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Endurance News -- May 2022


President's Letter


President's Letter: A vet check, start to end

by Nick Kohut, DVM

As I write this column, the ride season here in the Northeast Region has just begun. While vetting horses at the first ride, I thought some of you might find it interesting what goes into the vetting process from my perspective.

In veterinary college, I was taught that we should learn to do physical exams in a step-by-step process and that we should keep the order of those steps the same every time so as not to miss anything. I go about vetting endurance the same way. Please keep in mind that this is how I judge horses and it may not be anywhere close to how other veterinarians judge.

When a horse comes up to me during the ride, my first step is to take the heart rate. While I am counting, I am also glancing at the inside of the horse's right legs to see if there are any bleeding interference marks. I will also look at the corner of the mouth for any blood caused by a bit rub.

As the horse "trots" off, my eyes will initially sweep from top to bottom, looking for a head bob or a hip hike. I will look to see if I can tell if the horse has all four shoes on or if it's barefoot anywhere. And believe it or not, I can tell within two to three strides whether or not your horse is gaited, so there is really no need to tell me that.

While continuing to watch for the bobs and hikes going away from me, I will take note of how the horse is holding its head. Is it up, is it down, is the horse looking around? I pay special attention at the turnaround to see if there is any hitch that wasn't visible on the straightaway.

I am going to look at all of the same on the trot back, but now I can also see if the person presenting the horse is influencing the horse in any way. Is the person holding the lead too short and not allowing the horse's head to move freely? Is the person running too fast and jerking on the lead, causing a reactionary head bob? I can also now see the horse's eyes. Do they seem bright and aware of the surroundings? Are the horse's ears up or pinned? In essence, I am looking for signs of fatigue as well as lameness.

When the horse comes to a stop, I lift up the horse's lip on right side and apply pressure to the mucous membrane to determine capillary refill time. At the same time, I am assessing the color and moisture of the gums. I will also check this side for bit rubs.

From there, I run my thumb down the jugular groove and check refill time and then to the point of the shoulder for the skin pinch. Next, I sweep my hand up the girth area to assess any tenderness or galls.

While my left hand takes the head of my stethoscope to the upper and lower flank areas to listen for gut sounds, my right hand will run along the back checking for any pain response. I will glance down to look at the inside of the left legs to look for bleeding interference marks there.

As I walk around the horse, I switch the head of the stethoscope to my right hand and use my left to check muscle tone on the left rear leg, anal tone, and then muscle tone on the right rear leg. I listen to the gut sounds on the right side and run my left hand over the left girth area before taking the second heart rate reading for the cardiac recovery index.

Truthfully, I may have had to do this step earlier if I encountered any issues with my earlier steps that caused a delay. The second pulse needs to be done one minute after the first reading.

If I found any issue(s) during any part of the examination, I will now go back for a little more investigation. Maybe I want to listen more for gut sounds or take an additional heart rate to see if it is coming down or see if the open interference mark is painful.

Looking forward to seeing you at the AERC National Championships next month!n


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