Sebastian self-heals: Biologic treatment helps top jumping horse back to soundness

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Dr Bryan Dubynsky assesses Sebastian’s right fetlock for swelling and heat in a soundness exam.
Dr Bryan Dubynsky assesses Sebastian’s right fetlock for swelling and heat in a soundness exam. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

A single self-derived biologic treatment has proven an effective solution to help keep top-level jumping horse Sebastian sound and competitive.

This treatment, a form of regenerative medicine, encourages the body to self-heal through stimulating naturally occurring biological processes.

Sebastian, a 13-year-old Selle Français gelding, had been successful in the jumper ring in competitions around the world, but while competing at the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, his performance wasn’t as good. He was not jumping the clear rounds he had cranked out consistently through his career, knocking down rails while jumping off his right lead in particular.

Serena Marron had bought Sebastian in the fall of 2020, and said that while he had a “super clean vetting with no previous injuries”, his off-side fetlocks would often get a little sore.

Marron and her trainer asked veterinarian Dr Bryan Dubynsky, of Palm Beach Equine Clinic, to evaluate Sebastian. After completing a soundness exam, Dubynsky administered the self-derived biologic treatment to all four of Sebastian’s fetlocks and hocks.

“Biologic agents found in the horse’s own blood can be harvested, concentrated, and returned to the affected area of that same horse,” Dubynsky said. “This self-derived serum combines naturally occurring growth factors and anti-inflammatory mediators, among other agents, that can improve the structure, strength, and speed of healing. In equine sports medicine, we commonly use regenerative therapies to treat musculoskeletal injuries and as a preventative therapy to proactively preserve joint health.”

Regenerative medicine is used to treat or prevent joint disease and soft tissue injuries and works to decrease some of the detrimental biologic processes that can inhibit or slow recovery. By promoting healing and a healthy joint environment, veterinarians are better able to support horses throughout their athletic careers.

Dr Bryan Dubynsky observed Sebastian on the lunge line as part of the soundness exam.
Dr Bryan Dubynsky observed Sebastian on the lunge line as part of the soundness exam. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

Some regenerative therapies, like the biologic treatment used on Sebastian, can be prepared stall-side and administered during one appointment. Autologous (self-derived) serums are natural and steroid-free with no drug-withholding times for horses competing in FEI or recognized competitions.

“As with many horses performing at the top of their respective sports, Sebastian had obvious synovitis in his joints,” Dubynsky said. “Opting to treat this inflammation with a self-derived biologic as opposed to a corticosteroid promotes better long-term joint health instead of a quick fix.”

After the injections, Sebastian was given a couple of weeks off from jumping to let the regenerative treatment do its job. Upon returning to full work, the difference in Sebastian was very apparent to his rider.

“I could tell the treatment worked right off the bat,” Marron said. “I could feel a difference in his body by the way he propelled off the ground and how he felt in training the day after a big class. He felt all-around more balanced and even on each lead, which was a noticeable improvement.”

Sebastian soon regained his reputation for agile, clear rounds. The pair was able to successfully resume competition plans by jumping in the FEI two and three-star divisions for the remainder of the WEF circuit. They now plan to continue competing at that level throughout the summer, along with national grand prix classes.

Sebastian's treatment is prepared in the lab.
Sebastian’s treatment is prepared in the lab. © Jump Media

“Sebastian has spent years jumping at five-star level,” added Marron, “so we do whatever we can that will help him continue feeling his best.”

Horses can reap the benefits of self-derived biologic treatments well before a serious injury occurs that could derail training or require a lengthy recovery. Different forms of regenerative therapy, such as stem cells, platelet-rich plasma (PRP), and interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein (IRAP), are actively being researched and improved upon. This evolving facet of equine medicine is now a common component of the competitive horse’s comprehensive, long-term care.

Regenerative therapies can often be used in conjunction with other medications or alternative therapies.

“Traditional medicine tends to focus on treating the symptoms of health problems while regenerative medicine targets the root causes,” Dubynsky said.

“Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids can diminish the body’s healing response over time, and they do not address the underlying condition. In contrast, self-derived biologics stimulate normal, healthy tissue production instead of weaker scar tissue that is prone to re-injury.”

Serena Marron and Sebastian in action at the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida.
Serena Marron and Sebastian in action at the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. © Sportfot

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