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The Equine Heart: Function, Malfunction and Sudden Death

A horse’s ability to amplify his heart rate during exercise to nearly 10 times greater than his resting rate is a key reason for his athletic prowess.

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By: Kimberly French |

On November 6, 2011, Hickstead collapsed shortly after he and Eric Lamaze completed their first round at the Rolex Grand Prix of Verona CSI in Italy. Despite instant medical attention from several veterinarians, the 15-year-old Dutch warmblood stallion would never again rise to his feet. After a necropsy was performed, it was determined that Hickstead had succumbed to an aortic aneurysm. The physical capabilities of the equine heart are extraordinary. A horse’s ability to amplify his heart rate during exercise to nearly 10 times greater than his resting rate is a key reason for his athletic prowess. But functional or structural abnormalities can occur. “Next to respiratory and musculoskeletal disorders, cardiac disease represents the third most important cause of loss of performance in horses,” says Dr. Robert Gilmour, DVM, of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. A powerful pumping machine A horse’s heart is roughly the size of a large melon and…

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