Citizen science: Call goes out to the horse world’s walking wounded


Scientists hope to answer important questions around effective wound care in horses in a British-led citizen-science project, but they first need answers and photographic evidence from those caring for the “walking wounded”.

The researchers are appealing to horse owners from around the world to throw their support behind the Equine Wound Project.

Horse wounds are a common emergency problem, but there is no clear guidance for owners about which types need to be treated by a veterinarian, how long different wounds take to heal, or even if the animals will return to normal work.

It can be difficult for owners to make informed decisions about what to do, particularly when they may be distressed about their horse’s well-being.

The Equine Wound Project is already making good progress, but needs more input from horse owners to advance the project.

“There is currently very limited evidence on different types of wounds in the general horse population, how they are treated and how they heal, so we are hoping to start filling some of these gaps,” explains Sarah Freeman, professor of veterinary surgery at the University of Nottingham, who is supervising the project.

Joint wounds, such as broken knees, can take a long time to heal.
Joint wounds, such as broken knees, can take a long time to heal.

“We have developed an initial wound scoring system, and a wound healing system, which we are currently testing, and are generating summaries of the current evidence on factors affecting wound healing,” she says.

“But we do need a lot more cases submitted. Our target is 1000 cases over a 10-month period, which I know is ambitious, but it will then enable us to produce guidance on how long different types of wounds take to heal, model which factors affect which cases have complications or a poor outcome, and test how some of the horse factors (such as age, size, concurrent disease, etc) affect wound healing time.”

The university is working with the British Horse Society on the project.

“Our end goal,” says Freeman, “is to produce an educational campaign and resources for owners, similar to what we have done with the REACT colic work.”

Freeman says there are several factors the research team plans to model, for example, how the age, size of a horse, the location of wound, and concurrent diseases such as Cushings affect wound healing.

Nottingham University Masters veterinary student Richard Birnie, who is lead researcher for the work, says the project requires horse and donkey owners to complete a series of short online forms, from initial injury up until a time when the wound has healed, with concurrent submission of photographs of the wounds.

The researchers are interested in any type of equine wound, regardless of size and whether it has been treated by a vet.

“We are aiming to collect data on a large variety of wounds, from minor abrasions to life-threatening injuries that may or may not require euthanasia,” he says.

This self-inflicted wound took several weeks to heal.

Birnie said he could see, while working on his third-year research project dissertation on equine wounds, that it was an area of research that urgently required more focused studies.

“Wounds have been described as the second most commonly treated condition in equine practice, so I found the significant lack of evidence-based data surprising.

“Valuable data collected could be the beginnings of important findings that could have widespread impacts on how both vets and owners manage and treat wounds in the future, ultimately aiming to improve the health and welfare of horses.”

With the help of owners, researchers hope to gather and analyse important data on how different types of wounds heal, including which factors may delay or help wound healing.

“We believe this work is important to fill gaps in our current evidence on wounds in horses,” he says.

British Horse Society welfare education manager Emmeline Hannelly says she understands that it can be an anxious time for owners when their horse is injured.

“We want to hear from them no matter how small the wound may be.

“Owners sometimes have to deal with extremely variable wounds, and decisions about how to treat and what to apply to the wound can be worrying, as some treatments may be detrimental to healing.”

It is hoped the research findings will answer some fundamental questions for horses owners, such as:

  • When should they call a vet?
  • What are the risks of complications with wound healing?
  • How long will it take to heal?
  • How long will the horse be off work?
  • What will the scar look like once it has healed?

Links to the online forms and further details on the project can be found here.

Another day, another mystery injury.

Latest research and information from the horse world.

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