I’m writing this from Scotland, having made my annual migration north to visit my family. We hit a new record this year by having three consecutive versions of Christmas Day, such is logistical task of getting my extensive family together! I love Christmas so it was no great strain to draw it out a bit for me.
Prior to heading up here for the holidays, I was lucky enough to be drafted in to help at Olympia throughout the World Cup Dressage at the beginning of the week. My involvement came off the back of our ongoing relationship with Team Hester and Dujardin and I assisted supergroom Alan Davies in looking after Uthopia and Nip Tuck throughout the show.
I’m pretty sure you’ll have all have read the reports by now and so I’m hoping there will be no spoilers here: what more could I have hoped for from my spot of moonlighting to have been there as the boys recorded a one-two in both classes each night?!
I have only been to Olympia once before as a spectator, and for me the place has an inimitable magic about it. The Grand Hall is utterly beautiful and there is an incredible stillness when it’s empty, the feel of which was in contrast to the electric current that ran through it when it was full. The horses were truly wonderful and emotions ran high after Uti’s win on the first night, and equally did so again when Barney recorded his fabulous win in the freestyle on day two.
The days were long – we were in the stables at 6.30am and didn’t leave until after midnight on both nights of competition – and so if ever I needed to be reminded of the amazing work of professional grooms, I certainly was here. These guys are truly incredible in their efforts to keep the horses in the best order possible and Alan in particular puts huge pressure on himself to keep everything just right to allow his horses to perform at their very best.
If long days needed an antidote, walking into the prize giving alongside Barney and Uti on respective nights was certainly that. The crowd were going wild for each of the presentations and so I can’t even imagine what Charlotte and Carl must have felt in those moments as I was utterly awestruck. I have never experienced anything like that before and it was something I will never ever forget the feeling of. Meeting Princess Anne was pretty amazing too, although I was so happily delirious with the whole occasion that unfortunately I can neither remember what she said to me, nor what I said in reply.
A busy end to a busy year
This is the time of year we tend to reflect on all that has gone before. One of my highlights this year was the annual open day of our partner veterinary practice, Three Counties Equine Hospital in September, which also encompassed the official launch of their new MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) suite.
MRI is useful for assessing soft tissue injuries in horses and is also a valuable tool in the evaluation of bone injuries, which can be tricky to detect by other diagnostic techniques. There are various equine MRI scanners in this country currently, but the installation of this particular machine means that Three Counties have the only one in the UK capable of imaging stifles.
Their scanner is also able to provide high quality images of heads, necks, knees, hocks and distal limb injury sites such as suspensories, fetlocks and feet. When taking images from a recumbent position (pictured below), the horse receives a general anaesthetic. The scanner’s ability to image stifles means that it allows the vets to obtain pictures that they haven’t been able to previously in this country.
I really enjoyed the chance to look around the MRI suite at the open day; it was a rare opportunity to explore the facilities without the stress of accompanying a horse there! We were granted with a beautiful day, and it was great to see a good crowd turn out to watch the various demonstrations that were laid on during the day which really did offer something for everyone.
In terms of case types this year, we saw a number of horses come in following neurectomy and fasciotomy, which is essentially where a section of the deep branch of the lateral plantar nerve in the hindlimb is surgically removed to reduce pain. This is combined with transection of the connective tissue fascia covering the suspensory ligament to reduce pressure on the origin of the suspensory ligament. The technique is employed in some cases to address the symptoms of hindlimb proximal suspensory desmitis and requires a structured rehabilitation process.
We have also had a number of horses with gait abnormalities or movement dysfunction sent to us this year, and these are some of the horses that have undoubtedly been the most rewarding. Once the underlying cause of lameness had been treated, our job was to restore the horse’s normal movement pattern.
In one particular case, we had a horse who had lost her ability walk normally among other issues, having instead found it easier to jog with the hind legs. This short-stepping meant that we had to go back to the very beginning, first teaching her to walk in a true gait pattern on the long reins and treadmill, before introducing trot and canter from the ground, and gradually building up to ridden work. This mare was very much up with the horses I was most proud of this year, such was the change that we witnessed in her.
I would like to end this on a thank you: thank you to all of our horses for trying so hard to get better, to our wonderful clients for having faith in us and to all of our colleagues, vets and friends, many of whom are all three. I hope all of you have had a happy Christmas and my very best wishes for the coming year.