Throat Surgery in a Racehorse

June 29, 2020

There was a show on TV called “You Asked for It”!!! I m going to do my best to explain my latest requests. 

Out of the many operations you can do on a horse, these two can really turn a horse around in a month. One is Throat Surgery and the other is castration.

With throat surgery, think about it as helping a horse get more air. There is an old saying on the race track “He can run a hole in the wind”. No question, the horse gets the needed air, they will, as racehorses are bred to run fast.  

Just like people that are born with airway problems so are horses. It’s a lot easier to catch it in people simply because they can tell you. Horses can’t. So to detect what’s going on we scope them. It’s a Fiber Optic Endoscope, it’s put it through the nose and down the throat. Sounds horrible but it’s not, the scope is soft and lubricated. The horse can also be tranquilized if needed. The veterinarian looks to see what’s going on and can take pictures to help with what he can do at the track versus sending the horse to a veterinary hospital.

Here are the main things that go wrong with horses. 

Displaced Palate

Entrapped epiglottis

Paralyzed Flapper

Lazy Flapper

Soft Palate

Narrow Airway

The horse is an obligate nosebreather and racehorses’ performances are affected by their respiratory system function. When any of the above is not working, the horse has respiratory impedance. Try and run with close pin on your nose that’s what it’s like for a horse. There are a few minor operations that can be done at the track without full anesthesia. One is a Myectomy ( a surgical transection (cutting) of a muscle). That will allow the horse more flexibility with his jaw so he can now open his mouth wider and take in a lot more air. It may also help with horses that displace their soft palate. Without getting too technical, anything more serious needs general anesthesia and surgery. 

Castration makes a colt or stallion a gelding. This operation can be done at the track. Depending on the veterinarian, the horse can have surgery standing up or laying down. There is no better mind changer to a horse than castration. I guess you are saying why’s that. Colts seem to have other things on their minds rather than training, we all know what that is.

Then you have those with really large testicles. You should know horses pull up their testicles when running, to stop them from banging. With that being said, if they are too large and aren’t tucked in, they swing into each other causing bruising. That will stop a horse real fast. The vet will examine them when the testicles are removed. He is looking for black and blue marks where they were hitting each other. When he is done there is  old tradition at the track to throw them up on the roof of the barn for good luck. 

Any of the operations that are done at the track usually heal really well. I have had them in the winners’ circle in 4 or 5 weeks. Something that they weren’t doing before. When a handicapper sees a First Time Gelding, he pays special attention as many win. One will never know when a horse has had a throat surgery until the running lines get better. 

I could of gotten way more technical, but I’m not a veterinarian . Hope that helps you understand a little better. 

 See you at the races. 

Contributing Authors

JJ Graci

RIP JJ was born in Philadelphia, Pa.  and attended Villanova University. He has vast experience in horse racing and broadcasting. JJ has been a fixture...

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