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Research to stop racehorses breaking legs

AAP logoAAP 24/08/2016 Luke Costin

It's proven near impossible to treat racehorses' broken legs so Melbourne researchers are instead attempting to prevent the breaks altogether.

Equine researchers will spend the next three years identifying horses at risk of serious bone injury and attempting to minimise the risk of breakages through better training management.

The $5.25 million research fund announced on Wednesday will look at:

* the loads generated in a horse's limbs while galloping

* how bones of horses respond to extended exercise

* why some bones fail under repeated stress

* how bones may be helped to adapt and repair after stress.

"It's a sad but true fact that bone fractures in racehorses are often fatal and it's currently very difficult to identify which animals are most vulnerable before one of those injuries occurs," Victorian Racing Minister Martin Pakula told reporters on Wednesday.

The fund - backed by the state government, Racing Victoria and the University of Melbourne - will also allow for the purchase of an MRI machine capable of scanning horses.

The project spins off work already done by equine surgeon and University of Melbourne professor Chris Whitton, who's identified how bone microdamage accumulates and repairs.

"At the moment, bone injuries are regarded as an inevitable consequence of training, but this needn't be the case," Prof Whitton said in a statement.

Racing Victoria's head vet, Brian Stewart, says better understanding how bones respond to exercise is crucial "to properly implement a training and management plan that safeguards the health and welfare of our equine athletes".

The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses says 130 racehorses were killed on Australian tracks in 2014.

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