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New Ways to Heal Broken Horse Legs
 By Winniefield Park   •   11th Jul 2018   •   1,365 views   •   0 comments


It wasnít that long ago that a leg fracture meant a sure end for a horse. But, thanks to advances in veterinary science, that is no longer true. Yes, there are some fractures that are too complicated, or because of where they are located, that can not be fixed. The good news is, many fractures can be.

Part of the reason horseís legs are hard to fix is that from the knee down, there is no muscle to help hold the leg together as it heals. If you break your lower leg, there are large muscles, that along with a cast to help, keep your leg more or less stable as long as you donít put weight on it. Not so with a horse. A horse is much heavier, and a horse doesnít know not to put weight on a broken leg. You might follow doctorís orders to take it easy, but thatís harder for a horse. Being prone for any length of time is very hard on a horse, and comes with its own risks, as does coming out of anesthetic.

Some bones, because of the intense stress placed on them as a horse gallops will break into many fragments making it almost impossible to put back together. And because many fractures of the lower leg break the skin, there is more chance of infection. Fractures in joints can be difficult to mend. Surgery of any kind is very stressful for a horse and has risks of its own. And, as a fracture mends, there is a chance for laminitis to develop, complicating the healing process.

Often horses are put down because even though a fracture is treatable, itís just far too expensive in both time and money, and there is no guarantee that a horse will return to its previous level of performance.

So thatís the bad news. The good news is that although it's expensive and time consuming, it is possible to fix many fractures. The best-case scenario is a stress fracture that leaves the bones somewhat intact. These fractures will not require surgery, and some horses will be able to heal well enough to return to work.

Fractured navicular and coffin bones sound grim, but corrective shoeing, trimming and rest will take care of these problems. A common fracture in racehorses is the lateral condylar fracture, which is the lower part of the front cannon bone. These fractures are repaired by using screws to hold the bones in place until the heal. And a new method of using absorbable screws shows promise in holding splint bones, so that they heal less with fewer complications, and donít require a second surgery to remove the screws.

Sometimes joints can be fused, or held together with screws and plates. Glues and casts too, help stabilize fractures so that healing can take place. Unlike the plaster casts of old, new casts are made of lightweight fiberglass. The downside is there is no place for autographs and witty sayings to be written. Research is ongoing for the best way to provide support without requiring a horse to be completely immobilized. Slings, programmable lifts, pools and conveyors can help horses move, while keeping weight off of the healing bones.

Of course prevention is the best medicine and imaging can tell trainers if a horse needs rest, a change of pace or support to let bones in danger of breaking mend and strengthen. Gene therapy and protein supplementation are being researched in an effort to shorten the six to eight weeks it takes for a fracture with no complications to heal. Which means it wonít be long before even more horses will recover from fractures that would have been a death sentence a few years ago.

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