Horses and New Technology

By Marcella Peyre-Ferry

Saddle and Bridle Magazine Equine Articles


Crane logo The value of technology in horse care. Written for Saddle & Bridle magazine by Maracella Peyre-Ferry.
© copyrighted horse article.
There are many new technological advances that could have a big impact on our horses. In today's world, new things come so fast that it is hard to keep up with them. You can take a portable GPS system in your pocket on a trail ride so you never get lost in the woods, you can have your horses fitted with microchip identification systems, and you can even buy feed supplements that promise to stop your horse's desire to chew wood.

I generally am an old fashioned gal. I still trust old remedies and products I have used for years, and some of my saddles that are still being used were bought when I was a teenager many, many years ago. As someone who has never even owned a microwave, I am not on the cutting edge of technology, but sometimes things are so good, you can't ignore them.

Recently I spoke with veterinarian James Holt of Brandywine Veterinary Services in Honeybrook, Penn. For his large animal practice, he is now using a portable digital x-ray machine. That may not sound too impressive until you see what it can do.

Instead of taking x-rays that have to be taken back to the lab to be developed, this machine shows the results on a monitor in just four seconds. That way, if the picture doesn't turn out for some reason or does not include the area you need to see, you can immediately take another view.

That is a good advancement, but it gets much better. The images can be pulled up by the veterinarian on their lap-top computer right there at the farm, and then the interesting stuff really begins. The contrast of the image can be changed by the computer so that the bone is the brightest part of the picture, or so that the softer tissue is highlighted. You can also zoom in on a suspicious area to get a close up look.

On the lap top, Holt keeps the files of all the past images from his clients so that x-rays can be compared side by side on the computer screen to see changes in the body as the horse heals. If a consultation is needed, a digital image in the form of a j-peg can be sent anywhere in the world by e-mail to get an immediate second opinion.

"We're actually able to render treatment at the time we have the X-rays taken," Holt said. "I knew it would change the way we do things, but until I started using it, I didn't know how much."

One area where the technology is particularly handy is in treating laminitis. The owner, veterinarian and farrier can all arrange to be at the stable at the same time so the shoes can be pulled, the foot x-rayed, condition of the hoof analyzed and then the horse re-shod to fit the exact need. The guess work of how to fit the corrective shoes is gone, and the horse's progress can be compared from one shoeing to the next.

Even owners of healthy horses can benefit from the new technology. If you have a horse's legs x-rayed as part of a pre-purchase exam, those images can be put on a disk that can be sent to the buyer's veterinarian for examination. In fact, all of your horse's x-ray records can be put onto a CD so that if you move the information can go with you while the originals remain at the original veterinarian's office.

I got a chance to see the machine in operation when Dr. Holt visited P.J. Zalewski to see Guy, a Walkaloosa with laminitis. The digital images are so clear that laymen can easily see what the doctor does.

"I think this is the best thing I have seen since x-rays," Zalewski said. "It's a big improvement. I can understand a lot of it. It's objective. There's no guess work."

Holt also explained that he has been able to use this new equipment for work that he would not try to tackle with normal x-rays. Areas like a stifle are difficult to get all in one film, but since this machine lets you take more on site if you miss the target the first time, it becomes more practical. Holt also showed me one case where he x-rayed the lungs of a pony looking for signs of an infection since she had not been responding to treatment as well as she should have. Though I could only recognize ribs at first, once he pointed out the lungs to me I could understand it too.

The equipment is expensive, so it is not everywhere yet, but it is spreading. Holt lends out the equipment to other veterinarians, and he has been contacted about attending sales so people could have on the spot x-rays done on a horse they are considering purchasing.

To make sure the equipment gets used. Holt has added only a modest cost increase over conventional x-rays, plus if the machine can help lead to better and faster diagnosis it is a cost saver to his clients in the long run. Even if you stick to the old fashioned ways like me knowing what there is out there in the form of new technology is important. That way, when you come across a problem you will know where to look for a solution.

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