Last Updated on August 18, 2022
It is a scary thought, but running a horse to death can happen if we push our horses too hard. Horses may be fast and strong, with impressive levels of stamina, but every animal has a limit to its physical capabilities. Let’s take a look at what it means to run a horse to death.
What Does Running A Horse To Death Mean?
Horses are very strong animals, both in terms of physical capabilities and stamina. They can run for long periods at high speeds, which is why humans have been riding and using horses for thousands of years. But, sadly, it is possible to abuse this partnership and force the horse to do more work than it is physically capable of.
A trained horse will obey the commands of its rider or handler, whether this is through fear or a desire to please. If you think about it, we already ask horses to do many things in their ridden work which they would never do in their natural environment. For example, when trained by a rider, horses will clear a course of show jumps, perform complex dressage moves, or gallop over a course of solid cross-country fences.
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Can A horse Stop Before It’s Too Late?
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to exploit the nature of the horse, whether this is to take advantage of their willingness to please or whether they are scared into performing something they’re not comfortable with. For example, a horse can be coaxed over a jump that it finds frightening or intimidating, or can be beaten into pulling a heavy load up a steep hill.
It is this trainable nature that makes it possible to run a horse to death. A domesticated horse will follow the commands of its rider, often beyond its own physical capabilities. If you are lucky, this may just result in a horse that is overtired, but in some situations, the horse may collapse and die.
This concept may actually be more common than you first realize. The aim of equestrian sport is to push these elite athletes to the very limits of their capabilities. Whilst the vast majority of the time this leads to horses achieving some impressive feats, it can also lead to the death of the horse.
Horses are 200 times more likely to die as a result of excessive exercise than human athletes, and up to a quarter of all equine race, track fatalities are thought to be due to sudden athletic death. This phenomenon is not exclusive to race horses, and horses competing in other sports such as eventing and endurance racing can also be at risk.
What Happens When A Horse Is Run To Death?
When a horse is pushed beyond its physical capabilities, one of two things can happen. The cardiovascular and respiratory systems of the horse are working exceptionally hard when the horse is pushed to its limits. These two body systems are essential for providing the muscle tissue with oxygen as well as keeping the body organs functioning normally.
As the exercise levels of the horse are increased or extended, the cardiovascular and respiratory systems have to work harder and harder. If the horse is not allowed to rest then failure of one of these systems is inevitable.
One of the most common causes of death in racehorses is a condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH). This condition causes tiny blood vessels deep within the lung tissue to rupture, leading to uncontrolled bleeding and restricted breathing. If the high level of physical exertion is continued, the horse will not be able to breathe properly and will collapse and die.
The other thing that can happen when a horse is pushed beyond its physical capabilities is sudden cardiac arrest. This may be as a result of an exercise-induced arrhythmia, which is only seen at high-intensity exercise levels. Horses that suffer from a sudden cardiac arrest will collapse and quickly die.
We hope you will never attempt to push your horse to these sorts of limits of physical exercise! Following a sensible training and fitness program is the best way to keep your horse safe and healthy.
Summary – Running A Horse To Death
So, as we have learned, running a horse to death is sadly possible, and it does occasionally occur in some situations. Horses exert a huge amount of physical energy when they run at top speed, and the cardiovascular and respiratory systems have to work very hard to keep the internal organs functioning normally. When a horse is forced to run beyond its physical limits, it may collapse and die.
We know it’s not a happy topic, but we’d be interested to know what you think about running a horse to death. Have you ever witnessed a horse that has collapsed due to overwork? Or maybe you’re working on a training program with your horse and have some questions about the best way to build his fitness levels? Leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you!
Can horses' heart burst?
The heart of a horse is unlikely to burst, but a common cause of sudden death in horses is aortic rupture. The aorta is the main artery that leads away from the heart, distributing blood around the rest of the body. When this ruptures, internal bleeding occurs in the horse will quickly die.
How long can you run a horse before it dies?
The length of time that a horse can run before it dies will depend on the type of horse and its fitness levels, and the speed at which it is running will also be a factor. A fit racehorse can run for two to three miles without stopping. A top level endurance horse can cover up to 100 miles in a 24 hour period, as long as it gets regular breaks for rest, food, and water.
Is it possible to run a horse to death?
Unfortunately, it is possible to run a horse to death. Domesticated horses tend to follow the instruction of their rider, and will continue to run even when their physical capabilities have been exceeded. This will put considerable strain on the cardiovascular and respiratory system and cause the horse to ultimately collapse and die.
Kate Chalmers is a qualified veterinary nurse who has specialized in horse care for the vast majority of her career. She has been around horses since she was a child, starting out riding ponies and helping out at the local stables before going on to college to study Horse Care & Management. She has backed and trained many horses during her lifetime and competed in various equestrian sports at different levels.
After Kate qualified as a veterinary nurse, she provided nursing care to the patients of a large equine veterinary hospital for many years. She then went on to teach horse care and veterinary nursing at one of the top colleges in the country. This has led to an in-depth knowledge of the care needs of horses and their various medical ailments, as well as a life-long passion for educating horse owners on how to provide the best possible care for their four-legged friends.
Kate Chalmers BSc (Hons) CVN, Dip AVN (Equine) Dip HE CVN EVN VN A1 PGCE