VET’S DIARY: Putting theory into practice

Lameness in the forefoot is by far the most common unsoundness in the horse (>80 per cent).

When one considers how small the horse’s foot is relative to the body mass it is supporting at just rest, then add in the various forces that affect the foot with exercise, it’s remarkable that there are not more problems. Interestingly, 60 per cent of a horse’s weight is supported by the forelimbs, 40 per cent by the hindlimbs.

The equine department at Alnorthumbria Vets recently hosted a two-day course for 50 equine vets, nurses and receptionists who came from as far afield as Devon and Orkney. The topic was The Equine Foot, with emphasis on the importance of collaboration between the farrier, vet and client.

Specialist veterinary techniques were discussed including the developments in MRI of the horse’s foot. The detail of the images is fantastic and we can now diagnosis conditions we did not know existed 10 years ago!

MRI is most commonly performed in the standing horse under sedation. Metal horseshoes must be removed and it requires a great deal of patience.

Unfortunately MRI is not a ‘magic bullet’ and it will be used in conjunction with the more traditional methods of nerve blocking (localising the source of pain) and radiography still having a vital role to play.

Two master farriers led a discussion on advances in shoeing the horse and showed some remarkable video of lame horses becoming sound after having remedial shoes applied.

Practical sessions were held at our Fairmoor Equine Clinic, Morpeth, with our vets and nurses instructing. On the second afternoon, Martyn Johnson kindly hosted us at his fabulous new facility, the Alnwick Ford Equestrian Centre, for an enlightening session by Les Smith, world-class dressage judge and coach.

The very next morning I got to put these updated theories into practice. A normally extremely exuberant young pony was somewhat subdued and was thought to be lame. It quickly became evident that both front feet were painful as he picked his way across his grassy field. He was found to have warm feet, increased pulses to his feet and was sensitive to pressure across the toe.

A diagnosis of laminitis was made and strict instructions re management and treatment ensued. The lush grass and good feeding over the winter had led to the pony being overweight and insulin-resistant (as seen in type 2 diabetes in humans).

He is doing well if somewhat disgruntled with his weight-watchers’ diet! Although the grass is not very long, it is very high in sugars especially with the cold nights and sunny days we have been having, this combined with a hormone imbalance can lead to laminitis.

World-renowned farrier Jim Ferrie is talking on Remedial Farriery; how to keep your horse sounder for longer, on June 2, at Swarland Golf Club, 6pm, open to all. Please contact the surgery for further information and tickets.