H&H asked some of our veterinary clinic contributors for their wishes for a happy — and healthy — equestrian New Year

Dr Mark Bowen MRCVS

It is nearly two years since the horsemeat crisis. This was a problem of food fraud rather than food safety, originating from foreign imports rather than British horses.

It raised the issue of phenylbutazone (bute), even though this was not relevant to the horse-meat crisis, highlighting further inadequacies that the British Equine Veterinary Association (BEVA) is pushing to address.

This includes changes to the passport system, a central equine database and a common-sense, evidence-based approach to medicines regulation in horses. Europe currently considers that a horse who has had bute is never safe to enter the food chain, even 20 years later. This is nonsense and needs to change.

Why does this matter? Most of us withdraw our horses from the food chain by signing section IX of their passport. We don’t eat horses and we don’t want anyone to eat ours. But costs of cremation are increasing and as a vet I see owners struggling to pay for euthanasia and cremation.

Equally, I have witnessed first-hand the compassion and respect for horses and their owners in the UK’s only remaining abattoir. For some horses this is the best option, yet signing section IX removes this option for current and future owners.

In 2015 I wish for better medicines legislation, that owners will pause and think before signing section IX and for a central database to make horse passports actually work.

As an owner, I hope technology will be put to use inventing a shampoo for grey horses that stops mud sticking to them!

Philip Ivens MRCVS

My new year’s wish is that research funding is continued to enable us to further understand the interaction between the horse’s own genetic make-up, bovine papillomavirus and the environmental factor.

“To improve clinical outcomes in horses treated for sarcoids we need to increase our understanding of the tumour cell’s biology.

Knowing how the viral proteins interact with the horse’s gene and/or proteins and the subsequent biochemical changes in the horse’s cell that transform it to a sarcoid are still unclear. Through measuring changes in the cell’s proteome — the proteins the cell makes — as sarcoids form and progress, we will gain further insights into the disease.

This includes the mechanisms of immune evasion, why only certain populations are affected and why treatments are more effective on certain sarcoid forms, anatomical locations and individual horses.

This information will enable us to create clinical tools to better characterise sarcoids, informing treatment decisions and aiding more accurate prognoses. It will allow us to identify other current therapies that may be appropriate and to recognise new potential therapeutic targets.

As a practising vet, I also wish that owners could try to avoid saying, “My horse is only few fields away. Have you brought your wellies?”

Andrew Harrison MRCVS

The process of regulation of equine musculoskeletal paraprofessionals — often colloquially referred to as “the back person” — is slowly moving forwards.

Numerous different organisations, groups and individuals offer multiple treatment modalities for the management of equine musculoskeletal disorders. Their level of qualification, training, statutory requirement for continuing education and regulation varies widely. This has resulted in both horse owners and vets being confounded by the myriad options available to them.

Confusion is further compounded by the difference in the structure of the provision of physical therapies in humans and animals.

One of my aims for 2015 as president of BEVA is to attempt to educate owners about these differences in order to protect the welfare of their horses.

On the subject of back problems and horse welfare, I am concerned about the frequent size mismatch that I witness between horse and rider in both my working day and during my leisure time as an enthusiastic Pony Club parent. There must be a point beyond which the rider’s weight is compromising the horse’s welfare.

I would like to raise horse owners’ awareness of this trend and encourage them to give it some consideration. Furthermore, I would welcome any further research into the optimum rider and tack to horse weight ratio and wider dissemination of this vital information.

On a personal level, if the rest of my presidential year remains as busy as it has been so far I can only hope to finish 2015 with my body, my mind and — most importantly — my marriage still intact.

Karen Coumbe MRCVS

I hope that owners will think about the sensible use of both antibiotics and anthelmintics (wormers). None of these essential treatments should be used on a “just in case” basis. Save them for when they are needed.

Professional medical authorities around the globe are shouting out the message that antibiotic resistance is increasing rapidly to become a huge problem.

At the present rate of progress, many routine treatments will become useless. This means that simple wounds and operations will carry grave implications for our animals and ourselves. As there are minimal new medicines on the horizon, the only responsible solution is to conserve what we have.

Vets — everybody, in fact — must consider carefully when minor conditions are presented for treatment and ask whether treatment is really required.

If medication is prescribed, always finish the course. And when a vet suggests a culture to select the appropriate antibiotic or a worm egg count before deciding on the best method for worm control, remember that there is a reason for this more complex approach.

What else would make my year? I wish everyone could cut down on the number of times they say to their vet, ‘’While you’re here, could you just…!”

Gil Riley MRCVS

My hope for 2015 is that owners recognise that hay is actually a rich food source.

I have lost count of the number of times I have gone to see a lame horse and it is grossly overweight. When I point this out to the owner they say, “Well I don’t feed him/her anything.” What they mean by that is that they don’t give any hard feed, but conveniently forget the haynet hanging up in his stable that is the size of Luxembourg.

Horses can become excessively heavy on hay alone; they just need to eat enough of it. If there is an unlimited supply then there is only going to be one outcome.

Owners are very aware that an overweight horse or pony is at greater risk of developing laminitis, but being too heavy makes many other forms of lameness — not just laminitis — more probable. Carrying excess condition means that all limbs bear more load. Foot injuries, tendon and ligament strains and even osteoarthritis all show increased incidence in overweight horses.

So remember — don’t just monitor the hard feed. Control grass and hay intake, too.

To round off my perfect year, the only horses allowed to develop hindleg lameness would be the well-behaved ones!

Lesley Barwise-Munro MRCVS

Atypical Myopathy (AM) has hit the headlines recently due to the massive rise in the number of cases in the UK reported in autumn. The dry 2013 summer, followed by a very wet autumn, is thought to have contributed to this increase, from 14 cases in autumn 2013 to 77 this year.

The cause of AM is thought to be the toxin hypoglycin A found in the seeds of some acer trees, including sycamore. Once eaten, this toxin blocks lipid metabolism in certain muscle fibres, leading to a range of debilitating effects including muscle tremors, colic and difficulty breathing and swallowing.

Death occurs in about 60% of cases, usually due to cardiac arrest, but mortality rates appear to be reducing year on year.

AM outbreaks across Europe have been increasing since 2000, giving rise to the first epidemiological investigations into the mechanisms of the disease and methods for its prevention.

The Atypical Myopathy Alert Group (AMAG) is a worldwide network of equine vets currently collaborating with universities in order to exchange information and initiate research into this highly fatal disease.

My hope for 2015 is that further research into AM and an increased awareness among owners will help reduce the number of affected horses and improve survival rates.

On a lighter note, it’s good news that eventer Ben Hobday seems to be a frequent visitor here in Northumberland. Similar equestrian eye candy for older female vets is encouraged – we can promise plenty of good hills and beaches for training horses!

Ref: Horse & Hound; 1 January 2015