Maintaining peak performance for Australia’s top horses has become easier with the establishment of a specialised equine hospital near Adelaide, discovers Cathryn Kempe
The University of Adelaide’s Equine Health and Performance Centre is the latest edition to the Roseworthy campus 60km north of Adelaide, which has undergone a series of major changes.
Head of the School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences Professor Kym Abbott says the hospital provides South Australia with a much-needed expansion of equine referral services.
“The hospital will provide a wide range of referral services that have not been available in one place in South Australia before,” Prof Abbott says. “It will lift the quality of veterinary care for horses.”
As a referral centre, the equine hospital not only provides specialist jobs for local and international veterinarians, it can also be used as an advice service.
“Veterinarians can call up for conversations, have discussions about cases, and they can get advice about cases that are either referred or cases they are managing themselves,” Prof Abbott says.
The Equine Health and Performance Centre gives veterinarians and horse owners access to up-to-date treatments and procedures in a secluded, purpose-built centre.
With a heavy emphasis on equine athletic performance, Prof Abbott says many of the facilities assist with diagnosing and treating related conditions.
“We’re keen to continue to provide support for people who have performance horses, who might want to investigate problems associated with poor performance,” Prof Abbott says.
One of the most common problems seen in horses, and in particular performance horses, is lameness. The equine centre is equipped with a range of facilities to monitor and treat horse lameness, including a lunging pen for observing the horse’s trotting and lunging habits, as well as up-to-date technology to assist in the treatment of lameness.
These facilities include diagnostic imaging, ultrasonography and most recently CT scanning, which was previously unavailable for horses in South Australia.
The centre is also involved with research focused on performance-related issues such as upper respiratory tract problems.
Professor Abbott says the hospital research staff are currently focusing on endurance horses, which are put under a lot of strain from the very testing courses they compete in.
“We have people doing research into ways to get early indications of any problems that might be arising during endurance competitions,” he says. “We are looking at things like body heat control, and also other metabolic problems that sometimes arise in horses competing in 24-hour endurance trials.”
The hospital also specialises in a range of other equine-specific diagnosis and treatment areas that will provide horses stress-free and focused care, explains veterinarian Dr Michael Cathcart.
“The purpose of this type of hospital is not just to provide surgical facilities; it’s to provide a safe, controlled environment and supportive care,” he says.
The two operating theatres are each dedicated to orthopaedics and soft-tissue surgery, ensuring a very clean operating environment and reduced risk of infection.
Accompanying the operating theatres are two padded recovery stalls with high walls and dimmable lights, with the ability to access the horses from above.
Keeping this environment controlled minimises the risk of injury to both the staff and the horses.
For long-term patients there is an intensive care unit with air-conditioned and oxygen-available stalls, as well as dedicated mare and foal stalls.
Horses suffering with severe neurological problems can be treated in a padded stall equipped with a lifting mechanism.
The isolation facility on the other side of the hospital grounds treats horses with infectious diseases such as the Hendra virus which has recently become a problem interstate.
The hospital has padded recovery stalls to minimise stress, outpatient stalls, an isolation facility, an intensive care barn, and a reproduction facility.
Dr Cathcart explains that the reproduction unit has been particularly successful and is confident it will continue to grow.
“One service that we’re really focusing on and we know is going to attract a lot of horses coming here will be the reproductive services,” he says. “A lot of people are very interested in continuing to breed their mares and the services here will help to improve success rates for clients.”
The reproduction unit offers embryo transfers, collecting and freezing semen, and artificial insemination facilities.
Currently the hospital is in the final stages of recruiting a second reproduction specialist to prepare for this year’s breeding season.
The reproduction unit opened in 2012 when the hospital served as an ambulatory service with a zero horse capacity. Now the centre can hospitalise up to 10 horses at one time, with six more day stables and three isolation stables, but Dr Cathcart says there’s room for expansion.
“The purpose of this type of hospital is not just to provide surgical facilities; it’s to provide a safe, controlled environment.” Dr Michael Cathcart
“We have not reached maximum capacity yet, but that will come for sure,” he says. “There are contingency plans to increase the capacity as our caseload expands.”
On top of providing specialised care for performance horses, the hospital is one of the primary training facilities for final-year veterinary students from the University of Adelaide.
Veterinary student Claire Dickson, who was feeding an eager horse tasty molasses and grain at his temporary home in the intensive care unit, says the experience taught her basic horse handling skills.
“I’m not originally from a background of horses so working out their feeding—things as simple as that—I’m more in a mindset of horses now, which is good because it didn’t come naturally to me,” she says.
During each student’s final year of their degree, they must complete a minimum of three weeks at the equine hospital,
learning essential horse handling, husbandry and feeding skills.
They have access to two plastic training horses, ‘Riley’ the rescue training horse and ‘Blacky’, who is used for practising surgical procedures.
Veterinary student Peter Toh says the experience offers students valuable practical experience textbooks can’t teach. “In a hospital there’s more time to do things. You can follow a case through with a lot of detail, and you can see how the horses progress,” he says.
There have been discussions about adding nuclear scintigraphy to the hospital, however no plans have been made yet.
The Equine Health and Performance Centre is the latest in the expansion of the animal sciences campus located in Roseworthy. The other facilities are the Companion Animal Health Centre, Production Animal Health Centre, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, Aquatic Biosecurity Centre and the Bevan Park Dairy Practice Teaching Unit.