Chapter 111Lameness in the Arabian Racehorse
Middle East and North America
The Arabian racehorse originates directly from the Thoroughbred (TB) foundation sires of all light or hot-blooded horses. In the seventeenth century, these TB sires—the Darley Arabian, Godolphin Barb, and Byerly Turk—were imported to England and bred to the Queen’s mares. The Arabian was used originally as a war horse, and although the true beginnings of the Arabian horse are under a shroud of mystery and legend, the consensus is that the Middle Eastern desert Bedouin tribes played a large role in the breeding and early development of the breed.
Throughout the Middle East and Europe, Arabian racing and performance are more deeply rooted than in North America. The popularity of Arabian racing has grown enormously in the United Kingdom in the last 15 to 20 years, with a growing number of professional trainers and jockeys and a progressive increase in prize money, in part because of the high Middle Eastern sponsorship. Arabian racing in North America and around the globe is less popular, and the number of races is fewer and the amount of prize money is less compared with TB, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse racing.
The Arabian Horse Registry of America, founded in 1908, includes many types and uses. Known for stamina, speed, and elegance, Arabian horses often were bred and raised for showing in halter and performance classes. In the latter part of the twentieth century, Arabian horse popularity and breeding selection shifted to criteria based more on aesthetics than athleticism.
The Arabian racehorse lineage reflects more athleticism than is found in Arabian show horses. Consistent winners often are more heavily muscled and have stronger hindquarters with a more sloping croup and a lower head and neck carriage than a typical Arabian show horse. Recent influx of new breeding lines has given rise to concern and controversy over the purity of the lineage and the possible infusion of impure Arabian blood. Certain new stallions appear to be much taller and longer, with a body type similar to the modern day TB racehorse. Constant vigilance and careful documentation of lineage is required to preserve the pure Arabian racehorse breed.
Arabian racehorses race on the same surfaces as TB racehorses. In North America selected meets are held from California to Delaware, from Florida to Michigan, in Colorado, Texas, and Washington, and at a few other tracks. Arabian racehorses perform in fair meets, allowance races, claiming races, and futurity nominated stakes races. Racing Arabian horses also compete in the United Kingdom, Poland, France, Russia, and South America and in many Middle Eastern countries. In North America, racing begins on March 1 of the 3-year-old year. Race distances are similar to those for TB races, but the length and configuration of the racecourses vary. Shorter sprint distances, to 6 furlongs, often are run on the small tracks, whereas the longest race (2 miles [3.2 km]) is usually run on a large track. Typically, races are furlongs to miles (881 m to 2.8 km). In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) races are 5 to 12 furlongs (1 km to 2.4 km), and horses race on both dirt and turf. A sound Arabian racehorse may compete as often as every 7 to 10 days, but most are given 2 weeks between races. Because relatively few Arabians are raced, lack of entries may mandate racing whenever enough horses are entered to meet race conditions rather than when trainers and owners prefer. Racing in the United Kingdom starts in late April. Until 2001, horses did not race until 4 years of age, but in 2001 a restricted number of races for horses 3 years of age were introduced. These are high-value races and also attract horses trained in France and other European countries. Races range from 5 furlongs to 3 miles (1 km to 4.8 km). In the UAE, Arabian races average 9.5 runners.
In 1999 the International Federation of Arabian Horse Racing Authorities (IFAHR) was formed for the purpose of cooperation among all national and international Arabian horse racing associations throughout the world. The IFAHR is registered in France. Founding member countries were France, Germany, Belgium, the UAE, Qatar, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Austria, Holland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Turkey, Egypt, Spain, Sweden, Morocco, and Poland. In the UAE, Arabian horseracing has taken place for over two decades. Abu Dhabi, where Arabian horse racing takes place almost every week during the racing season from November to March, is the largest of the seven emirates and has also become the leader in international sponsorship of Arabian racing since 1996, supporting major races in countries such as England, the United States, France, Russia, Holland, and Belgium. The Gulf State of Qatar is also an important sponsor of international Arabian racing. Several UAE breeders maintain operations throughout Europe and the United States and are a constant force at international auctions, where stock is acquired to race in their domestic market and eventually to support breeding programs. The majority of Arabians racing in the UAE are from North American and French bloodlines. Breeding of purebred Arabian racehorses is now very popular; over 60% of the Arabian racehorses competing in the UAE today are bred in the UAE.
In North America, osteochondral fragmentation or chip fractures of the carpal and metacarpophalangeal joints occur in Arabian racehorses but less frequently than in TBs and Quarter Horses. Smaller body size, a more gradual training regimen, and older age of horses racing likely account for the difference in incidence. However, in Middle East Arabian racehorses, lameness associated with the metacarpophalangeal joint is the most common problem encountered; carpal pain associated with osteochondral fragmentation is unusual. Early signs of arthrosis without chip fracture resolve quickly, with minor interruption in race training. The diagnosis of fetlock or carpal osteochondral fragments is straightforward. Arthroscopic surgery to remove osteochondral fragments is well accepted and successful. The prognosis depends on location, size, duration, previous treatment, and amount of associated cartilage damage. Horses with acute osteochondral fragments with only mild cartilage damage have a good prognosis. The decision for surgery often is based on economic factors.
Proliferative synovitis (villonodular synovitis) and associated fragmentation of the dorsal proximal aspect of the proximal phalanx occurs in the young Arabian racehorse. Horses have characteristic signs of effusion and a noticeable dorsal swelling. Dorsal swelling can be insidious and go unrecognized early in the disease process. Plain radiographs often reveal soft tissue swelling on the dorsal distal aspect of the third metacarpal bone (McIII) and osteochondral fragments of the proximal phalanx. Radiolucent changes in the McIII are seen in horses with severe proliferation. Ultrasonographic examination usually reveals enlargement of the dorsal synovial pad. One of us (MCR) recommends arthroscopic evaluation, removal of osteochondral fragments, and debridement of the synovial pad with a 5.2- or 3.4-mm suction punch (Dyonics, Andover, Massachusetts, United States).