Updated on 02/21/2017 4:45PM

Pelvic fracture contributed to Charismatic's death

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Barbara D. Livingston
Charismatic returned to the U.S. on Dec. 3 after end his stallion career in Japan.

Charismatic, the 1999 Horse of the Year and dual classic winner, died due to internal bleeding as the result of a pelvic fracture, Old Friends has confirmed following a complete necropsy.

Charismatic arrived at Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky., on Dec. 3, after spending more than a decade at stud in Japan. However, the 21-year-old stallion was shockingly found dead in his stall on Sunday morning, with no evidence of distress. Old Friends founder and president Michael Blowen said that Charismatic had been fine at night check the prior evening. Dr. Bryan Waldridge, the farm’s regular veterinarian, had found him in good health during a routine visit to the farm a few days before.

Waldridge and Dr. Rhodes Bell, who both practice at Park Equine Hospital, issued a joint statement on the results of the necropsy Tuesday.

"A necropsy performed at the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory revealed that Charismatic suffered a severe catastrophic fracture of his pelvis that resulted in fatal bleeding,” the statement read. “Pelvic fractures will in some cases also lacerate the large arteries of the pelvis and cause severe internal bleeding. Fatal pelvic fractures are uncommon and usually unforeseeable. It is not possible to know exactly how the injury happened or any factors that may have led to its occurrence."

In the case of a severe pelvic fracture in a horse, the horse generally becomes lame in the hind end swiftly or displays obvious swelling, raising the flag to a problem. However, lameness from a smaller, initially non-displaced fracture can be unobtrusive at first and sometimes can be misdiagnosed as a muscle injury. Even minor trauma – such as awkwardly getting up or lying down in the stall, becoming cast, or bumping a gate or wall – can cause a minor fracture to become more severe or displaced.

Surgical repair of pelvic fractures generally is not a realistic option, because of the location in the body and the heavy muscle mass and vasculature surrounding it. Absolute stall rest is generally the remedy, with many horses who have suffered minor fractures eventually able to resume work. However, internal hemorrhage is a feared complication, because bone can easily lacerate the important blood vessels, including the iliac artery, running near the bone structure.

Even in the case of immediate diagnosis, hemorrhage is difficult to overcome. One case in point was the late racemare Spanish Fern, who pulled herself up favoring her left hind leg immediately after the start of the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Churchill Downs. She was immediately immobilized for the pelvic fracture she sustained leaving the gate and treated for early signs of shock. At Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, she was given blood volume replacement and intravenous fluids. She was initially stabilized, but began bleeding internally again later that evening, causing her death.

“Fractures of the pelvis are occasionally seen in the horse as the result of trauma of muscular exertion during exercise,” Rood and Riddle’s Dr. Larry Bramlage, who was serving for the American Association of Equine Practitioners’ On-Call program, said at the time. “Fractures of the pelvis are seen in horses while racing, training, or while turned out in a field. The pelvis serves as the anchorage for all of the major musculature of the hind limb. … Fatal hemorrhage is a rare but well documented sequel of fracture of the pelvis in the horse. This is one of the situations where absolute bed rest is the prescription for stabilizing the hemorrhage and allowing the vessels to clot. Unfortunately this is not possible in the horse and they become victims of their innate desire to remain mobile and unrestrained in times of stress.”

Occasionally, the racehorse in question does not even exhibit signs of distress due to the initial fracture before collapsing due to internal bleeding or trauma. Indian Flare dueled on the lead of the 2007 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga before fading to finish last; she collapsed after the finish line. The filly did not exhibit lameness, and Dr. Anthony Verderosa, the chief examining veterinarian for the New York Racing Association, said it would have been difficult for jockey Javier Castellano to realize what was happening.