Prosthetics for Horses

Our medical technology is truly astounding now. Not only can we do so much more to fix conditions and injuries which should be life ending, but in some cases we can leave the patient with very little permanent scarring or obvious changes to their appearance. There was an article on Horse & Hound this week about a woman who had her face rebuilt after breaking virtually all the bones in her face after a riding accident. The before the accident photo and now photo is amazing!

However, this technology isn’t just available to humans. Racehorse Dream Alliance, star of the documentary film Dark Horse, recovered from a terrible severed tendon to return to the racetrack with the aid of relatively new stem cell treatment. And I’m sure many of you will have seen some of Channel 4’s SuperVet where he is particularly well known for his prosthetic limbs for animals. In many of these cases these prosthetics give these pets a new lease of life.

Since SuperVet first appeared on our screens, there have been recurring ideas of prosthetic limbs for horses with broken legs instead of having to have them put to sleep. I have seem a few attempts online over the years and last year Passion For Horse wrote about why they would never choose a prosthetic leg for their horse on their blog.

In recent days, a particularly painful video has emerged on social media of a recent “successful” prosthetic on a horse and it has become a very hot topic once again, with the general consensus being “it is a terrible idea!” I have included the video below for you to watch.

 And isn’t it painful to watch?

Now I know that it would take any creature a little while to adapt to a prosthetic limb, you are essentially learning to walk again! But I would imagine that they would have done some walking work before filming this video and the horse just doesn’t seem to be working it out at all. He is struggling to get to grips with his new limb and needs constant assistance from his handlers. From this video I am unsure as to if this horse will ever full adapt to his new limb.

This means that the horse will spend the rest of it’s days hindered by this false limb. Due to his instability and discomfort in the prosthetic, he will be putting more weight and strain onto his good front leg. Since horses already carry the majority of the weight in their forelimbs, this good front leg will be under a huge amount of strain and most vets would expect some kind of stress related injury in the good leg as a result.

We also have to consider what kind of life this horse will have. Obviously any kind of ridden career is out of the question. But could this horse ever be comfortable out in a field? I’m not sure how well they would cope with any kind of lumpy ground, or anything to wet, muddy or slippery. Which rules out most turnout here in the UK! But even with the perfect weather conditions, could they go out in company? What if something spooks them and they try and run away? If they lay down or fall over, would they be able to get up? Sadly, I feel that the only kind of life this horse could have would be being confined to a stable with the occasional hobble around the yard, and I don’t think that is any quality of life for a horse!

As prosthetics develop in other animals and as the technology advances, we may well start to see some fantastic prosthetics for horses. However, with the technology we currently have, I simply do not feel that they are suitable for equine anatomy at all. The horses do not seem able to adapt to them very well at all, and even if they manage to hobble around by themselves, the damage they are doing to their body cannot be worth it.

Somewhere in one of the many discussions about this topic I read the comment “Quality of life, not Quantity.” I think this sums it up perfectly. As humans we seem to have this bizarre notion that any life is better than no life, and maybe this is true for humans. But when it comes to animals what are in our care, we have to seriously consider their welfare and understand that suffering for the sake of life is not in their best interest.

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