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Tag: david priest

A View 6-Feet from the Track

Dr. David Priest comments on veterinary life amid COVID-19 and specifically on its impacts in the Kentucky horseracing community.

keeneland racetrack coronavirus covid closures

Dr. David Priest is a PBEC veterinarian who treats horses in Florida during the fall and winter and operates in his home state of Kentucky during the spring and summer. Dr. Priest primarily focuses on high performance racehorses with a special interest in respiratory function and surgery. As Coronavirus closures swept the nation and all factions of horse sport, Dr. Priest has been a prime witness to the impacts on the racing community from the bluegrass state.


By the time I returned to my family’s farm and residence in Kentucky on March 26, the commonwealth had already issued a stay at home order. The normally incredibly busy Keeneland Racecourse April Sale had been cancelled with no horses being allowed to stable at that track. I wasn’t surprised by that decision, given the circumstances, but it certainly had a profound impact on the horse industry and racing in Kentucky.

My normal daily care of horses at Keeneland during April, which is typically my busiest month, was non-existent. However, as a veterinarian and farm owner, I consider myself incredibly fortunate during this challenging time. I have still been treating horses daily, primarily those with more pressing medical needs, as well as horses at my family’s farm, which includes thoroughbred lay-ups, mares with foals, and dressage horses. All in all, I feel incredibly lucky.

Tracks here and across the country have been hit hard. Trainers whose livelihood depends on racing have just been doing what they can to keep horses going and giving them time turned out if possible. Its still a waiting game on when live spectator racing will return to Kentucky.

keeneland racing track gate palm beach equine clinic veterinarian david priest

Churchill Downs began racing without spectators on May 16. Everyone that enters the track is required to have a negative COVID-19 test performed by Churchill Downs staff. They’ve set in place required temperature checks and face masks. I work mainly at Keeneland, which is a bit more relaxed in their protocols and is now allowing stabling and training for a small number of horses.

In central Kentucky, breeding thoroughbreds is king. The yearling sales, beginning in July and peaking in September, are the lifeblood of the breeding industry. There is tremendous uncertainty about these sales and what impacts this recession will cause. People typically come from all over the world for these sales where yearlings can be bought for $500,000 to well over $1 million dollars. There may be hundreds of thousands of dollars ties up in stud fees and expenses for a single yearling. Those profits are essential to supporting the entire industry.

To say there is still a lot of uncertainty is an understatement. Personally, the real saving grace is that we can all focus on what we can control, which is taking care of our horses every day. That part hasn’t changed much at all, thank goodness for that. The rest of it is just going to have to sort itself out with time. Racing in some form will survive this. What exactly it will look like, no one can be entirely sure.

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Standardbred Gelding Back to the Track with Palm Beach Equine Clinic

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.

David Priest Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinarian

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.


Palm Beach Equine Clinic - Dynamic endoscope showcasing the collapse of the left larynx flap
Dynamic endoscope showcasing the collapse of the left larynx flap.
Palm Beach Equine Clinic - Dynamic endoscope of the larynx with clear air flow at exercise after tie-back surgery
Dynamic endoscope of the larynx with clear air flow at exercise after tie-back surgery.

“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 dynamic endoscope on a harness racehorse ready for exercise
A view of the dynamic endoscope on a harness racehorse.
The dynamic endoscope on a harness racehorse ready for exercise.

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!”

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