A mare who suffered a broken neck in a loading accident has successfully returned to the dressage arena, thanks to the veterinary team at Liphook Equine Hospital.

Poppy, a five-year-old Dutch Warmblood fractured a vertebra in her neck after she slipped and fell heavily onto a concrete car park while being loaded into a horsebox.

Due to the seriousness of the injury, Poppy was referred to Liphook Equine Hospital, where she underwent a three-hour operation which was performed by vets Matthew Sinovich, Russell Parker and David Lloyd, who are all European specialists in equine surgery.

Matthew (pictured below) said Poppy’s fracture was displaced and a fragment of bone had drifted into the muscle below, which made repairing it more complicated.

“Before going into surgery, we used our CT scanner to image Poppy’s neck so we could get a clearer picture of the injury and locate exactly where the bone fragment was sitting,” Matthew said.

“Reaching the fracture site involved making a large incision on the underside of Poppy’s neck, about half-way between her chin and chest. This was extremely delicate to perform because we needed to cut through a lot of soft tissue and muscle and there are a lot of vital structures in that area, including the trachea (windpipe) and oesophagus, as well as important nerves and blood vessels.

“Once we’d located the fragment we repositioned it, using X-rays to guide us, and then it was fixed in place with a metal plate and screws.

“The surgery went well, and then we moved Poppy into a padded recovery room to come round from the anaesthetic. Usually, we use ropes and pulleys to help a patient to their feet after surgery to reduce the risk of injury, however we were unable to support Poppy this way because we couldn’t put any pressure on her neck. Poppy had to get up by herself, but she did this without any problems.”

After her operation, Poppy was given round-the-clock care at Liphook for 10 days, then allowed home to Warwick where she needed to be stabled for several weeks before she could go back out in the paddock.

The 16hh, dark bay mare has gone on to make a full recovery and is now being competed successfully in dressage by her owner Lizzie Burford, under the horse’s official name Nova Zembla.

“We are delighted with Poppy’s progress and her owner has done an excellent job in taking things very slowly and following a phased rehabilitation programme,” Matthew added.

“Without surgery, Poppy’s future would have been uncertain. Her injury would have been career ending and, as well as putting her at a higher risk of arthritis in her neck, it was potentially life-threatening as we couldn’t be sure how it would affect her long-term.

“The surgery to repair the fracture has ensured she is comfortable and has a better quality of life, with a full range of movement in her neck. It’s great to hear she’s competing again and is enjoying life with her devoted owner.

“We see a large caseload of neck injuries at Liphook Equine Hospital, and one of the reasons is our CT scanner, which is the largest of its kind and enables us to image more of the horse’s body, including the whole neck. We also have a highly experienced veterinary team that regularly performs advanced neck surgery.”

‘I was shocked and devastated’

Poppy’s owner, Lizzie, said she was loading to go home after a dressage lesson when the accident happened and, while the horse initially appeared OK, a few hours later she became unsteady on her feet.

“When the broken neck was diagnosed, I was shocked and absolutely devastated,” Lizzie said. “I’d spent all of my savings on Poppy and I was looking forward to enjoying many happy years with her as she is my dream horse.

“Luckily, my local vet Ollie Timms had worked at Liphook Equine Hospital previously and he said they have amazing vets who could help Poppy. It was a three-hour drive to get her there, but Ollie had given me a glimmer of hope and I didn’t hesitate to make the decision.

“I spoke to Matthew at Liphook before the surgery and he was really positive that they could fix Poppy’s fracture. He made me feel very confident and I had no worries at all about Poppy going into theatre. Even so, it was a huge relief when Matthew called me to tell me the surgery had been successful. The hospital then kept me updated on Poppy’s progress, including sending me lots of photos, until she was ready to come home a few days later.

“It has been a long road to recovery, but I took things very slowly and did lots of in-hand work and lungeing to build up Poppy’s strength and fitness again after the surgery. I was back in the saddle three months later, and at our first dressage outing to Moreton Morrell we achieved 67% and second place in a Prelim test. I was absolutely over the moon – it’s amazing to just be riding Poppy again, but for her to go so well is very exciting as she has a lot of talent and I have high hopes for her.

“When I was told the extent of Poppy’s injuries, I thought there was no hope, but to look at her now you couldn’t tell that just a few months ago she broke her neck. It’s all down to the incredible team at Liphook that I still have my horse and I just can’t thank them enough.”

Images issued on behalf of Liphook Equine Hospital and provided by VetPartners

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