Lameness in the Gaited Horse


Approximately 40 participants gathered at the Table Topic discussion on Lameness in the Gaited Horse, which took place at the 2008 American Association for Equine Practitioners convention, held Dec. 6-10 in San Diego, Calif. Facilitators opened the floor with a brief explanation of the AAEP Tennessee Walking Horse Task Force's white paper, Putting the Horse First: Veterinary Recommendations for Ending the Soring of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Monty McInturff, DVM, of Tennessee Equine Hospital in Thompsons Station, Tenn., explained as members of the AAEP, attendees should all stand behind this work that will be the model for elimination of soring in the Tennessee Walking Horse. There were comments from practitioners representing both the Morgan and American Saddlebred Horse breeds, stating that they had heard many positive breed industry comments in support of this white paper. Everyone in the room showed support for maintaining the welfare of all gaited breeds.

The next topic of discussion focused on stifle lameness. John Bennet, DVM, of Bell Buckle, Tenn., explained the presentation of this lameness, which can be as subtle as a momentary patellar fixation (hitching) or a full patellar lock. He stated that this is most commonly seen in young horses without proper muscle development or animals with some underlying condition. The first diagnostic step is to determine if the stifle is radiographically normal (showing no signs of osteochondrosis dissecans or degenerative joint disease). If it is normal, the options are physical therapy with regular work schedules, injections to stimulate the patellar ligament, or surgical intervention.

The two surgical techniques discussed were patellar ligament fenestration and patellar ligament desmotomy. Fenestration can be performed on the standing horse with sedation and a local analgesic. Veterinarians can perform the procedure with a 16-gauge needle or a #15 scalpel blade, making multiple stab incisions along the full length of the medial patellar ligament. The desmotomy is also performed with standing sedation and a local cutting of the medial patellar ligament at the level of its insertion.

Mike Harry, DVM, of Elk Valley Equine in Fayetteville, Tenn., stated that in his opinion the key to success with both techniques is a limited walking program over a six-week period. Trying to get these horses in full work too quickly can be detrimental to the long-term health of the equine athlete.

Other topics discussed were soft tissue injury and early stages of laminitis in the show horse. Everyone in attendance agreed that high suspensory desmitis in the rear legs is one of the most difficult conditions to maintain. They discussed the use of platelet rich plasma (PRP), stem cell, and steroid-type injections. There were reports of mixed success with all these techniques. There were also some positive comments made about surgical intervention using the fasciotomy with neurectomy.

In the discussion of laminitis the panel recommended taking periodic radiographs to monitor changes in the hoof capsule. If signs of laminitis are visible, corrective shoing along with rest to stabilize the foot is necessary. Everyone agreed that the foundered horse should not continue to show.

The meeting ended with Tracy Turner, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, of Anoka Equine Veterinary Services in Elk River, Minn., inviting everyone to stay for a presentation on the use of thermography in evaluating the Tennessee Walking Horse both pre- and post-show. He stated that this would be a screening tool to aid the inspection process at shows in the coming year.

This Table Topic was facilitated by John Bennet, DVM, and Monty McInturff, DVM.

About the Author

Monty McInturff, DVM

Monty McInturff, DVM, is managing partner at Tennessee Equine Hospital, a multidisciplinary practice with a focus on performance- horse medicine located in Thompson's Station, Tenn. He joined the TEH in 1991 and has since helped grow it into a state-of-the-art diagnostics facility with a full-care equine hospital and ambulatory service. McInturff has a specialty interest in sports medicine and maintenance of the equine athlete. He earned his veterinary degree from Auburn University.

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