As medical advances have swept across the horse industry in the last 25 years, some previously routine procedures have become less common. Here is a look at three of the most prominent of these now largely outmoded treatments:
Arthrotomy. A little more than a decade ago, such procedures as the removal of bone chips or the treatment of osteochondritis dissecans necessitated one or more major incisions into a joint, an invasive procedure called arthrotomy. The operation required stitching up several dissected layers of joint tissue. Recovery was long, and the procedure so traumatic that extensive scarring and some permanent loss of motion in the joint were common. Today, thanks to the advent of the fiber-optic arthroscope, arthrotomy is now required only in extraordinary situations.
Tubing. Twenty-some years ago, veterinarians, frequently administered dewormers by inserting a long, rubber tube through a horse's nostrils and down his throat to deliver the medication directly to the stomach. Today, most people deworm their horses themselves, administering the anthelmintic pastes with oral syringes. Tubing is generally used only in emergencies involving colic, choke and intensive care.
Pinfiring and blistering. These two painful "counterirritation" procedures were once done routinely on horses with chronic bone and soft-tissue conditions, since it was believed that such chronic inflammations could slowly generate performance-hindering scar tissue. To deliberately turn the chronic condition into an acute one, veterinarians used either caustic substances painted onto the skin over an injury and then bandaged, or a firing iron whose round point was used to create a pattern of burns. The goal was to generate a strong reaction that would heal the chronic underlying condition.
Though no studies had been done to verify the efficacy of pinfiring and blistering, they were widely believed to be beneficial. But about a 15 years ago, researchers finally probed the procedures' efficacy and found them useless. Pinfiring was soon banned in Great Britain, and both procedures fell out of use in the United States and elsewhere.
This article originally ran in November 1977 in EQUUS Magazine.