Every year, millions of people watch the Triple Crown races, awed by the speed and agility of thoroughbred horses on the track.
These animals are powerful. But they can also be vulnerable, especially when it’s hot.
“Exertional heat illness essentially refers to when horses become too hot while they’re exercising, and their internal temperature gets too high, and then they become ill,” says Leah Trigg of the University of Bristol Veterinary School in the UK.
She reviewed hundreds of cases of heat illness in horses to identify the main risk factors.
She found that longer races are more likely to cause heat stress. Horses that have suffered from a bout of heat illness in the past are far more likely to exhibit symptoms again.
And racing in hot, humid conditions — especially when a horse is not accustomed to it — significantly increases the chance of heat illness.
She says that as the climate warms, the risk is growing.
The research highlights the need for tracks to provide cool-down facilities with shade and access to water that can be used to rapidly cool the horses — “and really to plan now and put in place the policies that will ensure that horse welfare is protected in a changing climate,” Trigg says.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media