Equine conference educates, updates on active year

Racing issues, soring are subjects of task forces
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Suits and ties mixed with cowboy hats and boots during the 54th annual American Association of Equine Practitioners' 54th Annual Convention, Dec. 6-10, 2008, in San Diego. Attendees from all over the world came, including 3,201 veterinarians, students, and veterinary technicians. Total convention attendance was 6,579. David Foley, AAEP executive director, said he considered the third largest AAEP convention turnout a success in the midst of a staggering economy.

2009 AAEP Executive Committee
The 2009 AAEP Executive Committee: Drs. William A. Moyer, vice president; Jeffrey T. Berk, treasurer; Harry W. Werner, president; Eleanor M. Green, immediate past president; and Nathaniel A. White II, president-elect.

Reflecting on a job well done

Immediate past president Dr. Eleanor M. Green kicked off the conference, saying it has been an honor to be a part of such a dynamic, volunteer-driven organization. Dr. Green has been appointed as dean of the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, effective March 1.

She introduced AVMA President James Cook, who has been an AAEP member 30 years and has served as the AVMA liaison to the AAEP for the past five. He praised the association for helping the AVMA with strategic goals when it comes to equine and welfare issues, noting the AVMA relies on the AAEP "to be the voice for the horse."

The AAEP received 178 abstracts for consideration and 117 were presented at the convention. The 2008 program chair, Dr. Harry W. Werner, said he chose material on the basis of "topics of interest as expressed by you and key issues at the forefront of our profession." Dr. Werner was installed as the 2009 AAEP president (see story).

An equine veterinarian conducts an examination.
An equine veterinarian conducts an examination.

A new feature of the convention was a full-day farrier/podiatry program that offered in-depth sessions on laminitis, equine lameness, and other foot-related issues. Also, a luncheon for new practitioners was held for participants to talk about professional and life-balance issues.

Executive Director David Foley reviewed important 2008 AAEP events, many revolving around welfare issues. The AAEP's Tennessee Walking Horse Task Force issued a white paper on the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses. It is now working with industry leaders to adopt reforms. The association convened another task force in July to address racing industry concerns.

Dr. Werner said the task force is still "working hard to address the challenges of the racing industry." The task force plans to issue white papers addressing four areas: societal change and the perception of racing, the business model of racing, medication, and the veterinarian-owner-trainer relationship. Its goal was to submit the papers to the AAEP board of directors for consideration at its Jan. 24 meeting.

Also, Foley touched on the surge in the number of neglected and abandoned horses (see page).

"It's a notable challenge," Dr. Green added. "The growing population has reached an all-time high this past year."

AAEP officials traveled to Washington, D.C., in June to talk about unwanted horses and testify about horse racing and processing.

Internally, the association came out with revised guidelines on vaccinations for horses, and its dentistry committee launched a campaign to advocate for once-yearly examinations.

The AAEP's board approved a new three-year strategic plan in July. The three areas of focus are continued enhancement of the AAEP's continuing education offerings, equine welfare issues, and growing the equine profession.

Surviving in a struggling economy

Keynote speaker Lowell Catlett, PhD, gave a thoughtful and lighthearted talk on the current economic situation that provided a measure of reassurance and wisdom amid less than certain times.

Keynote speaker Lowell Catlett
Keynote speaker Lowell Catlett entertains the audience with his humor and insight while reassuring equine veterinarians during uncertain financial times.

Dr. Catlett is a professor at New Mexico State University and dean of the College of Agriculture and Home Economics.

His message was that despite dire warnings for the past 18 months about recession and economic collapse, the U.S. economy has chugged along, albeit slowly in the 2008 fiscal year.

"I'm not trying to be Pollyanna-ish," he qualified his words, going on to say there have been 13 recessions in the past 80 years, and 85 percent of those were V-shaped, meaning they rebounded to their previous levels, unlike the remaining L-shaped recessions.

From there he brought in Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which is a pyramid-shaped diagram that lists, in predetermined order of importance, human needs, going from physiologic to psychologic. Dr. Catlett used this model to explain how people "afford what they want."

He gave an example—how the owned horse population has increased 30 percent in the past 15 years, from 7.3 million to 9.5 million.

"They sure don't pull us and freight down the road. What do we do? We pull them up the road!" Dr. Catlett said.

In that kind of world, Dr. Catlett said, more people own horses, so equine veterinarians remain in a lucrative business, even during a recession.

On the horizon

Studies on diagnostic tools and treatments, emerging infectious diseases, and advancements in the reproductive field were featured during the Kester News Hour. Drs. Scott Palmer, former AAEP president; Bonnie Rush, professor of equine internal medicine at Kansas State University; and Margo Macpherson, associate professor of reproduction at the University of Florida were at the helm for the second year in a row.

The trio started off by bringing attention to a recent retrospective study in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine on the emerging disease caused by Lawsonia intracellularis, responsible for a handful of North American outbreaks in recent years. The study concluded that L intracellularis infection should be considered as the cause of ventral edema and hypoalbuminemia in young horses. Fecal PCR assays and serum immunoperoxidase monolayer assays are needed to help determine disease status. Treated animals usually survive, although they do not sell for as high a price at public auction as do other yearlings by the same sire.

Dr. Macpherson discussed various methods of suppressing estrus for performance horses. Intrauterine devices and oxytocin appeared more effective than medroxyprogesterone when comparing a handful of studies.

Dr. Macpherson also talked about embryo vitrification being used for mares that meet an untimely death. She said in the near future this technique could be incorporated into the practice setting.

The panel went on to discuss the helpfulness of bone markers in making a diagnosis. Having reviewed a few studies, Dr. Palmer said there are conflicting reports and that the bone markers out there today may be a great diagnostic tool but may not be ready for use in practices for a few more years.

Dr. Rush spoke about a study on the arthroscope-guided injection of corticosteroids into the fibrous tissue of subchondral cystic lesions of the medial femorial condyle in horses, published in the Equine Veterinary Journal this past July. It concluded that injection of SCLs using arthroscopic guidance is an effective alternative method of surgical treatment, which Dr. Rush called an exciting development.

She also talked about new information on a specific genetic mutation in horses that likely is a cause of equine polysaccharide storage myopathy. After looking at 36 breeds, researchers found a single-point mutation in the glycogen synthase gene. For draft breeds and Quarter Horses, this is the most important cause of PSSM, Dr. Rush said.

In addition, three studies in 2008 gave an important understanding of pulmonary fibrosis in horses. One of them, published in Veterinary Pathology, concluded that equine herpesvirus-5 is likely to be a cause of the lung disease.

Mind over matter

Dr. Stephen M. Reed gave this year's Frank J. Milne State-of-the-Art Lecture. Dr. Reed retired in 2007 from The Ohio State University as an emeritus professor. He now works as an equine specialist at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky.

The presentation was titled "Neurology is Not a Euphemism for Necropsy: A Review of Selected Neurological Diseases Affecting Horses."

"Probably the most important thing we can do is the neurologic exam," Dr. Reed said, particularly as a diagnostic aid. He recommended first looking at the horse's history, then performing physical and neurological examinations.

He broke down the neurologic exam by listing what should included, in the following order:

  • behavior, mental status, and head posture
  • nasal septum response
  • pupillary light reflex, menace, position, and movement (of eyes)
  • adductor function of the arytenoids with a slap test
  • cutaneous trunci response
  • tail tone in the perineal region
  • gait

Dr. Reed said the last part of the examination—evaluation of gait—is probably the most important.

The horse needs to have an idea where its feet are, Dr. Reed said, because if its gait is off, neuroanatomic locations probably are affected.

When doing a gait test, have the horse walk with its head elevated, in a straight line, on a slope, backward, and in a circle, going from a bigger to a smaller circle, he advised.

"Horses (with neurologic deficit) will hide signs by going fast and not walking slow," Dr. Reed said. "Watch what it does with every limb."

Educational presentations weren't the only attraction of the convention. Attendees enjoyed the numerous social events as well, including the alumni receptions and AAEP Foundation celebration and silent auction, which raised $118,000 to go toward programs to help the horse.