Why Do They Euthanize A Horse With A Broken Leg?

A horse with a broken leg is usually killed because it’s very difficult for the broken leg of a horse to heal correctly. Additionally, the blood circulation in a horse is dependent on its hooves. Keeping a horse still for a long period of time in order for its bone to heal is a huge risk to its life. Plus, the cost of such treatment is quite high.

Horses are some of the fastest and most magnificent animals on the planet, and humans have shared a special bond with them since the dawn of civilization. And with good reason too! Horses were one of the first beasts to be domesticated and befriended by humans. They always stood out from other animals for their dazzling speed and unmatched strength and physical capacity.

horse running

There is a reason the phrase ‘healthy as a horse’ is used to denote prime fitness of a person. (Photo Credit: callipso88 / Fotolia)

Horses have been used in combat, in the transportation of men and goods, and in activities that require immense physical labor (which is why a car’s engine strength is measured in ‘horsepower’). In modern times, horses are more commonly seen competing with other horses in a racecourse, or perhaps in a stable somewhere in the countryside.

However, there’s an intriguing – or rather upsetting – thing about about horses… if a horse’s leg is broken somehow, it is very difficult to fix it. Unfortunately, that’s not the really sad part.

A horse with a broken leg (especially if the break is of the ‘wrong’ kind) is usually ‘put down’ or euthanized. In simple words, the horse is killed.

Anatomy of a horse’s legs

Although racehorses mostly sustain injuries and break their legs during racing events, it can happen anytime – while engaging in leisure activities or simply roaming around.

horse anatomy

A horse has many bones in its legs.

As it happens, horses are quite weird, anatomically speaking. First of all, they do not have any muscles below the knee. The reason behind horses’ incredible speed is their superb tendon/ligament system. The muscles located higher up in their body provide huge amounts of power to the tendons and ligaments, which function as a spring that can aid horses’ high-speed sprints.

Horses’ leg bones are very light

While such an arrangement of bones, ligaments and tendons helps a horse accelerate quickly, it also has its pitfalls. The bones in a horse’s lower leg (the spot where most injuries occur) generate huge amounts of power, but are also quite light.

Horse thin lower leg

A horse’s lower leg contains a lot of strong but light bones. (Photo Credit: Osetrik / Shutterstock)

Furthermore, a horse’s legs contain around 80 of the 205 bones in its entire body. Thus, if the lower leg of a horse breaks, the bones in it don’t just fracture… they often shatter completely. This makes it next to impossible to fix them or return them to their original form. Even if they are somehow put back together, the horse would inevitably wind up with a badly fixed bone.

Adverse impact on blood circulation

A horse’s hooves play a critical role in its blood circulation. If a horse cannot move its legs around, the blood supply to his legs would be impacted negatively. Therefore, a broken lower leg is bad news for a horse’s blood circulation too!

A horse’s legs support a huge amount of weight

An adult healthy horse can weigh anywhere between 450-1000 kilograms. Normally, that huge amount of weight is supported by four sturdy legs. However, if a horse breaks one of its legs, the burden on the other three legs suddenly increases drastically, which could create severe inflammation in the laminae and joints at the base of those legs.

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This condition (known as laminitis) is incredibly painful for horses.

A horse just won’t stand still!

Horses are very resistant to standing still; they like to keep themselves busy by moving around almost all the time. In fact, they resist any constraint of their legs by kicking, stamping or high-stepping. All horse owners know that it’s unbelievably difficult to keep a horse in one place for too long, or do anything at all that could contain its legs.

Although it’s crucial that a broken leg get some rest so that the bones heal properly, horse owners know that they’re going to have a hard time trying to immobilize their horse for days or weeks to come. Moreover, with such a heavy body, a horse develops pressure sores if it lies down for too long, so that’s another problem to deal with.

running horses

Horses are meant to gallop! (Image Credit: Pixabay)

All of this also takes an emotional toll on the horse; it’s in a horse’s nature to run around and gallop, so staying in one place for weeks, totally immobilized, inflicts a lot of psychological damage on the horse.

Cost of treatment

The cost of fixing the broken bone of a horse leg is considerably high. Therefore, unless it’s a very, very special and expensive horse, people tend to refrain from spending a lot on treating a horse’s leg, whose chances of complete recovery are pretty slim even with treatment.

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In order to spare the horse from too much pain and agitation, it is generally ‘put down’ or euthanized by its owners. Of course, there are strict guidelines in place about making humane decisions regarding the euthanasia of horses, which ensure that the affected horse doesn’t feel too much pain while leaving this mortal world.

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About the Author

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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