As time goes by

Many advances seen in equine medicine since AAEP’s founding 60 years ago
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Equine medicine has certainly come a long way. While ice bandages and rest were the best treatments for many musculoskeletal ailments at midcentury, practitioners now have a wealth of drugs and biologics for use as treatment options. The DNA sequencing of the horse genome, too, has opened the door to new diagnostic tools and treatments.

AAEP logoThe American Association of Equine Practitioners highlighted these advancements during the opening session of its Annual Convention, held Dec. 6-10, 2014, in Salt Lake City. It attracted 5,534 attendees. The AAEP currently has 7,725 veterinary members and 1,325 student members.

This past year, the organization celebrated its 60th anniversary, which may explain why the opening session on Dec. 7, 2014, had a nostalgic feel. There was the video message from Dr. Robert Copelan (Ohio State ’53), the only surviving founding member among the 11 inaugural members who first met in 1954 in Louisville, Kentucky. These racetrack veterinarians wanted to create an organization to promote discussions on developing scientific data and encourage collegiality among peers. That was hard to do at the time because of long-distance phone rates and no effective interstates between many U.S. cities.

“Veterinary medicine is still an art, and each of us participates in the practice of that art each day with confrontations of problems. We are the best source to answer those challenges because we are the horse doctors,” Dr. Copelan said.

He was followed by keynote presenter Dr. G. Marvin Beeman (Colorado State ’57), founding and emeritus partner at the Littleton Equine Medical Center in Littleton, Colorado.

“Let’s talk about the evolution of our practice and how that has been such a wonderful thing,” Dr. Beeman said.

He started the Littleton Veterinary Clinic in 1955. At that time, horse racing was king, and horses had become stars on TV, introducing them into the new role of a companion animal. With these developments came renewed demand for veterinarians whose expertise was in horses. Back then, however, many parts of the horse’s anatomy had not been explored. Now, equine veterinarians also have at their disposal lifesaving anthelmintics as well as better diagnostic imaging modalities including portable radiography equipment, dynamic endoscopes, ultrasound machines, and access to CT and MRI.

Dr. Beeman said, “Inhalation anesthesia is the most important modality that has occurred in my lifetime. Those horses with abdominal issues have gone on to live, but when I was first in practice, those horses all died.” 

Dr. Beeman
Dr. G. Marvin Beeman gives the keynote presentation during the AAEP Annual Convention. This was his 56th meeting. (Photos courtesy of AAEP)

The other focus of Dr. Beeman’s talk was to encourage equine veterinarians to “practice equine veterinary medicine and have fun doing it for a long time.” His mantra is: “When the little things are done well, the big things happen. And the big things motivate us to learn more and do better.”

Dr. Beeman mentioned about a dozen motivating factors that support that message.

The primary factor, of course, was the horse. The longtime equine veterinarian also listed things such as participation in continuing education as well as organized veterinary medicine and the horse industry, mentorship, work-life balance, and a sense of ethics. He particularly noted the importance of having a basic philosophy or plan for a practice.

“Develop a set of core values and adhere to them. Apply them carefully as well as constant business management procedures,” Dr. Beeman said.

Kester News Hour

The Kester News Hour further touched on recent advancements in equine medicine as the presenters provided information on noteworthy scientific discoveries and innovations from the past year.

Drs. Terry L. Blanchard, Carol K. Clark, and Lisa A. Fortier highlight the past year in equine medicine during the Kester News Hour.

“Clinical outcome after intra-articular administration of bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells in 33 horses with stifle injury” (Veterinary Surgery 2014;43:255–265) was called a “groundbreaking study” by Dr. Carol K. Clark, one of the segment’s presenters, for its findings that showed horses with meniscal injury of the stifle joint can be treated with bone marrow stem cells. In the study, 43 percent of horses returned to previous levels of work, and only 9 percent experienced joint flare after injection. No long-term adverse effects were observed.

Another study, “The effects of three-month oral supplementation with a nutraceutical and exercise on the locomotor pattern of aged horses” (Equine Vet J 2014;46:611–617), was important because horse owners frequently ask about the use of supplements. In the study, both horse groups—those that received supplements and those that did not—had improved fetlock joint extension at a walk and trot, regardless of supplement. So the takeaway is most supplements may not work, but the findings do show that it’s vital to keep old horses moving, Dr. Clark said.

All Equine Veterinary Journal and Equine Veterinary Education articles discussed in the Kester News Hour are being offered free online for a limited time at

Investigating diseases

And finally, merging clues with progressive thought to solve mysteries in the areas of infectious disease and neonatal medicine was spotlighted by equine internist Dr. John Madigan (California-Davis ’75) during the Frank J. Milne State-of-the-Art Lecture, Dec. 8.

Dr. Madigan’s lecture, titled “Gumshoe sleuthing in the world of infectious disease and neonatology: discoveries that changed equine and human health,” immersed attendees in the process of infectious disease investigation related to mysterious clusters of fevers of unknown origin and to the pursuit of causes of colitis in adult horses.

Dr. Madigan
Dr. John Madigan speaks at the meeting’s Frank J. Milne State-of-the-Art Lecture.

In 1975, Dr. Madigan discovered Anaplasma phagocytophilia infection in horses in Mendocino County, California, ultimately leading to a National Institutes of Health grant for a study with Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in which the researchers described infection in humans and the tick vectors. Dr. Madigan’s seminal work elucidating the life cycle and transmission of Neorickettsia risticii (the cause of Potomac horse fever) revealed the infection was caused by ingestion of aquatic insects and not vectored by ticks or other biting insects.

Dr. Madigan is a university distinguished professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine as well as a clinician in equine medicine and neonatal care in the UC-Davis William R. Pritchard Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

His most recent research describes a “failure of transition of consciousness” as a cause for the maladjusted or dummy foal, and he recently proposed a relationship with some human neonatal conditions.