Diagnosis in Motion

New equine sports medicine complex supports specialized care to get patients back on their hooves
An illustration of horse anatomy

Whether ridden in competition or for recreation, a horse in motion is a symphony of muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and nerves. The horse, which Shakespeare described as "pure air and fire," draws its majesty from this graceful, and yet complex, physical fluidity.

To meet a growing caseload of horses that need specialized care to restore soundness, strength, and stamina, Cummings School is building a new equine sports medicine complex whose centerpiece will be an indoor arena where equine veterinarians can observe and evaluate horses under saddle and over jumps.

"Horse owners increasingly turn to our Hospital for Large Animals at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center for expertise in equine sports medicine and surgery, general surgery, internal medicine, and ultrasound," says medical director Virginia Rentko. With eight board-certified clinicians, three of whom are board-certified in equine sports medicine, "we are unrivaled in New England for this expertise," she says. "This new facility helps us better serve the region's equine community while helping us educate the next generation of veterinarians."

The sports medicine facility received generous early support, enabling construction to start this fall. An ongoing two-year, $2 million fundraising campaign seeks additional donations for specific components of the complex, including naming gifts for exam rooms and the tack room, operating costs, and support for an endowed professorship in equine sports medicine.

The new facility will complement the Equine Sports Medicine and Surgical Service at the Hospital for Large Animals, which treats horses for a variety of issues related to soundness and health, including lameness, respiratory failure, and wound healing.

The complex opens up new ways to observe and treat equine patients—many of them top-level hunters, jumpers, dressage, and three-day-event horses. Whether the patient is a competitive athlete or a recreational pony, veterinarians need to observe how their patients move in order to diagnose potential problems and evaluate the success of a rehab program, says Kirstin Bubeck, a clinical assistant professor of equine sports medicine and surgery.

"Performance is best evaluated in a controlled setting that is similar to what the horse has at home or in a competition," she says. "We want to match the surface and spatial setting. The new facility will replicate these requirements, and we will be able to make a truer assessment of their progress."

José García-López, associate professor of Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery and director of the Issam M. Fares Equine Sports Medicine Program at Cummings School, says the complex "will translate into improved care for our patients and strengthen our teaching and residency training. We've realized the need for an arena for a long time, and now we have the opportunity to take the next natural step in our evolution."

The complex, which is being built next to the Hospital for Large Animals, will include an 80-foot by 120-foot all-season, energy-efficient arena and a 42-foot by 104-foot building for exam space, holding stalls, a wash/tack/farrier room, a viewing area within the arena, and a meeting/client consultation room.