), or another malady. They are also asked to record for each horse the number of works or breezes, the distances for each, and the surface of the track or gallop.
"Trainers have a million things to do, we know, and this is now a million and one. So we've made the survey as easy to fill out as possible," Page said. "That early speed training is such an important time for these horses. We know those early breezes set them up for success or potential failure down the road, because this is the time their skeletal systems are developing a response to the stress of training. We want to get a better grasp on that."
With the year's first 2-year-olds in training sale less than two weeks away, Page acknowledged the survey request is coming out late in the breaking and training cycle. He hopes, however, to collect some data this year while laying the foundation for more widespread participation starting next fall.
"We will also want to look at the sale horses separately, because that is always the question about horses who are being pushed earlier than those being prepped for the races," Page said.
While several owners have responded to the survey request, Page said he only wants trainers participating because they are working hands-on with the horses every day. Also, Page stressed, the information provided is confidential.
"We rely on trainers providing us honest information, so when we publish results, we never publish names," Page said. "If they are the only trainer in a particular small town, we only identify the state. If they are the only trainer in a state, then we don't report that state. We don't publish anything that can be tied to a specific trainer, owner, or horses."
While some participants may be concerned, too, about what the results of such a survey might show, Page points to the progress made at North American racetracks because of the Equine Injury Database. The racetrack fatal injury rate has dropped four consecutive years and is down 23% since 2009, according to an analysis released in March 2017.
"This survey will help as we refine the testing we do in our lab but also give the rest of the industry a good idea of what the overall injury rate is and where there is room for improvement, if there is," Page said. "So come one, come all."