Damage found in the bit area of most Finnish trotters

In a Finnish study, damage was found in the part of the mouth affected by the bit in more than 80% of trotters examined after a race. However, such damage is easily overlooked due to being out of sight.

“Soft tissue damage associated with the bit is a common concern in the equine world, but no prior studies on the topic have been carried out among trotters in Finland. This is why we surveyed the oral health of trotters after a race as part of a welfare project coordinated by Suomen Hippos, the Finnish trotting and breeding association,” says veterinarian Kati Tuomola, a doctoral student at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Helsinki.

A total of 261 randomly chosen horses between 3 and 15 years of age were examined for the purposes of the study. The horses took part in 115 races in 10 different meetings at four tracks in western Finland. Of the total, 78 were Finnhorses, an indigenous coldblood breed, while 151 were warmbloods and 32 ponies. Each horse was only examined once in the study. Of the 261 horses examined, 84% had injuries in the bit area. According to the classification used in the study, 21% of the horses had mild lesions, 43% moderate lesions and 20% severe lesions.

Blood-tinged saliva was observed in 2% of the horses outside the mouth, in addition to which 5% had blood on their bit. Blood-tinged saliva is an indicator routinely monitored by veterinarians at trotting meetings.

The Finnish trotting and breeding association Suomen Hippos instructs that should blood be observed before a race, the horse must be examined and, when necessary, removed from the competition. If blood is observed after a race, the horse is to be examined and a temporary suspension as well as a veterinary examination can be imposed before registering the horse for future meetings is allowed.

“Oral examinations require a headlamp and nimble hands, but other than that the procedure is fairly easy. Examining the mouth only takes a couple of minutes, something that could be done by the horse’s caretaker or trainer as part of their weekly care routines,” Tuomola says.

“Our findings are in line with a handful of previously completed studies. However, comparisons are difficult without the establishment of a standardised system of classification for injuries. This is why we hope that the system developed by Kati Tuomola in this study, which is suited for use in the field, will make it easier to conduct comparative research,” says Professor Anna Valros from the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Helsinki. 

The study was carried out collaboratively by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Helsinki, and Suomen Hippos, the Finnish trotting and breeding association.

Original research article:

Kati Tuomola,  Nina Mäki-Kihniä, Minna Kujala-Wirth,  Anna Mykkänen &  Anna Valros. Oral lesions in the bit area in Finnish trotters after a race: lesion evaluation, scoring and occurrence. Frontiers in Veterinary Science 2019. | doi: 10.3389/fvets.2019.00206 (open access)

More about trotting races

With the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, trotting races are held in Finland every day of the year. In addition to racing with carts, trotting also entails le trot monté racing, or trotting with a saddle, and pony races. In Finland, coldblood Finnhorses race separately in their own races.

Roughly 6,600 horses and a little under 2,000 drivers participate in races held in Finland. Annually, more than 600,000 people come to watch the competitions at the trotting tracks, in addition to which the meetings can be followed on television and oline.

After France, Italy, Sweden and Norway, Finland is Europe’s fifth-largest trotting country. On the other continents, the principal trotting countries include the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

Every year, some 60,000 trotting races are held globally, with the total prize money comprising approximately €485 million.

Source: Suomen Hippos Oy