When Race Horses Die Racing

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Winner’s death brings sad note to races

This is a local story about a horse that suffered a fatal heart attack just strides after winning a race. The account of his final moments is sad:

At the March 21 Piedmont Foxhounds Point-to-Point in Upperville, a fatal heart attack at the finish wire sent Quick Line, the winner, careening into the homestretch tailgate parking area.

Rider Noel Ryan, huntsman with Loudoun Hunt, was smiling as the 13-year-old gelding crossed the wire, ears pricked, easily in hand and clearly not distressed.

All that changed a stride later.

Attending veterinarian Ian Harrison of Harrison Equine in Berryville was standing near the finish line, watching Quick Line as he crossed the line.

“The horse finished well,” Harrison said. “I’d say he suffered a heart attack in the next stride,” lurching to the right, while Ryan struggled to keep his mount from veering into the course’s outer rail.

The gelding crashed through the plastic snow fence marking the course, landing between two parked cars. Ryan was thrown clear and — but for a cut on his cheek and a sore hand — was uninjured. The force of the falling horse toppled several spectators who had an instant before been cheering the runners.

According to several people involved, the horse was fit and suffered a heart abnormality that no one knew about.

“There is no blame to be placed on a horse that dies that way. The rider is not to blame, nor the course, nor the race. This just happens. It is terribly rare, but it happens to fox hunters, it happens to pleasure horses, it happens to backyard horses. It happens in people, and it can happen in racehorses. It is very sad, but there was certainly nothing anyone did wrong, and there was nothing that could have prevented it.”

Perhaps it’s true that the horse would have suffered a heart attack at some point in his life whether he was racing or not, but I find it hard to believe that one can claim that “there was nothing that could have prevented it” when he died a stride after finishing a race. My thought, obviously: they shouldn’t have been racing the horse and that would have prevented the horse from dying on that day, at that time. Or am I just talking crazy talk?

2 Responses to “When Race Horses Die Racing”

  1. Ed Coffin

    like I always say: race CARS, not HORSES!

  2. Sharon Soileau

    Horses can die any day, at any time. Just because this horse died when he did does not mean that he should not have been racing.

    Just yesterday, I had a five yr. old mare, never raced and only ridden lightly, fall over dead with a heart attack in her pasture.

    Very often heart conditions can go undetected in horses. Is it anybody’s fault that a horse died at a particular time when it had never shown any signs of having any type of problem?

    My mare never showed any signs of illness. She was well fed, de-wormed regularly and routine blood tests just days prior to her death were all normal.

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