Prized for their athleticism, strong work ethic and intelligence, thoroughbreds rightly dominate the sport of horse racing. Although they are, in many ways, the ultimate equine athletes, unfortunately there are some health problems which turn up frequently in the breed. The challenges of the racing life push these thoroughbreds to the absolute limits of endurance. And while plenty remain healthy, some don’t.

Whether you’re the proud owner of a champion racehorse or hoping to take on an ex-racer, you should be on the lookout for these common health problems. Remember, no matter how much care you take, adequate insurance for a horse is vital to protect you and your equine friend.

Fractures and musculoskeletal injuries

The bodies of these incredible creatures really are tested to the utmost in their competitive lives. So, you won’t be surprised to hear they can suffer from many musculoskeletal issues.

Apart from the obvious traumatic fractures sometimes suffered during racing there are other serious injuries that can remain undiagnosed until it’s too late.


Sacroiliac damage

Perhaps the number one problem among racehorses is sacroiliac damage. The sacroiliac joint is located between the horse’s hind legs and spine.

It serves as a major point of weight and force transfer when running. Many racehorses will end up with damage to the ligaments in this area. And tragically, severe damage here can rule out any future racing career.

Common signs of sacroiliac joint damage include a shortened hind leg stride, a ‘bunny-hopping’ gait, and reluctance to strike off with the correct canter lead leg when ridden.

Other related conditions include rotation or distortion of the pelvis and rotation in the lumbar spine.


Knee damage

Equine knee bones are delicate and complex and undergo a lot of stress during racing. Slab fractures and bone chips in the small carpal bones can happen along with more complex fractures. Even if the injury was dealt with at the time there can be lasting damage leading to osteoarthritis later on. Look out for puffiness around the joint and have a vet check if you’re unsure. Horse insurance should help cover the cost of any emergency treatment if necessary.


Tendon and ligament injury

The deep digital flexor tendons and suspensory ligaments running down the back of the horse’s leg from the knee/hock are particularly vulnerable to damage during exercise. This usually occurs when they stretch to the maximum while galloping or landing. A curvature along the length of a tendon (also called a bowed tendon) is a classic sign of a more serious injury.


Respiratory problems

Racehorses are finely honed creatures but there are many respiratory problems that may cut short their racing career. A particular concern for racehorse owners is the respiratory diseases which can be picked up at race courses. With horses so close and so highly mobile, infections are easily caught. Especially as the work the racehorse performs can be traumatic to the respiratory tract.

Exercise induced pulmonary haemorrhage (bleeding in the lungs) is a common problem in racehorses. It’s indicated by the presence of blood found in the horse’s airway following a race that originates from the lungs.

Upper respiratory tract disorders can occur in a variety of ways in racehorses. The most common being:

  • Displaced soft palate – Commonly referred to as ‘choking up’. It’s caused by the soft palate moving from its normal place and reducing the flow of air to the lungs. This is usually followed by a sudden gurgling noise and reduced performance.
  • Laryngeal paralysis – Affected horses are often referred to as roarers. A roaring or whistling noise is caused by a disruption to the flow of air into the windpipe. This leads to reduced oxygen intake and a decrease in athletic performance.
  • Entrapped epiglottis – The epiglottis lies at the base of the tongue and directs feed and water through to the oesophagus. This can become entrapped due to inflammation or abnormalities. If this happens then the horse will make a gurgling noise when exercising and may be unable to sustain athletic effort due to reduced airflow.


Foot problems

If your racehorse develops problems with their feet then it can cause them to be withdrawn from races, lose training days, put more pressure on other body parts and have shorter careers. Thoroughbreds have been bred for speed and efficient use of energy. Unfortunately, a consequence of this is that the thoroughbred foot is light and lacks the protection usually seen in other heavier boned breeds.

Injury and trauma are easily caused to the relatively thin walls and sole of the thoroughbred foot. A further condition called hoof capsule distortion can also be caused. This refers to flares, cracks, underrun, and collapsed and sheared heels. These affect foot shape and balance and lead to unsoundness and sub-optimal performance.


Horse insurance with Equesure

Owning a racehorse is a thrilling and rewarding adventure but can get expensive – particularly if your horse develops one of these common health problems. And when you’ve invested so much time and money already, you’ll need insurance for your horse to help protect against any unexpected bills.

Rather than having to find cash in an emergency simply pay a regular premium to protect yourself and your horse. It makes so much sense and gives you the space to focus on your horse’s wellbeing without the worry of financial pressures.

From foals in the first flush of youth to trusty veterans settling into retirement, our specialist team at Equesure can provide a choice of cover to suit most budgets for any type of horse.

Choose Equesure and you could benefit from:

  • Vet fees covered up to £4,500 per incident with unlimited claims for the year
  • Saddlery and tack cover available
  • Horseboarding cover available
  • Loss of use cover available with all insurers


Get a quick quote for horse insurance today.

Policy benefits and features offered may very between insurance schemes or cover selected and are subject to underwriting criteria. Information contained within this article is accurate at the time of publishing but may be subject to change.

Latest Articles

Paula’s blog – Freya the destructive

Paula’s blog – Freya the destructive


We’ve been a bit quieter the past week or so, as I’ve been tied up with visiting my mum more as she’s unwell and having to go into hospital for an operation. As much as I’ve tried, with all the worry and stress I just haven’t been able to muster up much energy to ride. 

Read More
Emma’s blog – Arnie Bear

Emma’s blog – Arnie Bear


After a nice winter break, I have finally brought Arnie back into a level of consistent work, and I am so pleased with how nicely he’s going. I really do believe in winter breaks, especially when they are that bit younger, and this one has really done him the world of good.

Read More
Read all our newest articles »
icon-facebook icon-instagram icon-twiter