What does a small Quarterhorse from West Linn, Oregon have in common with celebrities like Tiger Woods and Kobe Bryant? She got the same high-end, high-tech treatment for her joint injury as the big-name athletes. And she didn’t have to travel to Europe to get it.
Brandy was a gift to the Savoy family. Soon after her arrival, she became very ill with pneumonia. Still recovering from that, she severely injured her eye requiring more treatment and convalescence. But she bounced back quickly and suffered no long-term effects. “This was when I knew she was a fighter,” says Anne Savoy. “Her ability to deal with the extended and painful treatments at such a young age gave me some insight into her mind and her potential.”
The family was soon taking Brandy on camping and trail trips, and they were making plans to train her as an event horse for their daughter. “She has a great work ethic, is a thinker, and seems happier with more challenge,” says Savoy. “She is a horse that, given the chance to think things through, will do just about anything. This is why the day of her injury is so bizarre.”
At a lesson on a blustery, stormy day, Brandy was unusually tense and unable to settle into her work so Savoy had her circling, bending and doing other exercises to relax her. While working her in a trot, a gust of wind came through the arena and rattled the plastic in the rafters. Brandy stopped in mid-stride and looked but did not spook or bolt. Then, on moving out, Savoy noticed her horse was lame.
Dr. Trevor Ferguson at Equus Veterinary Service x-rayed Brandy, diagnosed an injury to her stifle (knee) joint, and suggested arthroscopy to evaluate the extent of the damage. Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure in which an examination, and sometimes treatment, of damage to the interior of a joint is performed using a scope that is inserted into the joint through a small incision. The OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital has state-of-the-art facilities for minimally invasive procedures. “Having worked in the veterinary field with equines, I knew that if she needed an arthroscopy I would have it done at OSU,” says Savoy.
OSU veterinarian Michael Huber performed the arthroscopic surgery and found cartilage, ligament, and tendon damage. Before closing up the incision, Huber and his team used ultrasound to guide injections of platelet rich plasma (PRP) into the damaged areas of the joint. PRP is a concentration of platelets containing protein growth-factors that affect wound healing and act as a scaffold for new tissue growth. The PRP was prepared on site from Brandy’s own blood.
Like all therapeutic treatments, the degree of success with PRP varies depending on timely application, proper dose, and severity of the damage. “Her odds were only 50/50 for a complete recovery,” says Savoy, “and any chance of improving on that would be based on how she handled the stall rest for the next nine months.”
Stall rest can be a challenge for owner and horse alike. Some horses have trouble adapting to confinement and lack of exercise but Brandy handled it well. “One trick I learned to minimize boredom was to place a milk jug with a few treats in her stall,” says Savoy. “She quickly learned how to roll the jug around to dispense the treats. “
Months of inactivity was followed by months of careful hand walking before Brandy was cleared by Dr. Huber to start back under saddle. “I’ve always tried not to push her too far or too fast and she has made a remarkable recovery,” says Savoy.
In fact, Brandy is doing so well, the Savoy family plans to take her back to the mountains camping this summer. They are also restarting her training so their daughter can take Brandy to Pony Club events next year.