Expert explains why some horses are euthanized after severe leg injuries

Why some horses are put down after severe leg injuries

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Dr. Karen Blumenshine has been an equine practitioner for 42 years. She's seen firsthand just how catastrophic some leg injuries can be for horses.

"Just nothing left, sometimes, to put together," she said.

Blumenshine says unlike other four-legged animals that can survive the loss of a leg or use prosthetics, horses need all four legs to function properly. 

"The difference between a catastrophic leg injury in a horse and, say, a dog or cat, is the weight and the leverage," Blumenshine said.

She says some horse leg fractures can damage the rest of the leg beyond repair, either shattering bones in the lower leg or cutting off blood flow. 

"A lot of times, the longer bone, a shard will interrupt the blood and nerve supply to the lower leg. We're not at the technical level where we can repair all that."

In her opinion, sometimes a horse is suffering so much that humane euthanasia is the best option.

"We really have to think of the welfare of the horse," she said. "That always has to be our first goal. Sometimes, we love them and we want to save them, but it's sometimes not fair to put them through that."

Blumenshine says some horse leg injuries are treatable, but in her career she has come across many that are not. In those cases, she has to make the tough decision to recommend euthanasia.

"Sometimes you can look in their eyes and they're ready," Blumenshine said. "So it's a tough call. But I think, for me, I feel like I can walk away feeling like I did the best thing and the most humane thing for the animal."

Since December, more than two dozen horses have died after suffering injuries at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia.

This week, an injured horse was put down at the Santa Barbara Polo & Racquet Club. In a statement, general manager David Sigman said humane euthanasia was determined to be the best course of action, and that the club is "deeply saddened" by the "heartbreaking" loss.

Blumenshine says freak injuries can happen anytime, but sports like polo or horse racing should be looked at to find ways to better protect these horses.

"I think it's important that we investigate," she said. "I understand the importance of the sport to many people. But I think that we owe it to the horse to thoroughly investigate why. And there's probably many factors involved. But I think [sports are] an important part, and I think we need to do our due diligence."

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