Event horses are the ultimate all-round equine athletes, requiring fitness and endurance levels beyond most other competitive disciplines. Due to the strain placed on the non-elastic tendon tissues in the horse's forelimbs, serious tendon strains are commonplace. This can mean a long layoff and the very real possibility that the horse's career as an eventer will be over. However, revolutionary stem cell therapy techniques now offer hope to eventers with damaged tendons.
So, how does stem cell therapy work and could it help your event horse to make a full recovery?
Tendon damage and stem cell therapy
Horses in fast work often sustain injuries when the non-elastic tendon tissue is overstretched, resulting in a strain or sprain. Injuries like these eventually self-heal, but this can take many months, and the damaged area will always be a future weak spot that is prone to problems. Consequently, some horses will no longer be suitable for fast work, effectively ending their eventing career.
Stem cell therapy involves replacing the damaged tendon tissue with freshly grown cells, rather than weak scar tissue. The treatment effectively means that the horse will have a brand new tendon without the risk of repeat injury in the future.
Stem cell therapy procedure and your horse
If your vet considers that your horse is a suitable candidate for stem cell therapy, you will be referred to a specialist vet services clinic for treatment.
Under a local anaesthetic, a small amount of bone marrow or fatty tissue is harvested from the horse's sternum area and then cultured under laboratory conditions. Over a few weeks, the stem cells are grown. When the stem cells are ready, a specialist vet will implant the cells into the damaged area of your horse's tendon via a fine needle. Mild sedation is usually all that's required while the procedure is carried out.
There is very little chance that the horse will reject the transplant, because the cells originate from the animal itself, rather than from a donor. In fact, the whole procedure is usually relatively problem-free; although, because a needle is used to extract the original tissue, there is a slight risk of infection.
Prognosis and recovery
The recovery time following a tendon injury remains the same at around 12 months. However, the prognosis with stem cell therapy is generally better than the 'leave it and wait' approach, as the horse will be left with what is effectively a new tendon, rather than a scarred one.
Stem cell therapy is an exciting new treatment option for event horses who have suffered a potentially career-ending tendon injury. For more information about stem cell treatment and how it could help your horse, have a chat with your equine vet.