Rehabilitation for horses is a rapidly evolving field with many alternative treatments now available. Often the road to recovery may seem daunting and that’s not just for the horse. “It can be demoralizing and stressful when your horse goes wrong,” says Emma Hawthorne of Flawborough Equine, “but injury treatment and prevention is all in the course of a day’s work to the team here. Working closely with vets and remedial farriers and a whole team of complementary therapists we are able to deliver effective bespoke rehabilitation solutions according to individual needs.”

8 year old grey KWPN gelding Pea had had a no-pressure winter hunting, hacking, focussing on flatwork and enjoying the odd XC schooling session and hadn’t taken a lame step at all. After a fairly warm start to March he just started to look un-level. There was nothing hugely obvious he was just a little bit “off”.

The benefits of Thermography (Thermal Imaging)

  • Accurately pinpoints injury
  • Allows for swift identification and treatment of trauma and injury
  • Measures both the benefits and effectiveness of treatment
  • Monitors recovery
  • Keeps horses in peak condition
  • Creates a library of information on the horse’s physiology
  • Identifies allergic reactions to products and medicine

Diagnosing the problem always has to precede the rehabilitation and as such Pea was booked into the Oakham Veterinary Hospital for Radiographs and a general once over. Vet, Rafael Domingo gave him a very thorough examination prior to the x-rays and was as puzzled as the rest everyone else. Typically wanting to please, Pea put in a textbook trot up and was totally level on the lunge…

The main motivation for the Radiographs was to make sure Navicular wasn’t the issue and the images showed that it wasn’t… Pea is conformationally weak foot-wise and the x-rays provided a fascinating outcome for the vets. To look at externally, most would think that it was the nearside fore that was causing the problems but the lameness presented in the off-side fore. Showing small signs of Arthritic changes in his fetlock lead the vets to advise injecting his coffin joints which seemed to subdue the lameness for a while.

Having ruled out Navicular the investigations moved on to looking at what other symptoms were presenting. The first step was to Thermal Image Pea, which would hopefully pinpoint where the issues may be. It is important to note here that Thermography cannot diagnose problems merely direct the professionals to where the issues might be. Pea’s images showed categorically that the problems originated in his feet, but were now radiating up his legs and across his back.

Equine Thermography is a noninvasive monitoring tool used to detect injury and illness through changes and irregularities to a horse’s thermal and neural pattern.

It uses the very latest infrared imaging equipment and computer software – and provides a quick and efficient way to identify trauma and injury.

By accurately pinpointing the location of an injury, Thermography can help to prevent further trauma and in Pea’s case it provided the first in a long line of the clues.

After studying the Thermal Images the decision was made to investigate his lower fore-limbs by means of Ultrasound Scans. Whilst a tendon injury wasn’t necessarily suspected, the scans were undertaken by way of a process of elimination as well as a method to ensure that the issues in the feet weren’t causing more serious problems in his legs. The scans were normal and so the investigations moved on.

Working on equine bodies as a whole, Equine Massage Therapist Gilliyan Carter-Morgan of Equine-Therapy UK, has proven to be a vital piece in the puzzle in many of the rehabilitation cases at Flawborough Equine. Providing an all over analysis of his general condition both muscularly and in terms of the secondary issues that were occurring because of his feet, Gilliyan could provide an in-depth report into Pea’s muscular health, suppleness and the issues that were being caused across his whole body. Pea’s poor confirmation meant that his Palmar Carpal Ligament was routinely “popping out” which in turn was causing a negative mechanical effect, meaning he was unable to put his foot down properly. Pea will continue to have regular sessions with Gilliyan to keep him in the best condition possible and to reduce the physical effects of the on-going problems within his feet.

Gerard Murtagh, an Equine Body Worker, provided the next piece in Pea’s puzzle. Using a unique hands-on system which addresses the whole of the horse’s body and by implementing specific manual palpation methods to assess soft tissue and the symmetry of muscle and structure, Gerard is able to pinpoint and often sort issues. Focussing on Pea’s fore legs Gerard could affirm the findings so far and concluded that it couldn’t be anything other than his feet. By utilizing detailed static and dynamic evaluation to inform veterinary practitioners and remedial farriers, Gerard employs different bodywork techniques including sports massage, soft tissue mobilization, stretching, range of motion and positioning exercises, as well as “focal” point work (stress and trigger points) which provide optimal physical support for horses working in every discipline.

Having received the report from Gerard further mobile x-rays were undertaken by Home Farm Equine and at the same time the services of one of the top remedial farriers in the country, Martyn Elliot from Retford, Notts were enlisted. Working together they were able to get the exact images that they needed to be able to see precisely what was causing Pea’s problems.

With the x-rays showing a slightly broken back Pedal bone and an unbalanced foot and lower leg, Martyn was able to begin the re-balancing process. Using digital support pads and dental impression material (Magic Cushion) to stabilise the Caudal (weight-baring) part of the foot and by forging and fitting bespoke medial extensions to the shoes, Pea’s lower limbs themselves are already much improved and beginning to strengthen.

Another treatment that has been integral in Pea’s progress has been his regular visits to the Cold Salt Water Spa at Flawborough. Sea water has long been used in the treatment of inflammation and injury in both humans and, according to Emma Hawthorne, Flawborough Equine proprietor, “horses are no exception.”

Spa therapy can accelerate healing and repair over a wide range of injuries of the lower limbs from tendon injuries to the most grotesque wounds. In a safe and controlled manner, equine hydrotherapy spas greatly intensify the natural healing effects of cold running sea water. The spa uses jets of aerated chilled saline water to reduce inflammation and speed up the healing process.

Other benefits of Hydrotherapy come with the relaxation that it encourages. Many horses use hydrotherapy as part of their weekly maintenance programme and for a wide range of competition horses, who work consistently at a level which puts strain not just on their physiology but also their mental fitness, Hydrotherapy is a tool which allows the horses to experience refreshment of body and mind. It allows them to lengthen their muscle fibres and return their bodies and minds to a natural equilibrium following intense exercise.

Equine Spas work on the lower legs, treating them with very cold salty water accelerating healing and repair due to a number of factors:

The water is kept at 2ºC which firstly takes out heat and inflammation but also means that when the horse leaves the Spa it promotes a big increase in circulation to the affected area. Salts act as a poultice and draw out infection, as well as creating an additional cooling effect and the depth of water applies pressure to the injured area working with aeration to massage the limbs which encourages circulation and healing.

Since Martyn first shod him, Gilliyan began her programme of regular treatments, Gerard gave his analysis, Home Farm Equine conducted the ultra sound scans and x-rays, Emma welcomed him to Flawborough Equine and allowed him to use the Spa on a regular basis and numerous therapy products have been trialled, tested and proven to work (including an FMBs Activo-Med Pulse Magnetic and Massage rug, EQ Streamz bands, invaluable Back on Track Mesh rug and Premier Equine Infrared leg wraps) at home, Pea has been between 95% and 100% sound and remains like that today.

Pea now has his own library of thermographs, scans and radiographs which is regularly referenced to show both how his legs and feet should and shouldn’t look. After every shoeing he is stronger and more balanced and that will continue until he is 100% sound at all times.

It takes a village to rehabilitate any horse, with each person playing their own part in the pie chart. Successful rehab could not be achieved without each and every one of them.


Animal Therapy Magazine