Friday, October 14, 2011

Bodo Hertsch: German Veterinarian, Researcher and Educator's Accidental Death Leaves an Empty Podium and an Empty Saddle

Professor Doctor Bodo-Wolfhard Hertsch, 68, a noted international researcher and educator on laminitis and navicular disease in horses, has died at Eichenhof Tremsdorf, the equestrian center he ran with his wife outside Berlin in Germany.

The cause of death being reported by German web sites is that he died of injuries after he fell from a horse.

"His death for us as humans, horses, expert riders and organizers rips a deep hole," said Peter Fröhlich, director of Landesverband Pferdesport Berlin-Brandenburg e. V. (LPBB).

As early as 1993, Dr. Hertsch was studying the microcirculation of the foot at different stages of laminitis and creating angiograms that would eventually yield to the venograms used today. His study "Microangiographic investigations in acute and chronic laminitis in the horse" examined the distal limbs of 27 horses of different breeds as well as of one donkey who were suffering from acute or chronic laminitis.

Most of us in America first met Bodo Hertsch when he spoke at the 1991 Bluegrass Laminitis Symposium, hosted by Dr. Ric Redden in Louisville, Kentucky. "Navicular Bone Microcirculation, Coffin Joint Effusion and Navicular Pathology: The Diagnosis  and Therapy of Chronic Disorders of the Distal Sesamoid Bone in Sport Horses" was the title of his first lecture. We certainly learned the word "podotrochlea" that day.

Even more prophetic, Bodo Hertsch's second lecture: "The Principle of Heel Elevation as a Possible Treatment for Acute and Chronic Laminitis in Horses". He explained to us that laminitis therapy in Germany was based on the Bolz shoe, adopted in 1939. Hertsch reviewed laminitis cases at the vet school and the rate of success of the shoe, which called for lowering the heels. He proposed instead that the heels be raised. His paper is worth reading; it was the early days of raising heels but his explanation of the Bolz shoe and the historic study of laminitis in Germany up until the outbreak of World War II is fantastic.

Dr. Hertsch has a paper on laminitis research in the current edition of Tierärztliche Praxis, the German veterinary journal that challenges the observation that laminitic horses have accelerated heel growth, or retarded toe growth; according to Dr. Hertsch, growth is uniform, but the disease causes the tubules to growth in a different direction, kink, and fold rather than growing downward.

"Growth of the hoof horn in horses with chronic laminitis" examines the correlation between rotation and/or sinking of the third phalanx (P3) and changes of horn growth on the hoof wall. Dr. Hertsch painstakingly reviewed radiographs or performed radiographs on 117 slaughtered or euthanized horses with chronic laminitis. He documented that in the chronic stage the vascularization changed according to the degree of rotation, the duration of the disease and its development.

To quote from an English version of the abstract of the paper: "A rotation angle of approximately 8° was found to predict a change in the direction of the growth of the hoof horn at the dorsal and the lateral hoof wall. In addition, a correlation between the rotation angle of P3 and the length of growth of the hoof could be highlighted. A greater angle could lead to a larger interruption of the dorsal horn growth; meanwhile the palmar/plantar horn growth appeared to be independent. A correlation between a medial/lateral rotation of the pedal bone and the length of the horn was not observed."

Dr. Hertsch's conclusion: "The direction change of the horn tubes might cause a decrease of the visible length growth of a chronic laminitic hoof. Therefore, it appears to be important to differentiate between the externally visible length of the hoof and the real growth of the horn. Apparently, the amount of horn produced is the same on the dorsal hoof wall and in the heel. In horses with moderate laminitis the horn tubes on the dorsal wall were lying in folds, with the consequence of a decreased visible length growth. Only the formation of wrinkles of the horn tubes on the dorsal hoof wall reduced the visible wall length. Formation of wrinkles of the horn tubes in the heel could not be observed.

"Interestingly, the results of this study show that the lateral rotation of P3 does not promote the formation of wrinkles of the horn tubes along the lateral or medial hoof wall. According to our results, a resection of the dorsal hoof wall might be a sensible therapeutic approach in horses with chronic laminitis showing a rotation of P3 of at least 8°."

For many years, Dr. Hertsch was with the veterinary school at the University of Hanover, but had in recent years been Director of the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the Clinic for Horses at the Free University of Berlin. After his retirement, Dr. Hertsch had a private clinic at the equestrian center, Eichenhof Tremsdorf GbR, which he ran with his wife, Ingrid.

Dr Hertsch was the organizer of many meetings in Germany and had most recently, in 2008, organized and chaired the International Symposium on Laminitis  in Berlin. In 1995, he hosted the international symposium on navicular disease. He also authored many books including The Horse's Hoof and How to Shoe It Without Nails, with Hellmuth Dallmer, and Anatomy des Pferdes, as well as many others.

"Horses are his passion: he rides them, he breeds them, he heals them," was a quote from a recent article about Dr. Hertsch.

Recently, Dr. Hertsch had been in Great Britain at Hickstead to represent Germany in a special FEI senior Nations Cup international team competition in show jumping among 38 riders who are also veterinarians. Bodo Hertsch was the champion, and he did it on Lucinda, a 15-year-old mare that he bred and raised himself.

In addition, he led the four-member German "A" Team to win.

That was just his style.

I'll miss Professor Doctor Hertsch. His research contributions are important but his vision for the future and his obvious love for and involvement with horses set him apart and above so many others.

Did any of his horses ever have laminitis? I don't know what drove him to delve so deeply into the disease, but I'm glad he did. He could have chosen any specialty but like so many of the people I know and respect, he chose the most difficult and challenging problem in the horse world and looked it in the eye.

Assistance with this article was provided in Germany by Susanna Forrest, author of the forthcoming book If Wishes Were Horses (and the blog by the same name), in Berlin, and by anatomist Christoph von Horst PhD DVM of HC Biovision in Munich. 

Photo of Professor Doctor Hertsch via Eichenhof Tremsdorf.

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