Exclusive! Dr. Morrison Describes Barbaro’s New Hoof Cast for Laminitis Therapy

Left: Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital’s Scott Morrison DVM finishing tendon surgery on a laminitic horse.(Hoofcare & Lameness Journal file photo)

On Wednesday, January 3, Scott Morrison DVM of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky traveled to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania to create a temporary supportive foot cast for Barbaro, the champion 2006 three-year-old colt whose right hind leg shattered soon after the start of the Preakness Stakes last May.

Barbaro has been a patient at the University of Pennsylvania’s Widener Hospital for Large Animals at the university’s rural vet school campus called New Bolton Center for more than six months. In July and August, after surviving several surgeries to repair his broken leg, the colt fought the painful mechanical form of laminitis in his “good” hind leg.

Known as “support-limb laminitis,” this poorly-understood and often-deadly complication of fracture repair in horses can result in necrosis (death) of the fiber-like bed of tissue (“lamina”) that bonds the hoof capsule to the bone. Unlike normal laminitis, which most often affects both front feet or all four feet, support-limb laminitis affects only the “good” leg that is overloaded when a horse favors one injured limb.

Barbaro was left with one broken leg and one hoofless one, but he struggled to survive. The damage to his laminitic foot, and the slow growth of new tissue, continues to be a grave concern of his caregivers.

Laminitis is the devastating disease that ended the lives of great racehorses like Secretariat and Sunday Silence, the Standardbred champion Nihilator, and more recently, the two great European champion dressage mares, Annastasia and Poetin.

Morrison, who heads Rood and Riddle’s innovative podiatry clinic, was sought as a consultant to assist with the foundered (a common term for a foot that has been ravaged by the disease of laminitis) foot. He first saw the horse on December 20 for an evaluation, then returned on Wednesday to try to help stabilize the foot.

On Friday, January 5, Dr. Morrison told me that the cast was applied, “because the foot is so unstable. He’s just not growing enough wall on the medial (inner) side, and he’s bearing most of his weight on the arthrodesis (surgically-fused) leg.”

Morrison padded the bottom of the foot with thick felt soaked in Betadine (iodine solution); the hoof wall was padded with Goretex fabric padding which was then covered with 3M casting tape. The cast extends up over the pastern area to just below the fetlock, according to Dr. Morrison.

“He lands on his toe when he walks,” Morrison commented, “and that needed to be addressed. I had asked them to take radiographs before I got there, and they showed demineralization (thinning or actual deterioration) of the coffin bone (pyramid-shaped bone in the base of the foot, encased by hoof capsule) at the toe and on the medial (inside) wing.

“I attached a big aluminum bar shoe to the bottom of the cast to help with derotation, to try to get that coffin bone more parallel to the ground.”

Morrison observed that the horse was uncomfortable at first with the change in footwear, but that surgeon Dean Richardson reported the horse was more comfortable with it the next morning.

An ancillary purpose of the cast is to stabilize the foot in the event that the horse needs to be moved out of his intensive care unit home at New Bolton Center. Speculation is that the horse will be moved to an as-yet unnamed farm, possibly in central Kentucky, to continue treatment in a more active setting. No date has been announced for his discharge from New Bolton.

Dr. Morrison is the founder and head of the podiatry clinic at Rood and Riddle; his unit is the largest hoof-specialist clinic in the world. The clinic currently employs four foot-specialist veterinarians and five lameness-specialist farriers, as well as a staff of technicians and administrative support staff. Morrison is a specialist in laminitis and consults on cases all over the world. He is a faculty member for the upcoming 4th International Equine Conference on Laminitis and Diseases of the Foot, to be held in West Palm Beach, Florida in early November 2007.

In his role as a contributing editor to Hoofcare and Lameness Journal, Dr. Morrison recently published an article chronicling his successful transplant of frog tissue on the bottom of an injured foot via the punch biopsy tool method; he was able to create a germinating bed of new frog tissue in a damaged area.

Ironically, he is probably most renowned for an unforgettable article detailing his successful deliberate implantation of sterile maggots in the foot to aid in the debridement of infected hoof tissue. That article can be downloaded as a pdf (Adobe Acrobat) file at http://www.hoofcare.com. No word yet if there are maggots in Barbaro’s future.

? 2006-2007 THE JURGA REPORT: Horse Health Headlines. All rights reserved.

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