Veterinarians Begin Testing New Equine Recovery Device

A version of a device designed to help brain injured and bariatric human patients to move more freely might also be used to assist down horses recovering from injury and surgeries.

"We were doing applications to support a 1,000-pound person," said Ken Messier, president of Enduro Medical Technology (EMT), the Connecticut-based developer of the Secure Ambulation Module, a walker system that allows otherwise recumbent (down and unable to rise) patients to stand safely. "Then a local veterinarian asked if we can support a 1,000-pound human, why not a 1,100-pound horse?"

According to Messier, the NEST (which stands for NASA Equine Support Technology) renders equine patients virtually weightless via a sling and electronic system that lifts horses at the hips and shoulders. The system utilizes short pieces of flexible cable to absorb 98% of the horse's kinetic energy. The cables can be activated independently to remove weight from any one of a horse's four legs without overloading the others.

Test horse

Test horse "Sparky" levitates in a NEST system. Trials with live horses are underway.

The system so far has been tested for use while inducing anesthesia in horses. But Messier said it might also have applications for use in surgeries and long-term recovery.

"In recovery, horses can remain in the system for between six and eight weeks," he said.

But some veterinary practitioners are skeptical.

"Horse support goes back hundreds of years and always involves skeletal support," said John Madigan, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, director of the large animal hospital at the University of California, Davis, and co-developer of the Anderson sling. This sling is a skeletal harness system that supports horses in medical situations. Madigan questioned whether the NEST can be used long-term without complications.

"Pressure points and problems with circulation could be an issue if horses are suspended for six to eight weeks," he pointed out.

Chris Johnson, DVM, of the Woodford Equine Hospital in Versailles, Ky., who will perform some of the clinical trials utilizing the NEST, also has questions.

"We want to know how horses breathe in the NEST, and what happens if they flail coming out of anesthesia," Johnson said. "We also want to look at how the pulley blocks absorb heat from the kinetic energy."

Johnson's NEST trials are expected to being shortly. Meanwhile, Messier is in talks with Tufts University to develop veterinary protocols for the device.

Whatever the results, Johnson believes the NEST could have potential.

"If this thing does what it's supposed to do, it will change the way we recover horses," he said.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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