RECOVERY AND RESTORED HEALTH
Most horses cough while eating and drinking as they adapt to an open larynx. Such coughing is usually harmless, though pneumonia can develop from chronic aspiration. Cory’s coughs diminished over the first two weeks. Soft rapid coughs after drinking lasted longer and still occur occasionally. A ground-level water trough helps.
As predicted, keeping a postoperative horse calm is the biggest challenge. A good supply of grass hay or a ground-level slow feeder gives the horse something to do. Stable him near quiet familiar buddies. Routine is comforting, so set a schedule for daily activities. Finally, find qualified help. The demands of major equine surgery and recuperation are ruthless.
Six weeks after surgery, we stopped the valerian and Cory revved his engines within 24 hours. Warren conducted a follow-up endoscopy---unsedated, so let’s just say it involved white knuckles and pale faces---and texted a video of Cory’s larynx to Hackett. Both veterinarians were pleased with the outcome. The laryngeal opening had relaxed slightly, as expected, and there was no sign of inflammation or infection. The prosthesis was intact despite our melee in South Fork.
We began rehabilitation, increasing hand-walks and working up to longer sessions. Lack of exercise always causes tissue to weaken---even bone takes a hit---so I turned up the dial very slowly to prevent injury. No one wants to put a horse through major surgery only to see him pop a tendon. If rehab goes well, it will be six months before Cory is jumping courses again. Today, his coat shines, his eyes are bright and the whirl-buck-bolt quotient is waxing, to my simultaneous joy and dismay.
Hackett emphasizes that new developments make prosthetic laryngoplasty less risky and more effective all the time. To reduce the risk of general anesthesia, Norm Ducharme, DVM, pioneered a standing version of the surgery that requires only sedation. Eric Parente, DVM, initiated the use of ankylosis to stabilize the joint from which the laryngeal cartilage extends. Ankylosing involves roughing up the joint chemically or mechanically so that it heals with arthritic stiffness, making the prosthesis more stable.
Jonathan Cheetham, PhD, is working on nerve grafts and laryngeal pacemakers. In grafting, nerve growth factor is applied to laryngeal nerve to encourage it to regenerate. This technique requires 16 to 20 weeks of recuperation, too long for many racing Thoroughbreds. Still, it holds promise for further development. Laryngeal pacemakers involve
As predicted, keeping a postoperative horse calm is the biggest challenge. A good supply of grass hay or a ground-level slow feeder gives the horse something to do.
implanting an electrode that stimulates contraction of the cricoarytenoid muscle. This contraction allows the muscle to move the cartilage that opens and closes the larynx.
Laryngeal hemiplegia can be corrected at relatively low cost and with frequent success. If surgery is not an option, Warren asks owners to remember that an untreated roarer is “capable of living a useful life and does not need to be euthanized. Instead, have compassion for the animal and change your expectations to allow the horse an easier life.” A roarer can’t race or jump or spin any longer, but he can still walk on flat trails, pony young horses or teach beginners to ride.