A day at the races as a vet

Nancy from XLVets Equine explains all about an exciting week treating racehorses. 

Today had a strong racing theme! This morning, we took a horse to theatre who'd sustained an over-reach wound to his foreleg at a point-to-point over the weekend.

The horse undergoing surgery to have the tendon sheath flushed

The horse undergoing surgery to have the tendon sheath flushed

The wound had been thoroughly flushed and sutured at the racetrack by the attending vet and the horse was started on intravenous antibiotics.

However, over the next 48 hours the horse became increasingly lame and another vet had taken a sample of the tendon sheath fluid that revealed an elevated white cell count, confirming infection within the tendon sheath.

Due to the nature of tendon sheath infections, we'd always advise tenoscopy under general anaesthesia to be able to visualise any damage to the tendon sheath and its associated structures, but also to flush high volumes of fluid through the tendon sheath to help ‘flush out’ the infection.

After some thought, the owners decided to go ahead with surgery. He was anaesthetised this morning, the leg was prepared aseptically for surgery, and surgery began.

Once our surgeon had the scope camera within the tendon sheath, it was clear that the infection was severe. Once the infected fluid was flushed out, it was possible to see one of his hairs within the tendon sheath!

The wound being sutured

The wound being sutured

This can be a common finding, when wounds are associated within the tendon sheath, due to the contamination from the wound itself.

If the hair were to be left in place it would cause an ongoing infection despite antibiotics and flushing.

Luckily, we were able to flush the hair out. A thorough examination of the structures within the sheath then revealed a small tear to the border of the superficial flexor tendon, within the tendon sheath.

I rang the owner at this point. If there was only infection within the tendon sheath, usually the horse can come back into work within six weeks following rehabilitation, but because of the structural damage from the overreach wound, he wouldn't be able to race again this season as would need a much longer rehabilitation period.

His owner was understandably disappointed, but the horse has such a lovely temperament, she was confident he'd be able to do a slightly less strenuous job if he couldn't race again.

The wound was debrided and sutured again, and the tendon sheath was instilled with antibiotics. He was bandaged up and made a good recovery from anesthesia, tucking into some steamed hay once he was awake enough back in his stable.

I left him in the very capable hands of our nursing team for the afternoon, while I loaded up my car to attend Stratford Racecourse for the afternoon.

The good weather ensured a great turnout for a day’s racing. Racing was thankfully largely uneventful from a vet’s point of view.

A couple of small wounds to flush and address and a horse to see who had developed a haematoma on its knee after knocking a hurdle.

The racecourse always put on a fantastic lunch and we are rewarded with tea and scones after racing!

After eight races, I headed back to the clinic to check on the horse that had surgery earlier in the day, pleased to see him very comfortable and tucking into some dinner. Hopefully he'll continue to do well, I'll update you in my next blog!