I was super lucky to attend this event in Amsterdam. 250 vets from around the world, and just 10 non-vet delegates spaces allowed with me taking one of them.

The speakers were Specialists in there fields and some specialised in a few subjects. Richard Hepburn from the UK was probably my most favourite speaker over the two days as his knowledge and presentation skills were superb. Not being a vet, I was trying to get to grips with Vet Jargon as well as learning about things I can take home to help us all. My main motivation to attend was to see what I could bring back to help my broken horses, clients horses and how it can help my overall knowledge when fitting a saddle on a not so perfect Equine.

The vets I met over the weekend were really interested to understand my reasons for being there, and they found it refreshing that I was so interested in what I could learn from them. I think its absolutely key to work with the other professionals involved in the horse - for the good of the horse.

Anyway its been so busy since my return and I had so much buzzing around my head after the congress, I just couldn't put it in a Blog - but now I feel I can make more sense. I think the biggest thing to bring back and try to explain to you is what is going on around Performance Related Issues and what we can do to assess and treat. I will try and keep it brief - I have chosen 2 subjects to cover firstly as there are so many. I hope to find time to write further blogs soon!

Even though these were some of the best vets in the world speaking it was apparent how hard some cases can be to diagnose, even with the best technology and skills. With regards to performance related issues - Neck Pain featured high on the agenda, so let's start there. I own 2 horses with Severe neck problems. One that competed and performed quite successfully before his neck arthritis was diagnosed, and the other who has severe changes that was drugged for his pre-purchase examination which resulted in his retirement after a failed rehabilitation period. So this is a subject close to my heart.

A front limb lameness can show through neck pain. The things to look for when trying to understand if your horse has a problem here are, head shaking, swelling, Abnormal conformation, Pain, Restricted mobility and Hypertonicity.There are many areas to consider in the neck - the nuchal ligament, the semispinalis capitis tendon, muscles and 7 cervical vertebrae. Some of the symptoms and causes were covered. Many head tilt, head shaking problems were found to have Trauma in the Atlas, so bone showing a remodelling of C1 and C2. These vertebrae are responsible for supporting and moving the skull. Neck Stiffness, lack of flexion and swelling in bursae resulting in malformation or osteoarthritis.
To try and understand if your horse has a problem consider the following - look at the horses shape and posture at rest, how does this change in hand, when lunged and ridden. Can the horse flex one way but not the other. Does the horse have patchy sweating, hair cast changes, muscle atrophy, asymmetry. If you do a carrot stretch with your horse can he stretch round with his ears facing upwards or does he drop his ears and tilt his nose upwards? If he tilts upwards he is not able to stretch round comfortably. Neck pain is a more obvious problem. When ridden is the horse reluctant to work on the bit or bend? This is more common with dental disease, lameness and back pain. Horses with neck pain are more likely to be heavy in the hand. Neck pain can also be a secondary problem rather than a primary. If that is suspected a lameness examination should be done. The other issue to consider with head tilt, head shaking and neck pain is a poor rider or training issues. Physiotherapy, massage or acupuncture have been found to really help with neck problems.
Research was carried out on 129 cases of neck pain - 62.8% were found to have Osteoarthritis of Articular Process Joints, 14.7% Cervical soft tissue Injury, 7% Primary pathology unrelated to the neck, 8.5% Cervical Vertebral Malformation and 3.1% Cervical Vertebral Fracture.

Another main subject covered which many of us deal with and I come across daily visiting horses is stomach ulcers. It is a big poor performance related problem. Some of the symptoms to consider are fatigue when ridden, poor behaviour tolerance of exercise, unwilling increased resistance, inconsistent, appetite change, poor extension or collection, slow XC, stopping, poor shape when jumping, resistance to leg aids, adverse girthing response, reduced condition, back pain, stuffy and generally uncomfortable when ridden.
If you have concerns your horse will need to be scoped. Prior to that you could try an anti-acid therapy to see if that helps. It may give you an idea if there are ulcers before attending.
The treatment plans are Gastrogard, Oral Omeprazole, Injected Omeprazole, Sucralfate (mechanical barrier). Giving the Oral medications 30-60 minutes before breakfast increases the amount absorbed by the horse by 300%.
The treatment depending on the ulcers severity and positioning can take 1 to 6 months.
The diet should be looked at and Straw should not be fed. Corn Oil has shown very positive results for horses with Ulcers - it's a brilliant anti-acid and should be fed twice daily 45ml. This can be any corn oil from a supermarket, does not have to have a horse on it! A small scoop of un-mollased soggy chaff 30 minutes before exercise is great for coating the stomach. It prevents the acid from splashing up the stomach walls making the ulcers worse. I also know from my own experience of stomach ulcers the Lucie Bricks from Simple Systems are good. I fed my horse this the day before scoping and 24 hours later the stomach wall was not visible because the Lucie Brick had coated the stomach wall.
Not all Ulcers can be seen when the horse is scoped. If there are ulcers in the hind-gut these will not necessarily be identified. So you need to consider this when treating ulcers.
Finally it is really important to reduce stress levels if possible. Some of the advised ways to do this:
* Provide 2 days rest per week
* Free Movement - turn out over stabling
* Minimise management changes
* Change feed over 4 weeks
* Minimise change in companions and carers
* Multiple Forage Sources and Types
* Stable Mirror, Mirror in Transport
* Music rather than talk stations
* Daytime Forage Feeding 80% verses Night time Forage Feeing 20% (Ulcers less forming at night than day)

If you have any feedback or questions please feel free to get in-touch. Thanks for taking the time to read I hope it was useful.