Fall 2017

Hunting for Answers

Tufts' experts in equine sports medicine return an owner to riding her Irish sport horse

By Monica Jimenez

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Photo: Anna Miller

When 15-year-old Irish sport horse Laddie stumbled during a pre-Thanksgiving drag hunt (using an artificial fox scent) in 2014, his owner, Anne-Seymour Ellis, figured he’d stepped on a stone and sustained a bruise. But when she went to take him for a ride two days later, Laddie’s front right leg was swollen. That winter and spring, Ellis led Laddie through snow and sea along Crane’s Beach in Ipswich, Massachusetts, but the swelling and pain remained. “Horses usually splash and splash in the water,” she said. “He wasn’t even doing that.”

An array of tests revealed nothing. So that summer, on the advice of her veterinarian, Ellis brought Laddie to Kirstin Bubeck, a veterinarian at Cummings School’s Hospital for Large Animals. With the help of an MRI, Bubeck found that the tendon running from the back of the knee to the hoof was inflamed and that the tissues around the navicular bursa had fused together, restricting the tendon’s movement. “His injury was fairly intense,” said Bubeck, one of three specialists board-certified in sports medicine who see patients at Tufts’ new Equine Sports Medicine Complex. “He’s a tall horse, too, and that can change things because the forces at work are bigger.”

After performing an hourlong surgery to divide the tissues and giving an injection of stem cells to help healing, Bubeck ordered daily, gradually lengthening sessions of walking (with no rider), instructions Ellis followed to the letter. At first, she worried that Laddie might not be improving, but soon the horse was trotting and his checkups showed excellent progress.

Two months after the surgery, Ellis was able to ride Laddie again. “I was teary-eyed. I was so relieved he was OK,” she said. Today, Laddie is fully recovered. “I think he loves being out and about, exploring, often just the two of us,” Ellis said.

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