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23rd August 2005

Osteochondritis Dessicans

Bone chips and other skeletal problems are common occupational hazards for both young horses and people who buy and sell them.

Young horses are 500 to 1000 pound animals supported on legs with bones the size of broom handles.  More significantly these bones are not yet hard enough to withstand the stress and trauma of a training regimen that when they are two year olds basically calls for an hour or so of strenous exercise and 23 hours of standing in a stall.  This routine can result in uneven or incomplete bone growth and lesions known as osteochondritis dessicans, or OCD’s.

Since the advent of radiograph sales repositories they have become better known as “Goddam OCD’s” and the bane of the existence of all owners of young thoroughbreds, especially pinhookers. These “Goddam OCD’s” have one implication – weak bones. They are basically soft spots in the bone surface that can either fill in or harden like normal cartilage or become insidious cysts that eat away at the bone until it cracks or negatively implicates a joint, ligament or tendon.

The negative possibility raises in the mind of every owner or buyer that someday the joint will jam or the bone snap, causing the horse to breakdown and not race.

Fearing financial loss buyers therefore flee from “Goddam OCD’s” as if they were the devil incarnate, even though the horse may never be bothered and could go onto win millions.

One such horse was Unbridled Song who sold at a ready to run sale for $US1.4 million.  He was handed back to the owner and went on to win $US7.3 million and became a much sought after stallion.

Elvstroem was another who had “Goddam OCD’s” as a yearling and was handed back to the seller and went on to win nearly $10 million.  He also has a promising career in front of him.

Some horses do break down while racing because of bone weakened by OCD’s.  Equally as many or more do so because their big bones and joints are malformed to begin with or because they take a bad step while favouring something sore or painful elsewhere in their bodies.  A horse favouring on foot, for example, can ruin another by shifting to it an inordinate burden of weight.

Most injuries or breakdowns can be traced in some way to repetitive stress placed on bones, joints, ligaments and tendons during exercise.  It can happen in the pasture when they are babies or on the track when they are nine years old.  But it happens most frequently with young horses whilst they are two years old in training.  Eventually the stress of racing sends all horses to the sideline for one reason or another.

With Thanks to
Jim Squires