In February of 2021, Baby Girl Horse Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch in Fellsmere, Florida, rescued six Belgian Draft Horses that were headed for slaughter after a life of neglect. Ezekiel, known as “Zeke”, was one of the gentle giants who rescue organizer Van DeMars described as still having spirit in his eyes despite his desperate condition. “When I found out about Zeke, I insisted on buying him even if it was only to give him some care and then have to put him down humanely,” DeMars reflected. “I just did not want him to have to make the long, hard trip past the border to die a scary death.”
Zeke was suffering from a severely swollen, actively infected, and draining wound on his left front leg. He was lame at the walk and in evident pain and discomfort. Once Zeke arrived at the rescue, their veterinarian Dr. Karie Vander Werf took radiographs that painted a grim picture. The radiographs showed a metal wire had been wrapped around Zeke’s pastern bone, deeply embedded through the soft tissue and into the bone. She then immediately referred Zeke to board-certified surgeon Dr. Weston Davis for surgery at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.
Once Zeke arrived at Palm Beach Equine Clinic, Dr. Weston Davis, assisted by Dr. Sidney Chanutin, took additional radiographs to thoroughly assess the location and depth of the wire. “The radiographs confirmed a metal object was circumferentially wrapped around the mid-pastern bone, embedded into the soft tissue and remodeled the bone itself,” Dr. Chanutin revealed. On February 24, Zeke was put under standing sedation, given a local nerve block, and the wire was carefully extracted by Dr. Davis.
“Had the wire not been removed when it was, the infection would have continued to proliferate,” said Dr. Chanutin. “The infection and invasion of the wire into the soft tissue and pastern bone could have potentially cut Zeke’s life short.”
While neither the rescue nor the veterinarians could tell with certainty how this had happened to Zeke, it was apparent by the location and way the wire was twisted that it was likely placed there intentionally. It was clear the wire had been embedded into Zeke’s pastern for months, based on the level of bone remodeling that had taken place.
Reflecting on how he felt dropping Zeke off for surgery, DeMars said, “I was afraid but was very confident in Dr. Davis. I knew that if anyone could get that wire out and give Zeke a chance to have a normal life, it would be him. Later that evening, I got a text of a picture of the wire and I was in shock that they had already gotten it out so fast. I was elated beyond belief.”
Remarkably, Zeke’s stay at the Palm Beach Equine Clinic hospital was less than 48 hours. He was then transferred to Dr. Vander Werf’s farm for aftercare, which included daily bandage changes, antibiotics, and wound care.
It only took a few weeks post-surgery for Zeke to finally experience pain-free days at Dr. Vander Werf’s facility. “He’s been a sweet boy through all of this, but only a day or two after the surgery, we really got to see his personality,” DeMars said. “He’s just a mischievous boy who even busted into Dr. Vander Werf’s feed room and is best friends with a little mini pony. We know he must have been in intense pain because he has become a completely different horse now.”
In early April, Zeke was able to arrive at his new home of Baby Girl Horse Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch. The group of Belgian Draft Horses rescued alongside Zeke have come to be known as the “Titans.” They are destined to be part of the Titan Project, an endeavor to provide equine assisted therapy for veterans and first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other related issues.
“Zeke is quite famous now, especially among the veterans,” explained DeMars. “People who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are able to derive strength through Zeke’s story and many have been reaching out through social media asking when he’s coming home so they can come see him. So, his future job is just to be groomed and taken care of. He’s going into retirement to be spoiled.”
The veterinary team at Palm Beach Equine Clinic is dedicated to protecting and providing the best possible outcome for every patient. Through swift action by the rescue and expert veterinary and surgical care, Zeke now has a new purpose and will live out his days in a safe, healthy environment. In the wake of Zeke’s immense suffering, he is now miraculously on the path to paying it forward by providing veterans and first responders the relief and support they need.
For more information or to support Zeke by donating to Baby Girl Horse Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch, go to https://www.facebook.com/Babygirlhorserescueranch.
Veterinary Medical Manipulation Case Study
When the “chiropractor” visits the barn to adjust your horse, what’s really being done is called veterinary medical manipulation, which Dr. Ryan Lukens, DVM, CVMMP, of Palm Beach Equine Clinic defines as the art of improving motion at segmental levels, including bones, the supporting soft tissue structure, and nerves. The ultimate goal of veterinary medical manipulation is to allow free movement throughout the horse’s body by restoring normal range of motion.
The way Dr. Lukens determines what specific segments to manipulate is by motion palpation, or by examining for a decrease in motion. Not only does this have the ability to relieve pain and soreness, but it also reduces the chance of horses having to physically compensate for an area of their body that may not be functioning properly. This act of compensating for being off balance is a frequent cause of sport horse injuries. Regular adjustments by a certified veterinary medical manipulation practitioner helps the horse to maintain their natural balance and full range of motion to perform at the best of their ability.
Medical manipulation can benefit every horse, from miniature pasture pets to grand prix equine athletes. In addition to improving their range of motion, adjustments can help calm nerves associated with the “fight or flight” instinct. This can lead to calming effects across various bodily systems such as neutralizing stomach acids, lowering blood pressure and cortisol, and strengthening the immune system.
One notable case Dr. Lukens recalls involved a nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding was training at Third Level dressage. The horse was roughly 300 pounds overweight and was too head shy to even have a fly mask put on. Under work, it presented with right front limb lameness and stiffness on the left while traveling left. Balance is essential for dressage, and this horse struggled with its natural balance.
The horse showed severe cavitation of the muscling in its neck at the first evaluation. The divots seen in the neck indicate the atrophy of the paracervical muscles which is not normal. Though circumstances like this are seen often, it can be a sign that the horse’s nerves are not functioning properly, and that the muscles are suffering. When adjusting the horse, Dr. Lukens found that the horse had restricted movement at the poll and cervical vertebrae 5, 6, and 7 to the left, which essentially covers the whole lower neck on that side, and the sixth cervical vertebrae on the right side.
The horse tolerated the adjustments and was more welcoming to hands on the neck, face, and ears after the manipulations Dr. Lukens performed. Four weeks later, after just two sessions, the muscles appeared more filled out in the neck, signaling improvement. On the left side of the neck, the muscle mass became very convex, signifying proper muscle tone. Dr. Lukens adjusted only the head and neck while treating the horse to see what changed and how the horse performed before making further adjustments. The horse lost about 100 pounds of fat with training, and the right front lameness improved without any other treatment or medical manipulation.
“The diagonal lameness that this horse presented could have been the result of lower cervical pain,” said Dr. Lukens. “The underdevelopment of the muscles of the cervical region that support the scapula was a large clue to the primary problem of this horse’s lameness.”
“Restrictions in the cervical region can cause the horse to keep its head in an extended position and decrease the range of motion within the facet joints of the vertebrae. This decrease, along with local inflammation and the overall restricted range of motion, causes a decrease in the frequency of nerve firings. Nerves that are not firing properly can lead to cartilage degeneration, adhesions, and decreased circulation,” he continued.
Often issues a horse presents physically can be tied back to its inability to access its full range of motion. It is important to have horses routinely examined by a certified veterinary medical manipulation practitioner to ensure proper range of motion, especially if they have demanding jobs that could exacerbate minor injuries with continued work. Dr. Lukens believes that a veterinarian trained in medical manipulation is the safest choice for the horse.
“A veterinarian’s extensive knowledge of anatomy and understanding of when not to adjust a horse is key. Medical manipulation is a safe treatment if performed by the correct practitioner under the correct circumstances. A veterinarian can use a whole-body approach to treating lameness or enhancing performance while ensuring the horse’s safety and well-being.”Dr. Lukens
To learn more about veterinary medical manipulation or to schedule an evaluation for your horse, contact Palm Beach Equine Clinic by calling 561-793-1599.
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In January of 2020, Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian and board-certified surgeon Dr. Weston Davis performed colic surgery on Bull Run Jumpers Prince of Peace. Piloted by Kristen VanderVeen, “Prince” has proven he has fully recovered and is back in peak condition in August of 2020 by claiming the top spot in the $36,600 Traverse City Speed Classic CSI3* at the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival.
Congratulations to this fantastic pair from the entire PBEC Team!
Palm Beach Equine Clinic is incredibly proud to have been entrusted with the health and well-being of Prince and numerous other colic surgery patients who have gone on to make full recoveries, returning to training and competing as they were before the colic.
Each colic surgery case has its own specifics, and during Prince’s recovery, he particularly benefited from strategic veterinary use of the regenerative therapy RenoVo to strengthen the abdominal wall at the surgical incision. Dr. Davis adjusted Prince’s recovery plan as he returned to more intense exercise by using this regenerative medicine to provide some cellular scaffolding and growth factors to encourage proper tissue repair of the abdominal wall.
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Racehorse Bella Ciao Undergoes Surgical Repair
Trainers Alessandro and Antonio Sano reviewed a daunting x-ray on the morning of April 19, 2019. Their three-year-old Thoroughbred filly Bella Ciao, owned by Cairoli Racing Stable and Magic Stables LLC, had just finished a breeze in 49 seconds flat when she suffered a fracture in her right front leg.
She exited the track at Gulfstream Park West, her home racecourse in Miami Gardens, FL, with her racing fate hanging in the balance.
“She is a tough filly with a lot of heart, and she walked herself back to the barn where we had x-rays taken,” said Alessandro, who met with the track veterinarian right away to identify the problem. “When we saw it, we were nervous that she was headed to the breeding shed, and her career was over.”
Alessandro and his father, however, were not willing to give up on their special filly. They entrust Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s board-certified surgeon, Dr. Robert Brusie, with care of their entire string of racehorses, and quickly decided to send the x-rays for his review. Dr. Brusie quickly identified a condylar fracture and advised a surgical repair. Immediately after her diagnosis was confirmed, Bella Ciao made her way to the Hospital at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.
Identifying a Condylar Fracture
A condylar fracture is a repetitive strain injury that results in a fracture to the cannon bone above the fetlock. The fracture is a result of excessive strain and weight carried over the cannon bone during high-speed exercise. It emerges from the fetlock joint running laterally up or medially out the side of the cannon bone, essentially breaking off a corner of the bone.
“A condylar fracture is a disease of speed,” said Dr. Brusie. “A condylar fracture was once considered the death of racehorses. As time and science progressed, it came to be considered merely career-ending. Currently, veterinary medical sciences are so advanced that we have had great success with condylar fracture patients returning to full work.
“Luckily, with today’s advanced rehabilitation services, time, and help from mother nature, many horses can come back from an injury like this. My prognosis for Bella Ciao after surgery was very good,” said Dr. Brusie.
Dr. Brusie performed Bella Ciao’s surgery and inserted five screws to repair the fracture.
From left to right: Digital radiographs show the condylar fracture to the right front leg, and the five screws that completed the surgery.
“He does an excellent job with all of our horses. We wanted to give it a shot for Bella Ciao, and it paid off,” said Alessandro. He and his father, Antonio, have worked with Dr. Brusie on many horses, including a past Kentucky Derby runner and horses winning in excess of million-dollar purses. “He told us that she would be back to the track, so we followed his instructions perfectly.”
Back On Track
Dr. Brusie prescribed stall rest and hand walking for the first several months of Bella Ciao’s recovery. She slowly began jogging, and then breezing.
On October 27, 2019, she returned to the track in a $45,000 Allowance race. With Leonel Reyes up in the irons, Bella Ciao made her comeback in storybook fashion by winning that race and coming out fit, sound, and healthy. Now a four-year-old, Bella Ciao won again on April 30, 2020, and most recently placed third in a $60,000 race on June 27.
“While treatable, a condylar fracture is not an easy injury to come back from, but Dr. Brusie is one of the best surgeons in the country, and we trusted him,” said Alessandro, who has been working with Dr. Brusie since he and his father moved their business from Venezuela to the U.S. in 2010. “She recovered brilliantly, and we could not be happier with how she is going now. She is a special filly, and we are thrilled that we took this chance on her.”
Palm Beach Equine Clinic helps one mini donkey survive a roller coaster of health concerns
The popular veterinary adage, “if only they could just tell us how they feel,” never rang more true than in the case of an 11-year-old miniature donkey mare named Madison. Owned by Sariah Hopkins, “Madi” came to Palm Beach Equine Clinic by referral and was diagnosed with hyperlipemia, a common issue in miniature donkeys. Madi’s case, however, was never exactly how it seemed.
Hopkin’s describes Madi as the “center of attention.” Rescued from an animal hoarding situation by Safe Harbor Sanctuary in Nashville, TN, where Hopkins serves on the Board of Directors, Madi was officially adopted by Sariah and her husband Joel in 2015.
“She was one of 40 horses and donkeys being kept on four acres of land,” said Sariah, who relocated to Juno Beach, FL, with Madi in tow in 2018. “She has always had a super sweet, calm personality, but likes to kick up her heels. We’ve done behavioral health therapy work with foster children and she makes everyone who meets her fall in love. She is so engaging.”
After trading Tennessee for Florida, Madi didn’t adjust to her change in environment with ease. According to Sariah, a systematic decline in her health started while the mare tried to adjust to a new barn, environment, farrier, and life. “She was depressed,” said Sariah. “She wasn’t her bright-eyed self. She’s a donkey and she will eat anything so when she went off her grain and refused alfalfa, I called a local vet to pull fluids and run blood work.
“I reviewed the results with my vet in Tennessee who knows Madi and her history,” continued Sariah. “They were catastrophically bad, and she told me I needed to get Madi to a clinic immediately. I was referred to Palm Beach Equine Clinic by my friend Nataliya Boyko. Within minutes, I was on the phone with her vet, Dr. Bryan Dubynsky, and soon after we were on our way.”
Once Madison arrived at Palm Beach Equine Clinic, she was treated primarily by Dr. Abby Berzas and overseen by Dr. Dubynsky. They diagnosed her with hyperlipemia, and she remained at the clinic for two weeks.
Hyperlipemia is a common metabolic disease of ponies, miniature horses, and donkeys. In affected patients, an increase in serum triglyceride concentrations (hypertriglyceridemia) puts them at risk for liver failure, renal failure, and multiorgan dysfunction that can ultimately lead to death.
Genetically, donkeys are designed to live in harsh environments with poor-quality forage. As a result, they tend to put on weight and gain excess fat reserves when living on relatively lush pasture. Unfortunately, when they stop eating for any reason – usually stress induced – hyperlipemia may develop due to a ‘negative energy balance’ where more energy is being used than is being taken in through eating. The essential organs of the body still require a food supply, so it uses the energy that has been stored as fat deposits. The result is that free fatty acids are circulated to the liver and converted to glucose for use by the body.
However, donkeys are not able to efficiently turn off this fat release. The blood soon fills up with excess fat in circulation, causing them to become very sick and uncomfortable. This circulating fat is measured in the blood as triglycerides.
Madison’s case presented as a severe spike in triglycerides, which can be reduced by introducing sugars into the system. The sugar causes the body to release insulin and drive the triglycerides down.
“She responded well the first day, but we didn’t see the improvement that we would have liked or that she needed,” said Dr. Berzas. “We started more aggressive treatments the following day with insulin therapy and antibiotics. The dextrose caused a physiological increase in insulin, but it wasn’t enough. As soon as she had insulin therapy her triglyceride levels started coming down. They decreased significantly and she started eating again.”
Madison remained on insulin therapy for a week and was evaluated hourly by Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarians to monitor the possibility of hypoglycemic shock. When Madison was able to eat regularly and maintain low triglyceride levels without any help, she was discharged.
“I had access to Madi daily, and we made the most of her time in the hospital with long hand walks, grazing, and relaxing in her stall,” said Sariah. “I got updates from the clinic every two to three hours when I wasn’t there, and without any more clinical signs, she appeared to be improving.
“But, when I got her home she still was not herself,” continued Sariah, who spent hours sitting in Madi’s stall with her. She moved home to Sariah and Joel’s private farm while they did all they could to eliminate the stress that had supposedly led to Madi’s condition. “She was good for 24 to 48 hours and then would slide backwards again. One afternoon, I was sitting in her stall and she had a coughing fit that I was able to video. I sent it to [Dr. Berzas] and she came out to the farm to check on Madi.”
Dr. Berzas performed a thoracic ultrasound and spotted comet tails in her lungs, leading to one thing: pneumonia.
“We were wracking our brains to figure out what the original stressor might have been that led to the hyperlipemia, but Madi did not display any signs of pneumonia at the clinic and did not cough once,” said Dr. Berzas. Then, there it was! Donkeys are stoic, tough animals, and sometimes they don’t give us traditional clinical signs.”
While hyperlipemia was the result, pneumonia was the cause.
“Cortisol, also known as the ‘stress hormone’ has a vast array of effects within the body, and it is one of the first triggers for the body to recruit energy from the its peripheral stores,” explained Palm Beach Equine Clinic Internal Medicine Specialist Dr. Peter Heidmann. “It minimizes discomfort and increases blood pressure and metabolic rate, basically saying, ‘Now is not the time to conserve energy for the future. I need energy now in order to survive.’ In Madison’s case, the infection prompted the body to need more than average energy – it needed extra fuel to fight the infection.”
The typical diagnostic procedure for pneumonia is a tracheal wash procedure, but after consulting with Dr. Heidmann, Dr. Berzas elected to try and mitigate any further stress on Madison by choosing a less invasive procedure. Instead, Dr. Berzas used a special stylette that allowed them to go through the nasal sinuses and cleanly aspirate back cellular fluid for analysis. This option is called a Bronchoalveolar Lavage (BAL), and is most typically used for diagnosing cell types in the lungs.
“After culturing her fluid aspirate, she went back on antibiotics and responded well,” said Dr. Berzas. “She also had nebulizer treatments that delivered antibiotics directly to the lungs, which is the best way to treat the infection.”
One month after the pneumonia diagnosis, Sariah was proud to report that Madi had made a full recovery. “When we brought her in that first day, we frankly were getting ready to say goodbye,” said Sariah. “We were devastated, and Dr. Dubynsky agreed to try and save Madi. Thank goodness he did!”
Once the pneumonia was cleared, Madi’s routine returned to normal and the hyperlipemia was no longer an issue. Today, Madi is happily running Sariah and Joel’s farm.
“Palm Beach Equine Clinic treats some of the top sport horses in the world, but I feel that Madi – a very special donkey – received the same treatment. Dr. Berzas was 100% available to me, and she championed Madi. I could not be more thankful to her and the entire team of veterinarians and staff who rallied around our Madi.”Sariah Hopkins
“When we have a case that’s particularly challenging to diagnose,” Dr. Berzas remarked, “it just reminds us of how fortunate we are to be part of a team of specialists. At Palm Beach Equine Clinic, we are able to tap into the knowledge and experience of our fellow veterinarians from different specialties, and really deliver that value for the patient.”
Sariah chronicled Madi’s condition and recovery on her Facebook page, developing quite a fan base for the little donkey. Madi’s story is far from over, but now she’s telling it herself and can be followed on Facebook as @MadisonJoelleDonk.
When Jennifer Penn learned that her horse Belle was in the beginning stages of a bout with colic in February, she knew she was not ready to say goodbye to her beloved horse. The 33-year-old American Quarter Horse named “Wagners Mint Joker”, but known to Penn and her family as Belle, was the horse of a lifetime.
Penn’s mother, Becky Seton, and late grandfather, Bob Lowery, both of Vero Beach, FL, purchased a then 12-year-old Belle for Penn in 1998. “We were both 12-years-old and it was a match made in heaven,” recalled Penn. “I had outgrown my show pony, so it was time to look for an all-around horse that I could show and have fun with. I am an only child, so she is like a sister to me. As I grew up, I experienced life right alongside her.”
Belle quickly lived up to her reputation as an all-around horse, actively competing with Penn at AQHA breed shows, open and 4-H circuits throughout Florida, show jumping events, and they excelled in western trail competitions. Belle even pulled a cart for a time!
When Penn was 18, she started her own lesson program with Belle at the helm. “Belle provided a solid foundation for many riders, both young and old,” she said. “She not only taught me how to become a horsewoman, but she has also impacted so many young people’s lives and taught them showmanship skills. She’s special to me and my mother Becky, but also to so many people who have gone on to become very successful horsemen and women.”
While Belle was partially retired in 2018, the same year she was the guest of honor and Penn’s wedding, the mare gave her last lesson about six months ago. She was still being ridden once a week with the occasional trail or pony ride for yet another up-and-coming rider.
Belle was thriving in retirement until colic threatened to disrupt her life of luxury.
On Saturday morning, February 1, Belle had not been drinking from her water buckets, did not finish her breakfast, and had only passed manure twice throughout the night before; abnormal signs that Penn took very seriously. “She’s tough as nails, so she was not showing any signs of discomfort; she was just standing there quietly in her stall. By knowing her habits we were able to identify a problem and make early decisions.”
Belle was initially treated by her primary veterinarian, Dr. Kelly Alderman of Alderman Veterinary Services based in Fellsmere, FL. Based on Dr. Alderman’s recommendation, Belle was transported to Dr. Karie Vander Werf’s Treasure Coast Equine Emergency Services in Palm City, FL, where an ultrasound on Sunday showed a displacement of her large colon.
“It was very obvious to us that if we were going to consider surgery, we would have to do it sooner rather than later,” said Penn. “The decision was made to preserve her strength and transport her to Palm Beach Equine Clinic for Dr. Weston Davis to operate on her.
“It was because of his confidence in the surgery despite her age, that I had a peace in the decision to proceed with surgery,” continued Penn.
One of three board-certified surgeons at Palm Beach Equine Clinic, Dr. Weston Davis performed the emergency colic surgery to remove a right dorsal impaction in the large colon and correct a severe displacement caused by the altered motility within the intestines.
“Her primary veterinarian had done everything that she could medically do for the horse before referring the case to Palm Beach Equine Clinic,” said Dr. Davis. “In some colic cases, a prolonged course of medical treatments might result in the horse no longer being a surgical candidate. When things were not improving quickly enough, the horse was sent to us. Our main concern was to determine if Belle was as healthy a surgical candidate that she could possibly be.”
According to Dr. Davis, Belle’s physical examination and blood work revealed her to be a very healthy, albeit geriatric, colic case. “She is the oldest horse that I have performed colic surgery on. At the time of her arrival, Belle was well-hydrated with balanced electrolytes levels and stable organ systems. She was an overall good candidate for colic surgery, even at 33-years-old,” he said.
While not every geriatric colic case is well-suited for surgical intervention, Dr. Davis considers two factors before moving forward with any surgery. “The surgery has to make sense for the horse, meaning that they are a healthy candidate with the ability to recover, and they have the will to live,” said Dr. Davis, who noticed how resilient Belle was from the moment he saw her. “The other point is that the surgery needs to be financially reasonable for the client. In Belle’s case, there was a will to live, and a strong emotional connection with this horse.”
After a successful colic surgery, Belle was moved to recover in the Palm Beach Equine Clinic Hospital where she was cared for round-the-clock by Dr. Candelaria Chunco and hospital staff.
“Dr. Davis was great, and Candelaria was fantastic,” said Penn. “They were both so kind, and I received regular text updates. I knew that they were invested in her recovery. When she stood up after anesthesia, I remember Dr. Davis saying to me, ‘this horse is a badass’, and she really is!”
Belle returned home to Vero Beach, FL, on February 19, and celebrated her 34th birthday on March 27. “Her recovery was slow, but she is doing well, regaining an appetite, working her way back to regular turnout, and starting to act like her old self again,” said Penn. “She is an incredibly special horse to not only me and my mother, but to my husband, family, friends, and the horse community here. It’s so wonderful to have her back home.”
Dr. David Priest Utilizes Dynamic Endoscope and Performs Surgery to Help Four-Year-Old Harness Racer Get Back in Action
For equine athletes to perform their best, optimal respiratory health is crucial, and particularly paramount for harness racehorses. According to Dr. David Priest, Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarian with a keen interest in respiratory health, a racehorse moves roughly 70 liters of air through its lungs over the duration of one second while exercising. To simulate the movement of that amount of air outside the anatomy of a horse’s body, it would require two industrial ShopVacs on full power.
A colloquial condition known as “roaring”, or recurrent laryngeal neuropathy, is a fairly common issue among horses, and it restricts the amount of air able to reach the lungs through the horse’s upper respiratory system. The condition usually affects the left side of the larynx – the equine left recurrent laryngeal nerve is longer than the right – with paralysis that does not allow for an adequate amount of air to travel to the lungs.
According to Dr. Priest, equine anatomy plays a factor in the prevalence of this condition. There is a correlation with the length and size of the neck to the nerve pathways that travel from the brain to the chest, around the heart, and back up to the throat. Although mild cases of recurrent laryngeal neuropathy can be tolerated, the condition becomes particularly serious when a horse’s work involves high-intensity aerobic exercise.
“We often see recurrent laryngeal neuropathy described as a paralyzed flapper,” said Dr. Priest. “If you imagine the flaps of the larynx as cabinet doors, then the horse should be able to hold the doors open without problem while at rest. Yet, when the airflow picks up during exercise, that muscle is sometimes not strong enough to hold the doors open, and it collapses into the airway.”
Just before the start of 2019, Dr. Priest received a call from Stephanie Reames, the trainer of a four-year-old harness racehorse with symptoms pointing to recurrent laryngeal neuropathy. During his diagnostic process, Dr. Priest performed an endoscopy while the horse was resting to provide a baseline observation.
“I saw what I thought was a minor abnormality, but I did not know what amount of laryngeal strength this horse had,” said Dr. Priest. “The roaring noise usually occurs when the disease is progressive, and this horse was making a little bit of noise.
“This particular horse was in training for the harness racing season, so the owners and trainer wanted to figure out the root of the issue as swiftly as possible,” continued Dr. Priest. “The most effective way to accomplish that is to utilize a dynamic endoscope.”
A dynamic endoscope is a video recording device worn by the horse during exercise. It allows veterinarians to see the larynx, and therefore view signs of recurrent laryngeal neuropathy in real-time. Dr. Priest observed the disease as a grade C on the universal grading system for rating the disease, which translates to a full collapse of the left larynx flap.
Once diagnosed, Dr. Priest recommended an aptly-named laryngeal tie-back surgery, which involves stitching the larynx flap to surrounding cartilage in order to hold it open for optimal airflow. He performed the surgery at Palm Beach Equine Clinic a couple of days after making the diagnosis, and the horse returned home to its training base at South Florida Training Center in Lake Worth, FL, the same day.
The suggested recovery time is 30 days to allow for the surgical incisions to heal. Once healed, this horse immediately returned to full harness racing training.
“The horse is doing fantastic and we are hoping to qualify for racing in the next three weeks, and we will most likely head north to Pennsylvania to race,” said Reames. “Dr. Priest is absolutely amazing and was extremely professional from start to finish. There is always a hesitation when you learn that a horse needs surgery, but Dr. Priest was so prompt with the diagnosis and procedure, and the horse healed so quickly. We have high hopes for another successful racing season!”
In February of 2020, Dr. Priest performed a second dynamic endoscopy to observe the condition and effectiveness of the tie-back surgery. “The disease usually results in a 20-30% reduction in airflow, which causes a small performance decline resulting in a speed reduction of maybe one second. This horse’s particular case was perfect at the one-year check, which is key because that one second can be the difference between winning and losing!”
Evaluate your Horse’s Respiratory Health by Contacting PBEC
Dr. Santiago Demierre Gives Peachy a Second Chance
When two-year-old Quarter Horse filly Peachy decided to jump out of her paddock for a night-time stroll this past November, she got herself into some creative “young horse” trouble. After tipping over a garbage can containing bailing wire, she became entangled in the wire and her attempts to kick free resulted in the wire penetrating the wall of her right hind hoof and looped through the sole. The more the filly kicked, the deeper the wire went until it pierced the opposite side of the hoof wall and protruded out the other side.
The first call owner Corey Chilcutt made was to the clinic, and on-call veterinarian Dr. Santiago Demierre responded immediately.
Not So Peachy Anymore
“When I arrived, the two ends of wire that looped over the horse’s back had been cut down so it was only the wire penetrating the hoof,” said Dr. Demierre. “She was stressed and in a great deal of pain. I sedated the horse and blocked the foot so she would not feel any more pain.”
Once Peachy, who is in training to run barrels in Loxahatchee, FL, was comfortable, Dr. Demierre utilized portable radiograph technology to obtain x-ray images of the right hind foot and evaluate the injury. The images revealed that it was safe to remove the wire, and after disinfecting the area, Dr. Demierre removed the wire through the injury site.
“There were no fractures or synovial structures involved, but I did see on the radiograph that the coffin bone was compromised,” said Dr. Demierre. “There was a suspicious line through the coffin bone that could have led to chronic lameness, so the prognosis for performance was reserved. The prognosis for survival was very positive, and I told the owner there was a 50/50 chance she would return to training.”
Once Peachy’s hoof was free from the wire, Dr. Demierre soaked the foot in disinfectant, and began an aggressive course of antibiotic treatments, including regional distal limb perfusion and systemic antibiotics. Finally, the foot was wrapped while the treatments did their work.
Dr. Demierre returned to check on Peachy and continue the antibiotic treatments six times over the past two months. “I performed recheck radiographs of the hoof a month after the injury and there was no fracture where we saw the initial line that caused concern,” said Dr. Demierre. “The margins of the coffin bone had reabsorbed slightly, but overall the injury was healing well.”
Once the bandages were removed, Dr. Demierre worked with Chillcutt’s farrier, Juan Rivera, on a therapeutic shoeing plan. Rivera used a hospital plate with disinfectant on the injured hoof, and a bar shoe with a pour-in pad on the opposite hind hoof. At the first shoeing reset a month later, he transitioned the right hoof to a bar shoe with a pour-in pad.
Peachy’s recovery plan included stall rest until Dr. Demierre gave the green light for hand walking six weeks after the injury. At eight weeks, she was trotting on a lunge line, and earlier this month Peachy’s rider Kloey sat on her for the first time.
“The outcome was excellent,” said Dr. Demierre. “She is perfectly sound with no medication and will be back in normal shoes by the end of this month.”
Chillcutt is hopeful that Peachy and Kloey will return to their training and will be running barrels in the future. “Dr. Demierre was amazing; his treatment plan was successful and Peachy was back to work much quicker than we ever thought. Words can’t describe the gratitude we have for Dr. Demierre, his technician Emma Sexton, and everyone at the clinic. Their dedication has been phenomenal.”
As of February 14, Peachy is back to her old self, according to Chillcutt, who noted, “She is happy to be back to work and she loves her job!”
When Margo Crowther of Fort Myers, FL, was looking to add a new addition to her string of barrel racing horses, she made one very important phone call. That call was to Palm Beach Equine Clinic. Dr. Weston Davis, board-certified surgeon and veterinarian at Palm Beach Equine Clinic, has been working with Crowther to keep her horses healthy, as well as performing career-saving procedures.
In 2016, Dr. Davis helped Crowther and her 2012 Quarter Horse mare Shes Packin Fame, or “Sissy,” return to the ring after what could have been a detrimental injury. Sissy suffered a rare slab fracture to the central tarsal bone in her left hock while competing in a barrel racing competition. After a diagnosis aided by Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s advanced diagnostic imaging equipment and a surgery performed by Dr. Davis, Shes Packin Fame not only returned to running barrels, but the mare was also back to winning the next year.
When Crowther found a new prospect named Grandiose Guy, or “Mater,” she turned to Dr. Davis to ensure her intended purchase would be a good fit. The Quarter Horse gelding was named the Barrel Futurities of America (BFA) Horse of the Year just after she purchased him, crowning him the top four-year-old in the country.
“When I was thinking about buying him, I called Dr. Davis and sent him videos of the horse working to review,” said Crowther, who started the purchase process late last year and chose to involve Dr. Davis in all aspects of the pre-purchase evaluation. “The horse was in Georgia, so he reviewed them from Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington and gave me the stamp of approval. Once a pre-purchase was performed, I sent all the x-rays to Dr. Davis and he told me to move forward.
“I trust Dr. Davis and the team at Palm Beach Equine Clinic so much!” continued Crowther. “Barrel horses work hard and it’s so important to have a great relationship with the vet who oversees their care and knows them well in order to keep them happy and healthy.”
Regardless of breed or discipline, a pre-purchase exam involves certain steps that allow the potential owner and veterinarian to investigate the horse’s health and condition. The veterinarian gathers and interprets information by physically examining the horse’s body systems and conformation, as well as reviewing the health history. A lameness assessment is completed, including flexion tests, soft tissue structure palpation and movement evaluation. Diagnostic medical imaging tools, such as radiography, ultrasonography, endoscopy, magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear scintigraphy, or computed tomography, may be used to provide a more detailed and comprehensive profile of the horse.
Crowther purchased Mater and started running him at the beginning of last year, bringing him to the largest one-day rodeo, The American, in the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Texas in February. The competition had a $1 million payout and Mater and Crowther placed fifth.
“After so many runs, we brought him home from Texas and got him over to Dr. Davis for any maintenance work that needed to be done to keep him feeling his best,” said Crowther. “I am very picky about where I take my horses; there has to be good ground and I will not run their legs off. In conjunction with that, maintenance work with Dr. Davis is important. He performs flexion tests, utilizes the imaging at Palm Beach Equine Clinic if necessary, and makes recommendations about my horses’ health and overall well-being.”
Dr. Davis sent Mater home from Palm Beach Equine Clinic with a clean bill of health and Crowther gave the gelding a little time off before their next run. After returning to work, Mater headed to the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) Florida State Championships in Kissimmee.
Crowther’s diligence and Dr. Davis’ knowledge paid off when Mater won both his runs and clinched the open final at NBHA Florida State Championships. With more than 700 entries, Mater and Crowther topped them all and were crowned overall champions of the event.
“Palm Beach Equine Clinic and Dr. Davis have been a huge part of the success I have had with all of my horses,” said Crowther. “They are always there when I need them, whether I’m headed to the clinic in Wellington or they are coming to me in Fort Meyers. It’s nice to be able to know your vet will be there for you whenever you need them.”
When dressage rider Meagan Davis and owner Scott Durkin think about the goals they have for their dressage horse Royale, they have tunnel vision for the grand prix ring. Royale, a 16-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Routinier x Ironman) was well on his way to accomplishing that goal during the 2019 season when something strange started happening.
After arriving at their winter home in Loxahatchee, FL, from a northern base in Stone Ridge, NY, Davis kicked off Royale’s winter competition schedule with a show in January. The horse was coming off a very successful fall season that included CDI Intermediaire I and CDI Prix St. Georges victories at the New England Dressage Fall Festival and Dressage at Devon.
“Our first show was unusually chilly and I noticed that Royale was breathing a little hard and didn’t sweat very much,” recalled Davis. “I didn’t think that much of it because of the weather, but when we returned home and it warmed up, he wasn’t sweating at all.
“He could not catch his breath after being perfectly fit a month before,” continued Davis. “I rely on Palm Beach Equine Clinic for the care of all the horses in my barn and I immediately turned to Dr. Robert Brusie.”
Dr. Brusie is a Board-Certified Surgeon at Palm Beach Equine Clinic and was diligent about ruling out any physical causes of Royale’s obvious discomfort and decline in performance. After flexion tests, checking for musculoskeletal problems, and assessing soreness or wear and tear, Dr. Brusie turned to Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s Internal Medicine Specialist Dr. Peter Heidmann.
“Dr. Brusie was watching me work him one day, noticed the decline in muscle, the lack of sweating, and labored breathing, and recommended we take a deeper look with a specialist,” said Davis. “That is why I trust Palm Beach Equine Clinic with the care of my horses. They have so many tricks up their sleeves, and their clients are fortunate that the veterinarians collaborate so well together in order to do what’s best for the horse.”
Dr. Heidmann’s first step was to asses any neurological causes by testing for equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) and Lyme disease. Both were negative. He then moved on to a nutrient analysis.
“When you see weakness and poor muscle mass in a horse, two of the things you test for right away are vitamin E and selenium deficiencies,” said Dr. Heidmann. “Both are common causes of decreased performance due to low concentrations in local soil or the soil where a horse’s hay derives from.”
No deficiencies were found in Royale, which prompted Dr. Heidmann to move on to muscle testing. He drew blood from Royale, put him in work, and then drew blood again four to six hours later. When comparing enzymes in the blood from before and after work, Dr. Heidmann looked for any large increase, which would indicate the problem was in the muscles themselves. Royale’s tests, once again, came back normal.
At this point, Dr. Heidmann returned to the case history and started following the shortness of breath symptom, noting, “Breathing abnormalities in horses are difficult to diagnose by simply listening because their chest wall is so thick. What I wanted to asses was prolonged recovery. This is done by placing a bag over a horse’s nose to get them to breathe deeply. Once the bag is removed, breathing should regulate within two to three breaths. Royale needed four to five breaths.”
Once Dr. Heidmann identified a possible cause, he performed abronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), which is essentially a lung sample used to identify abnormal cells. He inserted a small-diameter tube through the trachea, flushed saline into the lung, and then suctioned it back out.
“Sure enough, when I examined the sample, there was mucus and abnormal cells,” said Dr. Heidmann. “Despite his bloodwork being normal and no obvious infections, Royale was battling equine asthma or ‘heaves.’”
The treatment for asthma in horses is very similar to what’s done for humans and includes an anti-inflammatory bronchodilator drug and inhaled steroids.
“While his breathing issues were significant enough to affect performance, Royale’s treatments were relatively mild with immediate and substantial improvement,” said Dr. Heidmann. “I used nebulized herbal remedies, steam, and Ventipulmin, which is an oral syrup.
“I’m a less-is-more person and veterinarian,” he continued. “I try to have the best outcome with the least amount of medications. Additionally, we created some routines that would minimize environmental dust and allergens, such as using a hay net, wetting down hay and bedding, or using chopped newspaper as bedding.”
Royale stayed on the prescribed medication through his trip home to New York and came off them at the end of May. Today, he is back in work and has regained the fitness and muscle he had during the fall. According to Davis, their goal is to step into the grand prix ranks during the upcoming season.
“My favorite cases are the sickest of the sick and the most elusive needle in a haystack,” concluded Dr. Heidmann. “Royale’s case definitely fell into the latter. It was really challenging, but rewarding because the outcome was a horse that is dramatically different than he was four months ago. But the most important part of this case for me was working together with Dr. Brusie. I would have not been successful in helping this horse if he hadn’t done all the work prior to coming to me. That kind of collaboration is what contributes to our success and sets Palm Beach Equine Clinic apart!”