The Thoroughbred – fine-tuned for speed

Racegoers at Sandown Park were today treated to a veterinary presentation showcasing the extraordinary physiology of a racehorse.

As part of the raceday marking the anniversary of the launch of The Horse Comes First, Equine Cardiologist and Vice President of the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA), Mark Bowen, gave a presentation to racegoers entitled “The Thoroughbred – fine-tuned for speed”.

In his presentation, Mark Bowen talked racegoers through how the heart rate of a horse increases as its exercise intensifies. Research, funded by racing through the Horserace Betting Levy Board, has established that a big heart can be a factor in a racehorse’s performance and ability.

The racehorse’s heart plays a critical role in making the animal the athlete it is. Research has established that a thoroughbred’s heart rate increases from 30 beats per minute at rest to an astonishing 230 beats per minute when galloping, nearly four beats per second. During a race, a racehorse’s heart pumps over 230 litres of blood around the body every minute – enough to fill four baths.

The presentation also highlighted the levels of oxygen needed to fuel the pumping of 230 litres of blood around the body per minute. At full gallop, a racehorse will take in 1,800 litres of air per minute, the equivalent of 120 party balloons, every sixty seconds.

Mark Bowen, Equine Cardiologist at the University of Nottingham, said: “I have always been fascinated by the amazing athletic performance of horses, working at all levels, including at my local racecourse, having grown up near Huntingdon.

“After becoming a veterinary surgeon I was fortunate enough to undergo specialist training as an equine cardiologist, through funding provided by the Levy Board.

“This has enabled me to develop further my understanding of this amazing athlete. Research has given us knowledge of how racehorses have evolved, from the animal that needed a burst of speed to flee from predators to these beautiful athletes that can gallop in a race for over six minutes.

“This is an animal that can increase its heart rate from 30 beats per minute at rest to 230 beats per minute when racing. Pumping oxygen round the body to fuel the amazing muscles that power the horse around the track.

“Through technology developed from funding provided by racing, we also now understand much better the path of oxygen from the air to the muscles and it underlines just how important breathing efficiently and effectively is to a racehorse.

“It is the huge heart that delivers the oxygen from the lungs to the muscles, and the size of the heart does matter, as research has shown a big heart is a factor in a horse’s performance. A study in 2015 will monitor the electrical activity of the heart immediately after racing using veterinary students from the University of Nottingham and state of the art equipment.

“Through the Levy Board, racing has invested over £27m in veterinary activities, including research and education, since 2000. This has served to help us understand and manage diseases better and provides a range of benefits to the welfare of the horse. Furthermore, much of that knowledge and those techniques are now applied to other horse breeds, extending the benefits of this research.”