The Newmarket Equine Hospital is large, sophisticated, modern and impressive with a talented medical staff. It is a center of excellent horse care and is highly sought after for its orthopedics.
It had 3,267 admissions in a year from all over Europe. Of the 834 surgeries, 344 were arthroscopies (keyhole surgery on joints), 88 fracture repairs, 64 were colic surgeries and 54 were respiratory surgeries. The team at Newmarket consists of about 70 dedicated animal health professionals including five specialists, anaesthetists, nurses, and interns and students who come from elsewhere for training.
Newmarket keeps tight security. Situated on a 15-acre site, the facility is closed off behind security gates, with more gates inside the complex, all covered by CCTV cameras. Five interns live on site and keep watch over the horses 24 hours a day.
Horses are mildly sedated prior to final preparation for the procedure. Then they are moved to a padded room and prepared for surgery. Here the horse is put under anesthetic – Newmarket uses diazepam and ketamine. The horse is pampered and talked to as he drifts off. After the animal’s legs fold and he goes down, the staff in a collective effort gathers around steering him so he can be rolled onto his side. Everyone is gentle with him as he is lowered onto a surgical table. He is then wheeled into a bare, surgical room where a highly trained surgical team of surgeons, anesthetists and nurses await him.
Together with the anesthetist, Wright maneuvers the horse into proper position. After he has rearranged the horse into the position required for the procedure, Wright proceeds with the surgery.
Wright says, “You have to be reasonably fit and strong, and aware of what the horse is capable of doing. I’ve been squashed many times. We’ve all been kicked, bitten, fallen on, stomped on and generally abused by our patients, so it’s probably not much different from the NHS.”
In the Newmarket Equine Hospital, the set-up for horse surgery is basically the same as in a human hospital except everything is considerably larger. The endotracheal tube used by the anesthetist is made by the same manufacturer as those for humans except the horse tube is wider. X-ray machines move around a horse on a large gantry. The powerful magnet of an MRI moves around the horse.
Newmarket is not just for Thoroughbreds. It takes referrals and veterinarians may send any horse of any size or breed. The intent is to heal and provide the horse with quality of life and the staff aims to lengthen horses’ lives.
Horse patients come to Newmarket from all over the world. They recently operated on a high-priced thoroughbred stallion. The horse arrived with his own staff to keep an eye on treatment and care.
Wright insists, “Operating on him didn’t make me nervous. It makes no difference – the procedures are the same. But usually the owners are only too keen to make you aware of the value of the horse. The patients may not talk, but you certainly need a bedside manner with the owners.”
Costs for procedures and treatment are the same no matter how rich the patient may be. Mouth surgery, plus clinical evaluations, X-rays, anesthesia, surgery, drugs and dressing, and ten hospitalized days, costs about £3,000 plus VAT. An arthroscopy on the stifle to remove torn cartilage costs between £2,000-£3,000.
Wright says, “Many privately owned horses have insurance but not all. Elite athletes, and particularly the racing thoroughbreds, are not insured for veterinary fees. It’s just not offered. It’s a little like footballers or other elite athletes. The higher the athletic demands, the more likely they are to become injured, so insuring against the increased risk is hard, and the costs are met by the owners.”
Newmarket has 84 stalls and usually 60 are in use. Space is left open for emergencies. The owners can select from outside or inside stalls.
“Some owners prefer outside because they don’t like their horses to associate with other horses, although of course it does make sense if it has a big race coming to avoid any chance of picking up a cold,” says Wright
There are also four isolation stalls reserved for infectious cases. As well as paddocks and a menage area, Newmarket offers X-ray, ultrasound and MRI scans, as well as laser surgery. The intensive care unit has six box stalls.
Wright continues, “There have been massive improvements in anesthetics and surgery. The rise of minimally invasive arthroscopic techniques has run parallel to that in man over the past 20 years, while fracture repair has been helped by improved stainless-steel implants big and strong enough to withstand the forces, along with a greater understanding of bio-mechanics. We have prolonged useful lives and therefore lives themselves. Now, mercifully, there are relatively few horses that need to be destroyed as an emergency on a racecourse. Often, of course, it’s a matter of economics; that’s the harsh reality.”
Wright adds, “With fractures of upper limbs, above the hock or knee, the horse would probably still not survive to have any reasonable quality of life. With many fractures below there, horses can be saved but the owner might still consider it not economic to do so if a horse can no longer race, in which case it might be humanely put down.’
Wright explains, “Racehorses are competing at the limits of athletic endeavor. The only difference between them and professional athletes is that they have the choice – the horses don’t.”
After each surgery is completed, the horses are returned to the padded box to wake up. A mind tranquilizer is injected as they go into that room. Meanwhile lights are dimmed, heaters are turned on and the horses’ eyes are covered.
In Wright’s office, pictures of winning horses are everywhere.
“Nearly all of these horses won the event for which they are best known after I operated, which is just as well, otherwise I’d have starved and this place would have been repossessed.”
Source: Daily Mail
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