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While you all were melting down here in Texas, Dr. Meghan headed to Ft. Collins, CO for a dual conference put on by the AAEP on equine lameness and ophthalmology, her two favorite things! While she dreamed of cooler temps at the high altitude, alas, it was not to be. Each day was in the nineties. However, Dr. Meghan sat in the air conditioning at Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, learning as much as she could about whole-body lameness and eyes.

There was a lot to learn about the injuries that affect different parts of the skeleton and musculature, how to diagnose them, and how to treat them. However, there were a few points that really stuck out.

The biggest point that stuck with Dr. Meghan is that Sue Dyson, one of the pioneers of equine lameness, did a study not that long ago that found that of all the horses that are considered to be “sound” by their owners, 72% of them actually had a lameness issue. This is significant because many horse owners assume that because THEY don’t see lameness, the horse isn’t lame. However, most owners can only identify a lameness when the horse is a grade 3 or higher on the AAEP lameness scale. * There are much more subtle lamenesses that are only apparent to veterinarians who are trained in lameness evaluation. And keep in mind that hind end lamenesses are much more difficult to spot than front end lamenesses. This becomes especially important when dealing with performance issues, and REALLY important on pre-purchase exams. Many sellers claim that their horse has never taken a lame step in its life. However, when the veterinarian examines them, they find lameness issues. This creates a very difficult situation where the seller is mad at the veterinarian because they think their horse doesn’t have a problem. In regards to performance issues, while you may not see an obvious lameness, but the horse is subtly telling you it’s having a problem. Whether you are getting slower times on your barrel runs, your horse is having a hard time picking up a lead, or it feels funny at a certain gait, your horse may need to be examined for lameness issues.

The other big point that stuck with Dr. Meghan is that primary back problems are rarely an issue. 32% of horses with lameness issues also have back problems, and 75% of horses with back problems have lameness issues as well. This is significant because most owners see a horse with a sore back and assume that having the chiropractor out will fix the problem. However, if your horse has lameness issues, only addressing the back pain will not fix the problem. You have to fix the lameness issues before you attempt to fix the back or the issues will just come back.

As far as the ophthalmology lectures went, Dr. Meghan discovered a new source for implanting cyclosporine beads to help horses with recurrent uveitis (inflammation in the eye that keeps coming back). Previously, discs that were placed under the sclera (almost in the eye itself) were the only way to suppress the immune system in the eye. With these new beads, she may be able to help some of her patients with ERU safely, rather than referring them to ophthalmologists. Dr. Meghan also learned of a new treatment that may help to treat deeper corneal ulcers and get them to heal faster. It involves using a medication and shining a UV light at it. This creates cross-linking fibers, and provides a scaffold for healthy cornea to grow into the diseased area. Look for these treatments in the coming months!

*The AAEP guidelines explain the grading system this way:

0: Lameness not perceptible under any circumstances.

1: Lameness is difficult to observe and is not consistently apparent, regardless of circumstances (e.g. under saddle, circling, inclines, hard surface, etc.).

2: Lameness is difficult to observe at a walk or when trotting in a straight line but consistently apparent under certain circumstances (e.g. weight-carrying, circling, inclines, hard surface, etc.).

3: Lameness is consistently observable at a trot under all circumstances.

4: Lameness is obvious at a walk.

5: Lameness produces minimal weight bearing in motion and/or at rest or a complete inability to move.