March Musings with Dr. Andrea Dubé-Collum

March brought all kinds of interesting and exciting things to me, and the Nemarket practice. The March weather, save for a few fabulous days, was all Lion as far as I was concerned. So WET, and so COLD – combined! It’s odd that we got through most of the winter without any snow days and now, all of a sudden in March we are having ice storms, and thunder-snow. We all hope the clients got through all of the bad weather and power outages without too much trouble.  I’m very glad for the arrival of spring, and hopeful soon it will start feeling a little sunnier as the days go on, and continue to get longer.

Dr. Kathryn got home from showing and started back to work with us and we found out our tech Karen is pregnant (we’re so excited for Karen and Matt)! Last months wounds all continue to improve which is exciting, and perhaps, if they heal, we’ll have a couple of cool cases to share with you all next month (fingers crossed for continued smooth recoveries!).   One of our interesting wound cases was struggling so we chose to incorporate the use of sterile medical maggots to help clean up some of the necrotic (diseased or dying) tissue that we couldn’t easily access. Now, for the record, historically, I HATE MAGGOTS. If you call with a horse who has maggots somewhere, and I get called out to help, I will likely gag before I can get on with my work. That said, when it comes to garbage removal and cleanup, they are sometimes far better than any thing else we can offer.  Medical maggots need to be imported and shipped from California, so we were thrilled when they arrived alive, and delighted to see the improvement in the wound after they had done their work. See pictures and video below!

Caution: Video Contains Graphic Content.


In very early March, myself, Dr. Melissa McKee, and Dr. Megan Waller attended a great weekend seminar from one of the worlds premiere lameness vets. Dr. Sue Dyson lectured for 2 days on lameness, poor performance and manifestations of discomfort in sport horses. It was frankly a very enlightening weekend, and a great warm up amongst the vets as show season gets ready to begin.

A great deal of Dr. Dyson’s presentation was based on the subtle or performance lameness (those tricky grade 1/5 or less cases) and there was emphasis on how different types of pain can be manifested behaviourally (i.e. bucking or resisting), but actually can be proven and/or fixed temporarily with regional analgesia (blocking). There were many discussions on the importance of blocking for identifying a source of pain – including the benefits and pitfalls of the procedure as well as a few Guru practice tips! For me, one of the biggest take-home messages was how different conditions exacerbate or alleviate a horses’ clinical lameness or discomfort, and how looking at horses under multiple conditions really can improve the quality of information we glean from our exams.

A few thoughts to ponder:

In hand, horses are seen un-obstructed by a rider, tack or harness (and/or weight), and thus lameness issues are noted as the horse moves freely.  Changing conditions (lunging, travel on hard or soft ground, placing a surcingle, and even placing a bit or side reins) can affect the horse in negative or positive way, and thus observing the horse in a variety of conditions can sometimes give us additional information. For example:  A horse who is perfectly comfortable to travel in a straight line and on a lunge line that then becomes uncomfortable and starts bucking or crow hopping with the placement of a surcingle. What might this be telling us? Lameness is sometimes easier to see in hand because a great rider, or certain riding conditions have the ability to make the horse look better than it truly is, while a poor rider, poor fitting tack, or even difficult conditions can make a horse less sound instead.

Under tack exams are sometimes preferred, as subtle performance issues or lameness cannot be detected with the horse in hand alone (regardless of the surface; straight line or circle) – That’s to say that the horse looks sound in hand. Sometimes there are performance issues present that the rider feels, which are not seen, or are only noted under specific working conditions (the horse that is consistently missing or is late in his left-to-right lead change or the horse who tosses its head travelling right, but only under tack). Sometimes the issue only presents itself when there is weight on the horse, when there is weight in the saddle or when contact is collected. Similarly, harness horses may not display problems in hand, but at high speed or with weight behind them, small issues become exacerbated and become more visible to the veterinarian.

The reality is that there are benefits and drawbacks to every condition we may choose to examine a horse under, and different conditions can help or hinder our exam. Sometimes, we may only see something clinically if the conditions are optimized to bring out the issue, and sometime, it takes work, and time to get to the bottom of these “less than grade 1” or “just not right” cases. As spring gets going, and we all start working towards our summer riding goals, it’s good to keep in mind how different conditions affect your horse and what that might mean for your horses comfort and health!

Happy Spring!


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