Figgy, an 11-year-old dressage pony, was referred to the AHT after he suddenly became lame during a test at a national competition. Figgy was lame on his right forelimb and was clearly in pain.
Our equine team used local anaesthetic to identify exactly where the pain was coming from. It was Figgy’s fetlock region. To find out more, Figgy had an xray of his fetlock taken. It was very subtle but our vets were able to see a suspicious irregular area in the long pastern bone.
To determine whether this was the reason for Figgy’s pain and lameness, we examined his forelimbs using scintigraphy. We injected Figgy with a radioactive isotope which is drawn to affected areas. These then show up as red, or hot, areas in the images. We could see abnormalities in Figgy’s right forelimb – in the lower part of the cannon bone and the top part of the pastern bone, involving the fetlock joint.
After identifying the abnormalities, we used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to give us very detailed information on the bony and soft tissues in Figgy’s fetlock. This revealed damage to the ligaments supporting the fetlock joint. We could also see active bone damage and an incomplete fracture in the long pastern bone. The fracture and ligament trauma clearly explained Figgy’s sudden severe lameness.
Damage to the bones of the fetlock joint is a problem we are increasingly seeing in high level dressage horses and ponies. In the past, this type of injury was only really recognised in racehorses but our MRI work has demonstrated that other sports horses including endurance, dressage and show jumping horses may also be predisposed to incomplete fractures and bone trauma in the fetlock region as a result of repetitive training and loading of this joint.
We have shown it is possible to detect these training-associated problems using MRI. Early identification means injuries can be treated before they become catastrophic fractures. In many cases, when a catastrophic fracture occurs the animal has to be put to sleep. Our research and clinical work is improving both prevention and treatment of these injuries, saving the lives of many more horses.
Figgy completed a recommended rehabilitation and strengthening programme. We carefully increased his training until he was back in full work and able to compete again. Thanks to the early diagnosis and specialist rehabilitation programme, he has fully recovered. So much so that in 2010, Figgy, and his rider Harriette, were able to represent Great Britain at multiple international competitions.