Treating the Young Horse's Injuries

Dr. Van Snow discusses the best strategy for treatment when your young horse becomes injured during training. In the July 2003 Western Horseman, Dr. Van Snow offers ideas to keep your colt or filly sound during early training. Here the Santa Ynez, Calif., veterinarian discusses the importance of wellness exams throughout your horse's progression and strategies for handling injuries. (For information about specific injuries, see "Performance-Horse Problems" in the May 2003 WH.)

Routine Check-Ups

Snow's clientele include top open and non-pro competitors in the industry. The horses they ride compete in high-dollar futurities; therefore, the riders have a finite time period to prepare their mounts. Throughout training, Snow encourages wellness exams to keep on top of any injuries that might develop during the intense workouts.

"In a wellness exam, I flex and release each leg, and watch the horse trot in a small circle (to look for lameness), palpate ligaments and tendons, and generally look for anything out of the ordinary," Snow explains. "The horse is examined each quarter, and the results are recorded so I have something to compare to during consecutive exams.

"A horse might seem fine this quarter, but in the next exam start to show some issues – the horse might not be lame, but he's different than the last exam," he continues. "I can address that problem before it's a major concern. We can discuss options to handle the problem before the horse seriously injures himself."

Identifying the problem also allows Snow, the horse's owner and the rider to closely monitor the affected area to prevent a recurring injury.

Proactive Treatment

If an injury is detected, whether through a wellness exam or because the rider notices a change, Snow follows a well-defined diagnostic process that specifically isolates the injury to assure suitable treatment from the beginning.

"The most important thing is to define the structure that's injured," Snow says. "I might have an impression that it's a suspensory issue, for example, but it might go deeper than that. Most often, I make a diagnosis through a series of nerve blocks, beginning from the bottom of the horse's leg. That eliminates the chance that the symptoms I immediately recognize are secondary to a larger problem – I find the primary issue from the start."

Snow notes that there are many ways to manage the injury quickly and completely. From medications to shock-wave treatments to electromagnetic therapy, the options are wide open. Once treatment begins, Snow says young horses can recover more quickly than older horses facing similar injuries.

"Young horses seem to respond to therapy quicker because they're growing and developing," he says. "Older horses are mature and their bodies have slowed down so it takes longer for them to respond to treatment."