Q: I ride a horse who was once bar-fired on both forelegs at an Irish hunt stable. I understand that the process is illegal in this country but I have been unable to find out much about it.What are the possible health implications for this good-natured, willing 10-year-old horse and will he be prevented from entering any competitions because of it?
Jo Holmes MRCVS, replies: I presume your horse was therapeutically fired as a result of tendon injuries. The only way to be sure is to ask your vet to scan his forelegs. You can then look for signs of earlier damage to the tendons and estimate their future integrity when placed under the strain of competition.
If there is no sign of any damage, you can safely assume that he has been preventatively fired in anticipation of heavy hunting.
The Guide to Professional Conduct issued by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) condemns preventative firing as unjustifiable and sufficient grounds for prosecution under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and 1912.
However, it is slightly more lenient on the subject of therapeutic firing, while still clearly stating that it regards the practice as “ineffective and/or lacking justification as a method of treatment, which should be abandoned.”
Trials researching the effectiveness of firing damaged tendons over other methods of treatment, such as rest or tendon splitting, have failed to demonstrate any advantages. As a result, the RCVS included firing in its schedule of animal mutilations over 15 years ago.
Most UK vets, therefore, shy away from this procedure, although some do believe that the thickened scar tissue created by firing offers superior support to strained tendons.
To my knowledge, the RCVS has never disciplined a vet for firing a horse thus far. I am not familiar with Irish legislation.
As a final point, your horse should not be discriminated against for having been fired anywhere other than in the show ring.