VET’S DIARY: Working with horses really is a risky business

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A recent study commissioned by the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) has found that being a horse vet in the UK appears to carry the highest risk of injury of any civilian occupation in the UK.

Quite a startling statement, putting us ahead of prison officers, construction workers et al, and a far cry from the romantic Herriot portrayal of a vet.

We can expect seven to eight work-related injuries that impede us from practising during a 30-year working life.

Currently the equine clinic is very busy with lameness investigations. A work-up of these cases involves a detailed limb and back examination.

Localisation of lameness often requires ‘nerve blocks’, which is the infiltration of local anaesthetic immediately adjacent to specific nerves to determine whether there is an improvement in the gait after the nerve block. This can be a particularly hazardous past time – carefully placing needles into hind limbs.

Needless to say, I was knee-capped a couple of weeks ago by a swift kick and was in need of a lameness investigation myself!

Research has shown that the use of trained assistance and sedative drugs when indicated reduce the risk significantly of injuries while examining and treating horses.

At Alnorthumbria Equine Clinic, we are fortunate enough to have a dedicated equine nursing team which allows us to fully investigate these cases regardless of the horse’s temperament in a calm, safe and efficient manner.

Despite these statistics, the majority of horse vets love their job and find their leisure time devoted to horses too.

The most recent British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) National Equestrian Survey (2010-11) indicated that 3.5 million people (six per cent of the GB population) have ridden a horse at least once in the past 12 months.

Recently our children have been bitten by the horse bug. Sunday afternoons may require out-of-training parents to run around a cross-country course with child and pony in tow to the cries of ‘Faster, Daddy!’.

Who would have thought five years ago that a Sunday afternoon would centre around a treasure hunt on horseback to celebrate a little friend’s birthday?

It’s been a very busy weekend on call this week and I have been predominately preoccupied with colics – horses suffering from abdominal pain.

Certainly this time of year we do tend to see an increased number of colic cases as the nights are drawing in and owners start to introduce hard feed and stable their horses for longer.

Assessment of colics includes a rectal examination to identify whether there is impacted ingesta, gas distension or displacement of a section of gut.

Once again finding yourself in a precarious situation, standing directly behind the hind legs of the horse, this is when many accidents happen.

Recommendations to minimise the risk of colic in the autumn include making any management, particularly dietary, changes very gradually.

Oscar Wilde said: “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.”

Well, with my father rediscovering his love for point-to-point riding last year (at the age of 62 and after a hip replacement!), do I have any hope of avoiding misadventures with horses?