13th August 2017
You know me, if someone says something I don’t agree with, I’m usually telling them so or putting pen to paper before they can get the last word out. So it is very out of character for me to reflect and consider my response for so long when somebody has upset me as much as I have been upset by those who made negative comments about me and Charlie, on social media, after Permian was killed last night.
I think ‘stunned’ is the best word to describe the way I felt when I realised that he had broken his leg and would not survive. Watching the race on television we could see that he was, as Charlie later said, running ‘a very disappointing race’ but there was no sign of anything untoward or indication that something was wrong. He went out of the picture before reaching the line and I got up and walked away without any thought that he might be injured.
Injuries are part and parcel of competitive sport, whether the participants are human or equine, and, of course, they are also part and parcel of life, particularly for animals whether they are racing or running loose in a field. I, having worked with horses for over thirty years, first as a practising veterinary surgeon and then as trainer, have seen more than most people and I have seen injuries from minor grazes to catastrophic fractures. Some horses, like some people, seem prone to injury and sometimes it is not coincidence that the same horse is injured again and again. People are quick to say of such horses that they have a ‘weak constitution’ or must have poor conformation but that isn’t necessarily the case: often it is the period of rest when recovering from one injury that makes the horse particularly at risk of another. Bone density and strength is lost rapidly during periods of rest or inactivity.
It is the horse that never needs a lay off that is least at risk of injury. Permian was such a horse. He never had to miss a day’s exercise due to lameness. He was always sound and didn’t even show any sign of stiffness or pain in our routine, post race, inspections. That is why the news that he had suffered a catastrophic fracture was such a shock to us all. It is a horrendous blow to a racing yard to lose its best horse but it was particularly bad because we were so unprepared for it. We never thought it would happen to him. We were already making plans for next year.
The phone was ringing before I had walked from my seat by the television to the door of the room and it was Charlie who said, ‘he’ll have to be put down, it’s not even a grey area’. He has been horribly misquoted by the media and others as saying ‘I had thirty seconds with him’, when the fact was that he was with him ‘in thirty seconds’ from the realisation that he had broken his leg. I believe that Charlie and Permian’s groom, Gavin Hardisty, were first to the horse and Frankie Dettori dismounted and went to the aid of William Buick. It was Charlie who made the decision that the horse must be euthanased there and then on the track rather than removed in an ambulance as some might have preferred. It was the right decision.
It never ceases to amaze me that animals, and particularly horses, can suffer horrendous injuries and show little or no sign of being in pain. The effect of endorphins and adrenalin on the flight animal – nature’s survival mechanism – is verging on miraculous but it doesn’t last long and Charlie did exactly as I would have done in ensuring that the horse was spared any suffering. A good decision.
The messages of condolence were rolling in by e mail, on Facebook, and on Twitter within minutes of the horse’s death and I can assure you that they are all greatly received. Sadly, in reading them, I couldn’t help but see the others from a minority who sought to blame me for the horse’s demise and accuse Charlie of callousness because he, to my mind, acted practically in the horse’s best interests rather than concern himself with the public perception of the event.
The number of negative comments was in single figures, amongst hundreds of genuine condolences, but they hurt nonetheless and not because there was any truth in them. I find it sad that people jump to the conclusion that an accident like this happens because of one too many runs. We all know that there is a risk of injury if you run and, if you run very fast the risk is increased. But we do not know that the risk on the eighth start is any greater than the risk on the first. It might even be that the risk is less if you go fast more often than it is if you have long gaps between racing. Some scientists are now suggesting that, to minimise the risk of injury, we should be working horses at maximum pace over a short distance every other day.
It is a very interesting subject and one that occupies a huge amount of my time but, frankly, I can do without the advice from those that know nothing about it and only put their brain into gear ten minutes after their lips start moving.
And, as to the one person who sought to blame William Buick because ‘surely he should have known something was wrong’, I wonder if he would keep going if he thought it likely that he was about to be catapulted into the ground from a horse travelling in excess of 30mph.
I have no complaints about anyone’s actions. I would employ the same team tomorrow in the full knowledge that nobody could do a better job.