The last class…

Mom watching over my shoulder during treatment of the foal

It feels like forever ago that I was excited for my first day of vet school (you can read about it here) and what a feeling it was. I’m a little nostalgic as I read over my diary as I was so much younger and way more naïve back then.

It is the opposite today though, I am coming towards the end of my time as a vet student and that is scary. Today was my last ever class as a vet student so I am going finish as I started.

My last block of vet school is equine, and today was rescheduled from one of the earlier bank holidays this month. The class today was the examination of the distal limb of the horse.

We started with nerve blocks and the anatomical location of the nerves and where to inject the local anaesthetic to block the nerve. This can be used as a very useful tool to identify where a problem is in a horses leg as when you block the pain the lameness will decrease or vanish completely. This allows you to start with nerve blocks lower down moving higher up until you get rid of the lameness and tells you where to focus the rest of the exam whether that is radiography, ultrasound or arthroscopy.

After this we moved to dissection of the leg, looking at all of the important structures and how they connect together with the muscles tendons and ligaments. The equine leg is pretty impressive with how much strength it has and how fast it can move. This is largely due to the structure of the tendons which act almost as springs when they are loaded with a force.

The class finished with a live horse to do ultrasound of the tendons within the leg. This is one of the most common exams in horses and one of the easiest ways to look for problems with the tendons. It is possible to see many of the structures of the leg on the ultrasound machine and for any injury to the tendon is an extremely accurate way to determine the degree of damage.

It was a great last class, which combined theory with practice.

What You Should Know Before You Get A Horse

Horses in paddock

For many countryside homeowners, adopting a horse is a dream come true. The natural elegance of a horse attracts many animal lovers who research an animal that is both a way of making a statement as well as a fitness friend. After all, riding remains one of the most elegant and freeing activities that one can think of: Is there anything more attractive than riding through the countryside and jumping above obstacles like the hero of a Victorian novel? But, before you start choosing who should be your next equine friend, you should first consider what it really means to own a horse.

Foals Versus Adult Horses

The opinion is divided about what the best age is to adopt a horse. Indeed, older horses would have been pre-trained and will be easy to work with. They often come from riding clubs where they would have been used to work with children and adults of all riding levels. While this can make your life a lot easier, this also means that you will not be able to develop a bond as strong as those who choose to adopt a foal and train it themselves. However, adopting a foal can be a difficult experience at first, as youngsters tend to be unaware of the dangers around them and are more likely to get injured, and specifically to hurt their legs in the fence.

You will need to make sure that the place you keep your foal will be completely foal-proofed until the training is over.

Horse in its stable

You Need To Have The Right Gear And Stables

A horse requires regular care and maintenance and is much more demanding than other pets such as cats or dogs. As you plan to adopt a horse, you need to make sure that you have all you need to take care of it: Start with feeding equipment such as a feed tub and water trough! Then you also need to think about grooming and handling your horse with the purchase of a body brush, a mane comb, a halter-leather with a lead rope, and a hoof pick. Finally, unless you live in a place that has kept horses, you will need to find a way to build a stable: You can find beautiful stables that can be completely tailored to your terrain and your space, or you can even consider renting a box in an existing livery that is local to you.

Remember One Thing: This Is A Costly Pet

Adopting a horse is not like adopting a house pet: This is a costly investment, that will naturally be a rewarding experience as you start training and riding your horse, but you need to carefully plan it in your budget. Indeed, the cost of hay, straw and shavings to feed your horse throughout the cold months where there is no grass has to be planned alongside the cost of additional feeding requirements. You will also need to take an equine and livery insurance to protect your horse and the place where it lives at all times. Finally, further maintenance costs for the services of a farrier, dentist and a worming expert (who can be your vet) also need to be taken into consideration in your equine budget.

Respect the bones (Day -293)

Vet School Bones and Skeletons

Unfortunately today started badly with a me walking into a resus this morning, sadly the prognosis once an animals heart stops is very very poor. Even when we are able to get an animal back after their heart stops it is a low chance that the animal will leave the hospital alive.

However today is not about that – today is about something a lot more amazing. The bones of the body are probably one of the least understood yet most important parts of nature. There is a lot that can go wrong with bones and a lot of causes of diseases related to the bones.

Whilst there is well established procedures and techniques for dealing with things like fractures, and now even joint replacement. There is little to understanding the way bones grow.

We’ve got a new European Diplomat in Equine Surgery on staff at the vet school and today he gave a lecture looking at skeletal diseases in foals. Now when you consider that horses often have to grow to support 500kg of weight you realise just how important the skeleton is. However when growing, and in fact even during development within the womb bones develop sometimes in ways that will not be compatible with carrying that weight.

I know some of the equine surgical procedures, however I was amazed to learn that if done in the right place at the right time you can simply change the way a bone grows simply by sticking a needle into it. Whilst this is a crazy idea, it gets worse in that no one actually understands why it happens that way. Why does a needle stimulate bone to grow faster?

This is actually therapy used in foals when the leg is not straight to correct the angle the leg grows at because one side of the bone is growing faster than the other. And you would be right in thinking if we can speed up the growth on one side to fix the problem = what about slowing it down on the other side?

So to understand this you need to know that growing bones have two separate parts at every joint. There is the shaft of the bone which is the long bit, and at each end of this there is a separate part called the growth plate. Now the bone grows longer by growth between the shaft and the growth plate until the animal is mature and then these parts fuse together to form the normal end of the bone seen in adults.

Originally it was actually all about slowing down the growth on the side that grew too fast. Initially this was by using screws and wire to compress the growth plate. This worked however was not great to have things sticking out the side of the bone, so now is done using a single screw placed between the shaft of the bone and the growth plate.

Now doing this will slow down the speed of growth on that side of the bone – downside is that you need a second surgery to remove the screw. This is why it’s better to speed up growth of the other side.

This single lecture left me with so many questions… What else can we use to affect bone growth? Will laser affect it? Why does it speed up growth with needles? How do we know when this happens? Can this be used in animals other than horses?