Why Do They Euthanize Racehorses Who Break Their Legs?

Palmer was on the scene the day of the injury. “I said: ‘The fracture is horrible, but none of the wounds came through the skin. Because of that, I believe that surgery is possible.’ I honestly thought that was the very best chance he had for survival.”

Two months after his surgery, Barbaro developed laminitis, requiring most of a hoof to be removed. He then had some good months. But the hoof did not grow back properly, leading to another procedure. He got a foot bruise, and more surgery followed. Complications led to laminitis in two more limbs, and Barbaro’s distress increased significantly.

“We just reached a point where it was going to be difficult for him to go on without pain,” Roy Jackson said. In the end, the extraordinary efforts lengthened his life by only eight months.

“From a purely surgical perspective, it was extremely unsatisfying because he didn’t make it,” Dr. Dean W. Richardson, the surgeon, said at the time. “Professionally, I think we did the best we could.”

The dazzling filly Ruffian in 1975 had 12 hours of surgery after a bad break. Upon waking, she began thrashing around in her stall, causing another break and leading to her euthanasia.

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