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Friday, August 02, 2013

Equine Lameness: British Cavalry Horses Suffer Common Minor Hoof and Leg Problems Similar to Recreational Horses

British cavalry horses are large Irish-crossbred types and generally are selected because they have big enough feet, acceptable conformation and good bone. Their lameness problems tend to be less dramatic than you might think, and more in line with recreational horses than sport horses.

A study of lameness among the ceremonial cavalry horses of the British Army may ultimately benefit a much less celebrated equine population — the pleasure horse. While much of the information that comes from veterinary and farrier research is helpful in treating or preventing catastrophic conditions like laminitis, navicular disease or canker and thrush, there's no doubt that most horses suffer from occasional and common lameness problems that are not documented or tabulated.

Thrush, minor puncture wounds, involuntary shoe removal, abscesses and interference injuries are the types of problems that countless horse owners deal with on a regular basis. Learning how to soak a foot, wrap a poultice and make a foot bandage out of duct tape are rudimentary skills that every new horse owner soon masters. But is anyone keeping score?

The Hoof Blog almost passed this story by, but then thought the better of it. It might seem like the garden-variety recreational horse has little in common with those stunning black Irish-types used to guard the Queen, but maybe we can learn something from them.

If these horses hadn't been chosen for royal duty, they might have gone on to become eventers or foxhunters. And if that had happened, their lameness records would have looked quite different.

Veterinary student Jessica Putnam from the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science at The University of Nottingham looked into the lameness histories of these great horses last year, when she spent 13 months documenting incidents of lameness among the 294 horses belonging to the British Army’s Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment (HCMR). 

Her research, carried out in collaboration with regimental veterinary officer Captain Laura Holmes, was recently published in the Equine Veterinary Journal.

Putnam's supervisor, vet surgeon Dr Sarah Freeman commented on Putnam's research: 
“These ceremonial horses reveal a lot about what horses in yards around the world have to contend with. The main message from this study is that horses in work often have minor and short-lived problems. 

"Current literature is focused on the more major and poor prognosis conditions, which is understandable because they have the big impact, but we should recognise that they aren’t necessarily the most common, and we should not ignore the common minor conditions."

The horses of the HCMR are a familiar sight on the streets of London and have the unique privilege of carrying out ceremonial duties. In the last two years they have been particularly busy, participating in celebrations for events like the Royal Wedding.

Putnam, who has now graduated and is working in equine general practice at Aldington Equine Vets in Lancashire, England, gathered information through questionnaires completed by Captain Holmes and the farriers and riders who help care for the cavalry horses. As well as the type of lameness, information was collected on the length of time the horse was out of work and the eventual outcome.

Dr Freeman said: “Lameness is a common problem in the horse but in many cases no one thinks it is significant enough to report. As a result, information on the incidence of lameness in horses in the UK is restricted to studies of performance horses, racehorses or referral hospital populations.

"Although the horses of the HCMR have a highly specialized ceremonial role, their activities parallel to a surprising degree those of pleasure horses. Their main workload is walking round the roads and parks so they more closely represent the large number of pleasure horses who will be hacking round the roads steadily and regularly and not doing anything fast or exciting. 

Military farriers are on hand at the stables to attend to the horses' needs. Shoeing-related problems were the third most common cause of lameness in the military horse group.
"They represent a very different population to most of the current published research — which is predominantly racehorses and competition horses — but to date we have no information on this part of the population.”

Jessica’s research revealed that the incidence of lameness among this group was low, with a monthly rate of slightly more than two per cent. But what surprised and particularly interested the team was that the most common cause of lameness was cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the connective tissue of the skin.

Dr Freeman said: “We thought arthritis would easily be the most common cause of lameness but early on in the study one of the staff told Jessica that wounds and cellulitis were more of a problem as they were unexpected and put the horses off work. There were 16 cases of cellulitis reported in the study, most attributed to small cuts and each putting the horse out of work for an average of 17.5 days. 

"Skin wounds were the second most common cause of lameness, accounting for 14 incidents and leading to an average of just over 25 missed working days.

After talking to horse owners at the vet school, where students keep their own horses, the research team discovered that a similar percentage of horses had to be taken out of work through minor nicks or swellings.

Foot and shoeing problems were the third most common cause of lameness in the study group, followed by tendon/ligament injury, arthritis, foot abscesses and muscle bruising.

To learn more: 
Incidence, causes and outcomes of lameness cases in a working military horse population: a field study by Putnam JR, Holmes LM, Green MJ, Freeman SL in Equine Vet Journal: 2013 Apr 1.

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