Complicated words such as euthanasia do little to take away the consummate and heart-rending tragedy of watching an injured animal put down after a sudden horse racing accident. Such adverse incidents are also grist for the mills of opposition to the noble and ancient sport of horse racing. It is really quite needless in the 21st century world of critical care and emergency medicine. Race track owners should provide for the following costs when planning race track ventures:
Get the rider to hospital within minutes: this may call for a helicopter on stand by at or near every race track, or a police escort to clear the way of immediate transfer by road to an emergency room, and adequate first-aid during transit by any mode. There have been cases of injured riders losing precious minutes waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
Immobilize the horse: the most common reason for having to waste an animal is that it continues to move after an injury, most probably out of fright. Trained sharp-shooters should tranquillize an injured animal even before it can recover from a fall. Fractures are relatively simple to manage in healthy animals if the initial damage is not exacerbated in the minutes following an accident. Barbaro is the latest in a long line of champions whose careers have been aborted just because people at the spot could not stop the animals from dragging and putting weight on broken bones and connective tissue.
Replace lost blood: this follows stemming blood loss, for which dressings and suitably-designed tourniquets should be at hand. Blood groups and types of riders and horses should be known and be available in plenty at the site. Track officials should rehearse relevant procedures so that they can respond quickly and adequately to emergencies.
Prevent infections: all open wounds need protection against microbial entry. This is a relatively simple procedure for a trained medical technician, but it is certain to make complete recovery more likely.
Make lanes and tracks: uniform surfaces, free of obstacles, varying hardness and undulations will reduce the chances of an accident. Artificial surfaces with engineered drainage have been used in other sports for a long time. It may take some of the romance out of horse racing but the safety benefits are more than worthwhile! Similarly, we need to modify horse racing, so that animals and riders are kept within lanes at safe distances from each other. This will need wider tracks or a system of two rider and horse combinations competing against each other on the basis of handicaps and speed ratings.
The last of these recommendations may be a bit too much for die-hard horse racing enthusiasts to swallow, but the other four are not controversial and call for resources and planning rather than any basic change of format. Perhaps it is best to agree that we should no longer resort to wasting horses or ask riders to take undue risks with their lives. Such moves will add to public support for horse racing, while keeping its core pleasures largely intact.