Watch: Experts Weigh In On OTTBs And Their Joint Health Needs After Retirement - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Watch: Experts Weigh In On OTTBs And Their Joint Health Needs After Retirement

The 2022 Retired Racehorse Project's Thoroughbred Makeover wasn't just about competition — there was ample opportunities for education. Throughout the event, Goldophin's Lifetime Care program partnered with The Horse magazine to present multiple seminars devoted to the care of the retired racehorse and current sport horses. One seminar focused on joint issues in off-track Thoroughbreds (OTTBs).

Presenters during the seminar were Drs. Shannon Reed of Texas A&M University Medical Hospital, and Chris Newton of Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital. Both experts answered questions from audience members covering the topic. The discussion was full of information that went back and forth between both presenters, but some of the key takeaways from this talk include:

–Studies show of the Thoroughbreds coming off the track, 31% retired with musculoskeletal issues that the horse could recover from within the first year. All but 2% of those horses saw those issues resolve themselves in the first year.

Most popular areas of pain and inflammation for recently-retired OTTBs:

  • Most veteran OTTBs have common areas of inflammation: front fetlocks and knees
  • Horses training on Polytrack surfaces tend to have soreness in the hind end
  • Sore upper backs and lower necks in 100% of horses coming off the track
    • This leads to the horses overcompensating from that pain and hyper load on specific joints, which leads to inflammation

–[Cortico]steroids is not a dirty word. Many horsefolk have expressed concern about one study that examined cartilage cell cultures and showed evidence that corticosteroids were causing damage to those cells. However, experts point out this was only performed on cultured cells, not actual cells in a horse. Corticosteroids have been used to help deal with clinical symptoms of pain, including inflammation.

–However, you do need to manage risks with benefits. In light of the steroid study, Dr. Reed emphasized that severe inflammation in a join is almost as worse in cartilage than a single dose of steroids used to calm the inflammation. However, “we do know that long-term, repeated exposure of steroids to the joint can damage cartilage,” said Dr. Reed. “Some steroids are worse than others.”

Steroids can cause more issues within the body, including metabolic issues and steroid-induced laminitis if used too much, too fast because it can throw off the body's functions, thus leading to issues in the adrenal glands.

“You have to be judicious with the use of steroids,” said Dr. Newton.

–Joint injections are not maintenance. The popular marketing plot for joint injections is to be used for “maintenance” within joints, however the experts say you must throw the word “maintenance” out the window when it comes to injections.

Why? Because there is no way to reset what is going to happen within the joints and the cartilage — the damage is day to day, and you cannot use injections to “fix” issues.

“There are times where steroids and rest are the most advantageous when dealing with inflammation,” said Dr. Reed. “There are also times that surgery is the most advantageous.”

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“We can treat this and we can take the inflammation away, but if you do that too many times, you surpass the window where surgical repair is going to be advantageous,” said Dr. Newton. “There will be an upset surgeon wanting to know why you injected an OCD six times when it could have been removed after the first issue.”

“If you are an athlete and you're constantly wringing that last little bit of juice out of your efforts, then you're not going to be an athlete for much longer.”

–“OCD” is not a one-size-fits-all malady.  An OCD is a disease syndrome of growing cartilage related to different clinical entities such as epiphysitis, subchondral cysts, and angular carpal deformities. An OCD begins in the development of the fetus and into a young foal. An OCD means different things in different spots in different joints for its own prognosis. During OCD removal surgery, the surgeon will remove the abnormal cartilage flap, then will work to smooth out the edges from where it was removed.

“We're trying to get the cartilage and bone to be a better surface during this surgery,” said Dr. Reed. “We are not restoring it to a normal surface. That is not possible.”

–Wolf's Law: Bone responds to the forces being placed upon it. This means that if there are no forces placed upon the bone of a young Thoroughbred because he is stall bound for the first couple years of life, he will have weak bone. If a Thoroughbred is working and applies asymmetrical forces, the bone will respond to those forces—this is how OCD lesions are forced. Even, symmetrical forces mean the bone will respond to be strong and symmetrical.

–Osselets in horses occurs when the horse's fetlock experiences chronic stress to the point of injury. They are a unique malady for horses who run for a living due to the concussive forces the fetlock takes on while training. When tracks do not have a footing specialist who pays attention to the quality of the footing, the horses that train and race routinely on those tracks tend to have the most issues with osselets because of the stress to their joints.

Treatment for each case of osselets is individualized, said Dr. Reed. Veterinarians will treat osselets according to not just the horse, but the desires of what you want to do with the horse.


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