Both critics and fans of horse racing are mourning the death of the filly Eight Belles, euthanized by the track veterinarian after sustaining fractures in both front legs. One fracture involved the condyle of the cannon bone, which is actually the third metacarpal of the equine forelimb; there are two smaller metacarpals (medial and lateral) in the horse forelimb, and the condyle of the cannon bone articulates with the first phalanx at the fetlock. Many blame the track surface at Churchill Downs for such injuries, but I’m more inclined to put the blame on irresponsible breeding and training practices in the Thoroughbred racing industry. I’ll use some horses that I know quite well to illustrate my point about the breeding: this is an unscientific study (with help, I can provide measurements in the future), with a very small “n”, but I think I can start to make a point with some photos. The two Thoroughbreds were bred for racing (which they did, unsuccessfully), whereas the warmbloods were bred for conformation.
Exhibit A is a photo of the forelegs of my 17-year-old Thoroughbred mare; pay particular attention to the diameter of her cannon bones, which you can see as separate from the tendons at the back. She also has a visible birth defect, which causes her to favor strongly one particular lead at the canter, and prevents her from being a decent dressage horse (otherwise she is quite talented at this discipline, for a Thoroughbred). Can you tell what her birth defect is? (I’ll bet Coturnix can spot it)
Exhibit B is a photo of my 9-year-old Thoroughbred gelding. He’s reasonably correct, for a Thoroughbred-perhaps a bit slab-sided, and his pasterns are a little too upright. He’s 16 hh, at the upper limit for polo and polocrosse. He’s developing “Birdcatcher spots”, a few more each year-certainly not a flaw, and rather pretty.
Now we get to the warmbloods. First, my friends’ stallion-I think he is seven or eight years old now- a Cleveland Bay, about 17 hh. Look at the diameter of the bone in his lower legs! (Exhibit C)
Exhibit D is one of the stallion’s offspring, out of a Percheron x Thoroughbred mare; this is a two-year-old filly, still growing (already 17 hh or taller…she will be somebody’s dream eventing horse).
Exhibit E is the second of the stallion’s offspring out of the Percheron x Thoroughbred mare. This is a yearling filly (almost exactly one year old)…look at the bone in her legs!