A three-month study of Thoroughbred horses in training at two racetracks has proven the benefit of thermography in competitive horses, said Tracy Turner, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVS, of the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine. His goal was to see if thermography, which shows heat patterns given off by the horse, could help detect injuries earlier in the disease processes, and if that diagnostic tool would be accepted by trainers. He also wanted to see if thermography could be used to detect a pattern involved with injuries on the racetrack. The answer to all questions was yes."We did not save any horses from catastrophic injury," noted Turner, "but on the other hand, none of the horses we looked at suffered a catastrophic injury." Turner and his colleagues looked at about 30 horses a week (and followed 15 horses throughout the study) during June, July, and August at meets at Canterbury Downs and Ellis Park. The first couple of weeks of the study, trainers were very skeptical about the usefulness of thermography. Turner and his staff spent more time explaining what they were doing and discussing what showed up on thermography scans than they did actually looking at horses. By the third week of the study, trainers were there listening and watching every horse. "Several trainers were convinced we made their horses winners because we discovered muscle injuries they were not aware of which they subsequently treated," said Turner. "And we found one horse in every trainer's barn (who participated in the study) that the trainer sent home because of what we found. They were not lame, but had training problems and we kept discovering more and more inflammatory spots." Turner said he also could follow the progress of a horse which was developing the tying-up syndrome. Another interesting point was that several horses conditioned by one trainer showed up with joint problems, while another trainer seemed to have more horses with "hot" tendons. That pointed out to Turner and his colleagues that training style and management were factors in injuries of racehorses. In other words, there were variations in injuries that were trainer-related. "It surprised me that most trainers took to heart what we said, and if a horse had a shin that was hot, the trainer backed off it and changed its training or did something therapeutic," said Turner. The thermography crew also learned to "read through" blisters and sweats if both legs had been treated so there was the ability to compare one leg to the other. He also noted that when horses are worked, they get hot and stay hot for a few hours. And horses which have been "iced" stay cold for a long period of time. "In a controlled study (at the University), a horse's leg iced at 4° Celsius for 30 minutes stayed cooled for two hours in a standing horse," said Turner. Next year, Turner wants to go back to the racetrack and put together a study that is more controlled. He wants to work with one trainer and do thermography scans on all horses before and after training and see the effects of work and follow injuries commonly seen in racehorses. Turner and his colleagues will work on the statistics and correlation for possible presentation of the 1998 thermography study at the 1999 American Association of Equine Practitioners meeting.
The 1998 thermography study was sponsored by eMerge Vision. For further information on thermography see The Horse of May 1998, page 49.
Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.