Setback Jeopardizes Hall Of Fame Jockey Romero’s Chances For Organ Transplants

by | 07.09.2017 | 10:48pm

Paulick Report

Hall of Fame jockey Randy Romero

A new health condition has caused Hall of Fame Jockey Randy Romero to be removed from the list of recipients for a transplanted kidney and liver, something he likely needs to sustain his life for a long period of time.

The new health condition started during his trip to the June 10 Belmont Stakes as a celebrity jockey  guest. Romero, 59, is one of the rare persons who has undergone dialysis three times weekly for over 12 years. Besides being particularly tiring, it requires a port placed under the skin, in his case on an arm, so he doesn’t need a thick needle stick for every session. The port ruptured while in New York and he wound up in a Garden City hospital Emergency Room. Doctors stemmed the bleeding, stitched and bandaged the arm, and he otherwise said he had a good time.

But during his drive back from the airport to the home of his brother, John Romero, in Lafayette, La., he hit another auto from the rear, totaling his car. With no one injured, he made it to John’s home and was upstairs in his room awaiting dinner and napping. The port ruptured, this time so violently he bled out and became unconscious.

“My mom (Joyce) came to get me for dinner and found me in a pool of blood,” he said. “She saved my life. I wound up in Intensive Care and my blood pressure was like 40 over 20. I nearly bled to death. They had to give me four liters of blood.”

Romero was placed on a ventilator to assist his breathing and was unconscious and in critical condition for over a week. The ventilator was successfully removed but he was hospitalized until early last week.

 

 

During a career that included 4,294 victories and purse earnings of over $75 million, Romero broke over 20 bones, suffered third degree burns over 40 percent of his body in a bizarre “hot box” fire, developed Hepatitis C from tainted blood transfusions following the accident, has one kidney and has undergone over 30 surgeries. But the latest injury may be the most serious because he will have to get strong enough to get back on the donor list.

“I’ve been through a lot,” he said. “But I still believe in God and I’m not giving up. I believe in prayer and I know a lot of people out there are praying for me. “

How Old Is ‘Old’ For A Thoroughbred?

by | 07.06.2017 | 12:53pm

Gulch enjoying retirement at Old Friends Farm

Every year brings a handful of death announcements as stallions and broodmares succumb to “the infirmities of old age.” Whether the horse in question was in their early or late twenties, we usually get questions – doesn’t say, 25 years old sound young for a horse? And what exactly are the “infirmities of old age”?

Just as for people, there’s no hard and fast answer to the question of how long a horse can be expected to live. Generally speaking, ponies and miniature horses can live significantly longer than the average riding horse, and it’s not uncommon for them to reach their early or mid-thirties. Riding horses like Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses begin to show their age in their late teens or early twenties, though may live well beyond that. The oldest horse in the history books, according to The Horse magazine, was Old Billy, a barge horse born in 1760 who lived to be 62. Old Billy is the exception rather than the rule, with most riding horses living to be between 20 and 30. Draft breeds, much like large dog breeds, usually have a slightly shorter lifespan due to their size.

“I figure once they get to be about thirty, every day is a gift,” said Dr. Bryan Waldridge of Park Equine Hospital.

Waldridge treats the residents of Old Friends in Georgetown, Ky., which always includes some number of geriatric Thoroughbreds. Unsurprisingly, Waldridge said, a horse’s life expectancy also has a lot to do with their health history. Horses coming off the racetrack with more wear-and-tear injuries may see those injuries flare into problematic arthritis more quickly and viciously than those that retired sound. Past illness can also leave a horse susceptible to complications later; a horse that has recovered from kidney disease may be more vulnerable years later to a recurrence, as is true for colic. There are also individual differences; some horses are more sensitive than others to environmental changes that could cause colic.

 

 

Waldridge also believes genetics and attitude have something to do with it.

“I think some people just genetically live longer and I think it’s true in horses,” said Waldridge. “Gulch looked like he was going to live forever until he got cancer and then it was over in no time. He was one of the oldest, toughest horses I ever saw.”

Gulch, a longtime resident of Old Friends, was euthanized in 2016 at the age of 32.

As with people, the death of an older horse can be the sum of one or more gradually worsening problems, rather than one, acute bout of illness (with the obvious exception of colic), hence the vague phrase “the infirmities of old age.” According to a study of deceased horses 15 years old and up from the University of Kentucky’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the causes of death for most geriatric horses were disorders of the digestive system and those of the cardiovascular system. About half the cardiovascular cases were caused by a uterine artery rupture, which is considered one of the possible complications for broodmares 15 years of age and up. Most digestive issues likely manifested as colic, which is still the most common cause of death for all horses.

Fifteen years old is also recognized as the benchmark for increased risk of a certain type of intestinal lipoma, a fatty tumor, that can cause fatal colic. Colic generally gets more common with age, and risks associated with anesthesia become more serious as a horse ages, so surgeons are less inclined to operate on colic cases in their late teens and early twenties.

Cardiovascular issues become more common because with time, walls of the heart valves become thickened and the valves can sometimes fail to close properly, allowing blood to leak through the valves, which makes the heart work harder. Waldridge sees a fair number of deaths from congestive heart failure for this reason in older horses.

Aging grays are also at increased risk for skin cancer. It’s fairly common for gray horses to develop tumors on their faces, necks, or around the rectum. Most of those tumors are not problematic on their own but can pose challenges if they begin interfering with an organ’s function.

“Unlike humans and dogs, they don’t tend to be malignant in horses but where they are, they tend to cause trouble and they really like the hind end, so a horse can’t pass manure,” said Waldridge. “I’ve seen them get so big the horse couldn’t raise their tail to pass manure.”

A horse’s teeth, which are constantly erupting through their gums throughout their lives, may also begin to wear down or fall out as they age, making it more cumbersome to chew tough feedstuffs like dry hay or grain. Additionally, older horses struggle to maintain weight during periods of extreme cold, even when fed appropriate diets.

A horse with any level of athletic function is at risk for developing arthritis as they age, and this can progress to the point it interferes with a horse’s day-to-day function, especially if the horse is already dealing with other illnesses.

All this means owners and managers often must weigh an older horse’s “infirmities” with his quality of life.

“My definition that I always tell people is that when they can’t walk around and eat grass pain-free anymore, then to me, it’s time to think about euthanasia. If they can walk around and eat grass all right, they’re pretty happy,” said Waldridge, who emphasized a horse that lives to 23 is not necessarily receiving inferior care to one that lives to 30. “I think you can’t do anything about genetics. If they’ve had some serious problem in their past, it may ding them somewhere and make them where if they get an injury or illness in the same body system, it’ll hit them harder. It’s genetics and what’s happened to them their whole life leading up to that point, it doesn’t mean anyone’s done anything wrong.”

Nail-Free Shoe Options For Thoroughbreds: Glue-Ons Prevail

by | 06.29.2017 | 9:49am

 

 

If you follow any fellow horse lovers on social media (and even if you don’t), chances are you’ve seen a photo of these nail-free, iron-free, colorful clip-on horseshoes sometime in the past several months. Photos of the Megasus Horserunners, as the shoes are called, have gotten a lot of attention on Facebook due to their bright colors and claims of a gentler, more supportive shoeing option for horses.

The Horserunners, expected to be available for sale later this year, are clip-on shoes with bottoms designed similar to human running shoes. The shoes are meant to be shock-absorbing and easily removed for riders who want to work their horses in shoes but turn them out barefoot. According to the company’s website, Horserunners are applied by placing two strips of Mega Lock tape onto the foot’s outside wall and adhering the shoe’s clips onto the tape strips.

So, will we soon see Thoroughbreds with equine running shoes color coordinated to their silks?

Pat Broadus, owner of Broadus Brothers Horseshoeing in Central Kentucky, has his doubts. A galloping Thoroughbred exerts roughly 30,000 pounds of pressure per square inch in his feet. Broadus isn’t convinced, from what he has seen of the Horserunners, the velcro-like tape combined with the shoe base would provide the right combination of adherence, traction, and slide needed to the hoof in that high-pressure situation.

 

“I’ve never seen a pair put on,” said Broadus, who had concerns about the tape used to adhere the clips. “It’s like Velcro. You know with Velcro, as soon as it gets dirty, it won’t stick anymore.”

 

Indeed, the target audience for Horserunners seems to be trail and casual riders, although initial tests suggests the clip-ons can withstand the force of jumping.

While the act of using nails to affix shoes is painless to the horse when done correctly, nails can pose problems. Horses with thin hoof walls can have shoes loosen, and nails can predispose the wall to cracks, chips or tears if the horse is stomping flies or steps on the edge of a loose shoe and pulls it the wrong way. Some horses, especially Thoroughbreds with thin walls, struggle to keep nailed-on shoes affixed.

If not clip-ons, what are the best options for racehorses needing a break from nails?

Broadus said glue-on shoes remain the standard for Thoroughbreds with special shoeing needs. They were initially found primarily in hospital settings but have become much more mainstream in the past few years.

“It used to be you’d go in a barn and it was taboo for them to have glue-ons, and now you’ll have three out of 20 with glue-ons on,” he said.

Broadus, who co-owns glue-on shoe company Hanton Horseshoes, says people have gained a better understanding of how to glue shoes to horses’ feet.

“When glue-ons first came around, everybody thought you needed a half a bucket of glue to glue a horse on,” he said. “I think we were way overkilling it and putting glue in places that didn’t need glue, and I put myself in that group. It’s the human mindset of, ‘More is better.’ It only sticks to so much. The more you put on, the more chance you have of part of it failing.”

Hanton’s shoes are a modified type of Victory Racing Plates with clips that rest against the outside of the hoof wall, and it is these that are glued on. More traditional glue-ons require a small amount of glue at the edge of the foot and are easy to remove as the hoof grows out, since the portion with the glue is often the part that would be trimmed off anyway.

Despite his involvement in the glue-on shoe business, Broadus said he only has about four horses actively wearing glue-ons across a practice with five farriers.

“I glue to get horses out of glue-ons, I do not put them on planning to leave them on for their entire life. That being said, I have done it when I’ve had a bad situation on certain horses,” he said. “A lot of times, I get a call to come put glue-ons on a horse and you’re not putting nails in so the feet grow out and they look beautiful, then they’re scared to go back to [nails].”

Broadus has one client whose top-level driving prospect had to be retired when he pulled a shoe, stepped on the nail, and developed an infection that spread to his ankle. She keeps her current driving horse in glue-ons for peace of mind, even though she acknowledges it’s unlikely such an accident would happen again.

The downside of glue-ons is they’re more expensive; some can run $75 to $80 a pair, a cost that gets passed onto the client. A pair of glue-ons cannot be reset after one use, which contributes to the bill, too.

Another option Broadus sees for Thoroughbreds needing a break from traditional shoes: hoof boots. Broadus has had good luck rehabilitating a horse on his farm with hoof boots for about seven months. Hoof boots have become better-fitted to horses’ feet in the past several years and have been a popular option among endurance riders negotiating significant mileage at a slow speed over tough terrain. He hasn’t had a request to try hoof boots from one of his racing clients yet, but he wouldn’t be surprised if it comes soon.

“I’m not so sure that that type of boot wouldn’t have its place at the racetrack at some point,” he said. “I don’t know that a horse would run in them because of the traction on the bottom. But I could see a horse come up with a bruised foot or something, and you put that on for a few days while you treat it. I could see where it would be a lot of protection. They’ve improved them so much.”

Final Jockey Assignments Confirmed In 2017 Run For The Roses: Includes Three Louisiana Natives

by | 04.30.2017 | 3:05pm

Always Dreaming works under the Twin Spires with John Velazquez aboard.

The last of the Kentucky Derby riding assignments was confirmed on Sunday morning, and the current field of 20 is all booked up for Saturday’s Run for the Roses. The most recent addition is that of jockey Channing Hill aboard Fast and Accurate for trainer Mike Maker; Hill breezed the colt at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning, then announced the decision later in the morning on Twitter.

Tyler Gaffalione will be aboard the Todd Pletcher-trained Patch for Calumet Farm, it was also announced on Twitter Sunday morning. Pletcher’s other riders were announced over the past few weeks, with John Velazquez scheduled to team with Always Dreaming and Jose Ortiz to pilot Tapwrit.

Trainer Steve Asmussen confirmed his final Derby reinsmen on Saturday, naming Ricardo Santana to ride Untrapped and Corey Lanerie to ride Lookin at Lee. Florent Geroux had previously been named to ride Hence.

Late last week, trainer Dale Romans named Luis Saez as the replacement rider for the injured Robby Albarado aboard J Boys Echo.

 

Here is the full list of expected Kentucky Derby contenders and their riders, as of Sunday afternoon:

  • Always Dreaming (John Velazquez)
  • Battle of Midway (Flavien Prat)
  • Classic Empire (Julien Leparoux)
  • Fast and Accurate (Channing Hill)
  • Girvin (Mike Smith)
  • Gormley (Victor Espinoza)
  • Gunnevera (Javier Castellano)
  • Hence (Florent Geroux)
  • Irap (Mario Gutierrez)
  • Irish War Cry (Rajiv Maragh)
  • J Boys Echo (Luis Saez)
  • Lookin At Lee (Corey Lanerie)
  • McCraken (Brian Hernandez Jr.)
  • Patch (Tyler Gaffalione)
  • Practical Joke (Joel Rosario)
  • Sonneteer (Kent Desormeaux)
  • State of Honor (Jose Lezcano)
  • Tapwrit (Jose Ortiz)
  • Thunder Snow (Ire) (Christophe Soumillon)
  • Untrapped (Ricardo Santana Jr.).

Next up in order of preference: Royal Mo (Gary Stevens)

Florida Legislature Making ‘Substantial’ Push To Get Gambling Deal Completed In Current Session

by | 04.26.2017 | 2:10pm

Florida’s capitol building in Tallahassee

 

 

In a push to finally get a gambling bill approved during the current legislative session, the Florida House of Representatives made a few major offers during a session held Wednesday morning.

The SaintPetersBlog reports that the House has agreed to allow ‘decoupling’, which would permit pari-mutuel racetracks to stop offering live horse or dog racing, but keep their slots licenses if approved by local voters.

Only Calder among Florida’s Thoroughbred tracks would be allowed to decouple, according to current language in the negotiations, which also includes Thoroughbred “purse pools” created through contributions of other gambling entities.

The House bill does not appear to expand slots to eight counties with pari-mutuel wagering (including the flag-drop racing in Gretna and Hamilton county), and where local voters have already approved via referendum. It does permit a new South Florida slots parlor, provided it is at least five miles from an existing casino, and allows the Seminole tribe to add caps and roulette to its seven casinos throughout the state.

The Florida Senate’s gambling bill also permits decoupling but expands gambling dramatically by permitting slots in eight counties north of Dad and Broward counties.

Republican Senator and conference chair Bill Galvano called the House proposal “serious” and “substantial”.

Read more in the SaintPetersBlog

Louisiana Native Hernandez Opts To Stick With McCraken in the Kentucky Derby

by

Jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr. is the regular rider for a pair of 3-year-old colts with enough points to enter the Kentucky Derby starting gate, and knew he would have to choose which to ride if both came through their final prep races without issue. According to drf.com, Hernandez ultimately made the decision to stick with the Ian Wilkes-trained McCraken, despite the son of Ghostzapper’s third-place finish in the G2 Blue Grass Stakes.

“It was a really, really tough decision because both trainers and owners have been extremely loyal to me throughout the year,” Hernandez told The Courier-Journal. “It was one of those decisions that took a whole lot of time and a whole lot of talking with my agent. And we went with McCraken.”

That left Girvin, winner of both the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby, without a rider for the first Saturday in May. Despite several light-hearted rumors that trainer Joe Sharp’s wife, the famed female jockey Rosie Napravnik, might come out of retirement to ride the son of Tale of Ekati, the mount will go to Hall of Famer Mike Smith (Napravnik intends to stay retired, according to her Twitter account).

 

Both McCraken and Girvin have only lost once in their respective careers, but McCraken is more likely to be one of the top choices for the Derby because of relatively slow finish times in Girvin’s Fair Grounds efforts. Take nothing away from Girvin: the lightly-raced colt has done nothing wrong and just keeps improving with each start.

That said, McCraken’s third-place effort in the Blue Grass may have some fans questioning their belief in the previously undefeated star. Based on Wilkes’ record, including derby winners Unbridled and Street Sense (during which time he served as assistant to trainer Carl Nafzger) and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, a sub-par effort prior to the big dance is nothing to be concerned about. Both Unbridled and Street Sense lost in the Blue Grass before winning the Derby, and Fort Larned finished third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup before winning the Classic.

Eight Years After Its Creation, Equine Injury Database Shows Improvement In U.S. Racing

by  | 04.03.2017

The Paulick Report

 

The Equine Injury Database recently released data from 2016, showing the lowest fatality rate per 1,000 starts for American racehorses since the Database began keeping records in 2009. The fatality rate for 2016 was 1.54 per 1,000 starts and includes horses that died within 72 hours after a race. That figure is based on data from the racetracks holding 96 percent of race dates in the country. In those seven years of data collection, the rate of fatalities on dirt has gone down 19 percent, and turf racing has seen 44 percent fewer fatalities.

The Jockey Club announced the launch of the Database in 2008, at a time when the sport was scrambling to respond to public concerns about equine safety following the highly-publicized breakdown of Eight Belles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The hope was that the Database would identify patterns related to racing fatalities which could be used to make new rules for the protection of horses. Statistical models work more effectively the more data they have to draw on, so reform advocates knew the Database would take time to gather enough information to provide them with suggestions. In the meantime, equine medical directors, Jockey Club representatives, veterinarians, and others gathered to share their observations and safety concerns in their own jurisdictions.

The Database was one of the products of the Jockey Club’s Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, which was first held in October 2006. The Summit, together with findings from the Database, stimulated discussion about the need for safety and welfare rule reforms, and a range of new regulations have been adopted in major racing states as a result. The graphic below shows a selection of reform initiatives and their adoptions by major racing states, alongside fatality rates for corresponding years.

The challenge for regulators and statisticians working on and with the Database is not just trying to understand what racing is doing wrong; it’s also about figuring out what the sport has done right in its quest to bring the fatality rate down. 

Statistical Summary from 2009 to 2016
Calendar Year
2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
Rate 2.00 1.88 1.88 1.92 1.90 1.89 1.62 1.54

 

There are so many factors influencing a horse’s likelihood of fatal injury that no one can be sure which of the Association of Racing Commissioners International model rules or other reforms has made the most difference in the rate’s downward trend.

“If there were just one thing we could fix, if there were a switch we could flip, we would have flipped it a long time ago,” said Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and advisor on the Database. “It’s progress in inches, and I think the good news is that so far it has been inches in the right direction.”

The biggest milestones, according to Scollay? Whip regulation, which includes both rules requiring the “padded” or “popper” type whips designed to create noise more than impact, and restrictions on the number of times a jockey may hit a horse in succession. Those initiatives began around 2008 and continued as recently as last year, when California tightened its rules on whip use.

After learning toe grabs on front feet could predispose a horse to injury, several states began discussing shortening or banning the grabs altogether around 2009. Toe grabs on front feet have been made smaller in most major racing states. The Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, launched in 2009, has also provided important guidance to other labs on best practices for evaluating track surface.

Since 2012, states have begun changing the rules around claimed horses as well, reducing incentive for trainers to bring horses to the post with underlying issues. In California, claims are void by law if the horse dies during the race or is placed on the veterinarian’s list. Over the following two years, New York and Maryland added rules voiding claims in the event of death or a horse being vanned off.

EID timeline3

“Some people view the voided claim rule as some sort of warranty or protecting the claimant to the detriment of the trainer. It’s not about protecting people (other than the jockeys), it’s about protecting the horse,” said Scollay.

Scollay has studied injury statistics at high-level regional meets versus tracks with a more local trainer base. Perhaps counterintuitively, she found the smaller track with lots of claiming races had a lower fatality rate. She believes that’s because trainers there recognize the likelihood of bringing a claimer back to the barn after the race, and they don’t have a waiting list of horses to fill their stalls if they lost one to a major injury.

Scollay and Dr. Larry Bramlage, renowned equine orthopedic surgeon at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, both believe tougher corticosteroid regulation may have contributed to decreased fatalities. Although corticosteroids are not harmful in and of themselves, overuse can cloud a veterinarian’s ability to accurately assess a horse’s soundness. Methylprednisolone (also known as Depo-Medrol) was found to linger in the joints longer than other types of corticosteroids, which may be especially problematic.

depo medrolFor research purposes, Scollay routinely reviews Kentucky’s post-race drug testing data with “filters off,” meaning she sees all results from tests, including trace amounts of medications which aren’t considered violations. After new corticosteroid rules were enacted, she saw far fewer trace amounts of the drugs in horses’ systems. She’s also seen fewer commission-initiated scratches for unsoundness. The total number of scratches for the fiscal year 2013, prior to the current corticosteroid rules, was 146 at Kentucky’s tracks; in 2016, post-rule establishment, it was 101.

Outside of boosting state regulations, the number of racetracks using safety guidelines independent of state rules has increased, too. The NTRA launched its Safety and Integrity Alliance program in 2008 and had fifteen tracks accredited by 2009. There were 24 accredited by 2014.

Even with additional guidance from the database, Scollay recognizes it isn’t feasible for tracks to eliminate all risk factors for horses. Having a menu of suggested reforms does allow tracks to pick and choose areas they can control to reduce breakdowns.

Experts believe, for example, that running claiming horses for a significantly higher purse than their tag value (most commonly done at slots-fueled tracks) encourages risky behavior on the part of trainers. It may not be reasonable for a track to change its purse structure for fear of losing entries; instead, there could be other areas, like race distance, the track can try to adjust for minimal risk.

Hold your horses
It’s important to recognize it’s unlikely that any one rule change is responsible for the downturn in Thoroughbred deaths. Dr. Tim Parkin, veterinarian and epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow, said so far his team has been able to explain just 35 percent of the change in fatality rates with its statistical models. The remaining 65 percent of the rate reduction that hasn’t been quantified, and it may or may not be influenced by those regulatory changes.

Among the factors associated with 35 percent of the fatality rate decline: racing at two years old (horses are more likely to make their first starts at two, which is associated with reduced risk of injury), fewer races at six furlongs or under, fewer starts on dirt tracks not rated “fast,” and longer periods of time with the same trainer.

Parkin also cautions that it’s natural for rates like these to vary somewhat year to year, which is evident from 2011 to 2014, when the fatality rate fluctuated between 1.88 and 1.92 and back again. Statisticians use different formulas to determine whether a change between two numbers is “significant” or not likely due to natural variation. The drop from 2014 to 2015 was statistically significant; Parkin suspects the drop from 2015 to 2016 probably was not statistically significant.

“Given such a dramatic drop last year, I was anticipating that 2016 might see at least a leveling off or maybe a slight uptick,” he said. “Some of that drop might have been some natural variation. It wouldn’t have concerned me at all if there’d been a slight uptick in 2016 compared to the figures in 2015, but it’s further encouraging that there’s been a reduction. It gives me further confidence that what we’re seeing is a true reduction.”

Dr. Tim Parkin

Parkin said the Database continues to collect additional types of data from racetracks to help analysts interpret the numbers. Workout data is now being added into the Database, which Parkin hopes will help give him more clues about the relationship of rest periods to injury rates; it’s generally believed that too-long of a rest has a negative impact on bone remodeling, but that hasn’t been testable to this point. One major dark area for Database analysts remains the veterinary records of horses that break down, as information is still subject to state privacy laws. It’s also challenging to incorporate race-by-race changes in track surface due to weather, although the Database has recorded a track’s official condition at the time of a race and found (unsurprisingly) that fast or firm tracks had less likelihood of fatal breakdowns.

As the industry continues to learn more, Parkin believes the simple discussion of these risk factors in the media and between regulators is probably having an unmeasurable impact.

“It’s undoubtedly the case that simply talking about the issue gets people thinking about it,” he said. “I’ve seen lots of vets at their own tracks that have spoken to me and said, ‘We’re thinking about this and I keep my own spreadsheet of what’s going on.’ That’s probably something they wouldn’t have been doing 10 years ago. It’s kind of an attitudinal change, as well as other, more measurable changes.”

Parkin said The Jockey Club recently renewed funding for the upkeep and analysis of the Database. In the future, he’s hoping to create models that will test the impact of rule changes over the years since their institution.

Although there’s still a lot to learn and much work to be done, Scollay said she’s proud of how far the industry has come in working to improve equine safety.

“When you look at 2009 to 2016, I get chills,” she said. “What we needed to do, and what we talked about at the first Welfare and Safety Summit, was reducing our race fatalities by 50 percent. If we do that, the rest of the world has to talk to us like grown-ups, so we’ll be there with them. Then [the fatality rate] will become all of our problem, not just, ‘Those Americans who can’t do it right.’ It’ll be a communal problem we have to continue to work on, but the finger pointing stops.

“We’re halfway there. I think people should be heartened by that, but not get complacent. For people saying, ‘it’s a part of the game,’ it’s less a part of the game than you think. So I’m thrilled.”

It’s Not Just You: Antibiotic Resistance A Challenge For Equine Veterinarians

by  | 03.24.2017 | 12:04pm
SMZs

Long hailed as the greatest advance in medicine, antibiotics have become the go-to treatment for nearly every scratch, cough, or fever, whether or not they were caused by bacteria. Many doctors and veterinarians began indiscriminately prescribing antibiotics simply because their patients expected — even demanded — them. This overuse of antibiotics eventually created today’s crisis, in both human and animal medicine: antibiotic resistance.

Dr. Ken Marcella, founder of KLM Equine in Canton, Ga., has been beating the drum for years to alert horsemen to the danger of overuse of antibiotics. Last year, he treated his first case of methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in a horse. In humans, the disease is widespread, with government agencies requiring hospitals to screen incoming patients for MRSA to curtail its spread.

In equine medicine, researchers and practitioners are doubly concerned about antibiotic resistance because there aren’t that many types of antibiotics in their arsenal. If a disease becomes resistant to the antibiotic of choice for treating it, horsemen — and the horse — are in trouble.

“First-choice drugs out in the field are going to be things like the sulfas — Trimethoprim [SMZ] or Uniprim are still the #1 deal,” Marcella said. “Because [sulfa] is generally broad-spectrum, and it is real simple for the client to administer, I think it’s probably overused. So we try to hold off on that.”

Gimme some SMZs, Doc

Horsemen have become accustomed to stopping at the veterinary clinic to pick up a supply of antibiotics, either for a special case or just to have on hand. Marcella said his clinic has had a long-standing policy not to dispense antibiotics unless he has examined the horse. Even then, he may choose to allow the horse’s immune system to do the work.

“Say a horse presents with just a runny nose,” Marcella said. “A lot of times, if the horse is eating and drinking and its temperature and physical exam are normal, we’ll hold off on any sort of treatment.”

He’ll follow up with the owners to assure the horse is recovering and if it isn’t, he’ll do lab work to determine which antibiotic is effective against that particular bacteria.

“It really doesn’t help in terms of resistance if you go ahead and treat with the wrong antibiotics for 10 days and then find out it’s not working,” he said.

Marcella may turn to stronger antibiotics — penicillin, gentamicin, enrofloxacin, or the tetracyclines — but only after blood work or cultures indicate their need.

What is the risk?

Risk management Is the key factor in deciding if and when to treat with antibiotics. Some horses may be healthy enough to fight the bacteria on their own, while others may be more at risk because of their age and overall health.

Another consideration is the disease itself.

“If I think it’s a disease that if I wait and I’m wrong, the horse is going to have more of a problem, then I’m more likely to go ahead and start antibiotics if I think they are needed,” Marcella said. “Or if I go ahead and do [blood work] and there’s a good chance of an infection somewhere, I’m going to put the horse on antibiotics, even if I can’t find the source to culture it.”

Foal Pneumonia

foalRhodococcal pneumonia in foals is a deadly disease that begins as small focal points of infection in the lungs that eventually become abscesses. This insidious pneumonia infects the foal in the first days of life but does not show symptoms until the advanced stage months later, a point where little can be done to save its life. In the early stages, foals continue to nurse normally, and they even may appear bright and healthy.

Researchers have developed a way to identify and monitor lesions in the foal’s lungs using ultrasound. The lesions are graded on a scale of zero to 10. A companion study found that smaller lesions (less than Grade 2) are able to resolve without medical intervention. But with such a serious disease, are farms willing to take that risk?

Three Chimneys Farm routinely ultrasounds its foals’ lungs for R. equi, but the size of a lesion is not the only factor farm manager Chris Baker said they use to decide if a foal should be treated.

“Clinical signs, ultrasound, and blood work — those three criteria are what we rely on in determining our choice whether to treat,” Baker said. “We’ll follow those along, but we only treat when we feel we have an active infection that needs to be treated, not an inflammatory [condition] or a low-grade infection process that the foal is dealing with on its own.”

Alternatives

For serious infections, ranging from wounds to respiratory disease, Marcella prefers to use Excede, an antibiotic with effects lasting four days.

“If you get a puncture wound or a respiratory issue, four days of Excede and then re-evaluation is probably a better way to go,” Marcella said.

Researchers also are looking to natural cures as a way to fight antibiotic resistance. Natural honey has shown promising results. A Swedish study found the beneficial lactic-acid bacteria in a bee’s stomach is effective in treating MRSA, non-healing wounds, and other antibiotic-resistant diseases. Commercial honey does not contain the lactic-acid bacteria; the source must be fresh raw honey.

Researchers in the United States also are looking into the antibiotic properties of the metal gallium maltolate to treat wounds and Rhodococcal pneumonia.

“The biggest thing from us out in the field is not to jump on antibiotics for no particular reason,” Marcella said.

Melancon ‘Taking One Day At A Time’ In Recovery From Stroke

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Retired jockey Larry Melancon, 61, is still recovering from the stroke that befell him earlier this month while vacationing in North Carolina. According to the Daily Racing Form, Melancon has returned to his hometown of Louisville and is undergoing twice daily physical therapy to deal with the partial paralysis the stroke left behind.

“He is a worker and tries very hard,” wrote Melancon’s wife, Denise, on Facebook over the weekend. “We are taking one day at a time.”

Melancon retired from riding in 2010, after a successful career that spanned close to 40 years. During his career, Melancon won over 2,800 races and his mounts accrued over $60 million in earnings. Since his retirement, Melancon remained active in racing, working for trainer Al Stall Jr. for a few years. He then briefly represented Calvin Borel as his jockey agent.

Read more in the Daily Racing Form, and donate to his medical expenses via this GoFundMe account.

Former Jockey Larry Melancon Suffers Stroke While Vacationing In North Carolina

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Larry Melancon piloted Off Duty to victory in the G3 Phoenix Stakes in 2007
Larry Melancon piloted Off Duty to victory in the G3 Phoenix Stakes in 2007

Former jockey Larry Melancon remains hospitalized in North Carolina after suffering a stroke on March 3 while vacationing with his wife.

The Daily Racing Form reports that Melancon, 61, was airlifted to Mission Neurology Hospital in Asheville on Friday. He had begun showing symptoms of a stroke that morning at the hotel where he was staying with his wife, Denise. Doctors put Melancon in an induced coma after he underwent a six-hour surgery on Saturday.

Melancon retired from riding in 2010, after a successful career that spanned close to 40 years. During his career, Melancon won over 2,800 races and his mounts accrued over $60 million in earnings. Since his retirement, Melancon remained active in racing, working for trainer Al Stall Jr. for a few years. He then briefly represented Calvin Borel as his jockey agent.

Go Fund Me page has been set up to help with medical expenses, and to help transport Melancon back to Louisville.

Read more in the Daily Racing Form, and click here to donate