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Pets Large & Small

Metro Meteor

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM

(2/2013) I first met Metro Meteor and his owners, Ron and Wendy, a few years ago. They had just moved to a new boarding facility and wanted me to evaluate Metro's knees. Metro is a former race horse, with many miles of running in his past. Metro had two knee surgeries during his racing days, but his owners now needed other options to keep him comfortable. While Ron and Wendy had no desire for Metro to race, they wanted him to be comfortable for light trail riding.

We discussed several options including oral medications, IV and IM injections and the alphabet soup of joint injection choices (IRAP, PRP, HA, PSGAG, etc). As Metro was already receiving injectable Adequan® and oral Cosequin® to help with his arthritis, joint injections were the next option. Soon after our conversation, Metro was sedated, his knees were shaved and cleaned, and I injected his knee joints with a steroid, a combination chondroitin/ HA (hyluronic acid) product, and antibiotic. His owners were instructed to give Metro an anti-inflammatory (Bute) for the next couple of days and then they could take him for a trail ride by weekend.

I was fortunate enough to be riding with Metro's owners the weekend after Metro's injections. Metro was feeling great. He was trying to run, jigging up hills, and acting very full of himself. As we were riding through the fields, with Metro chomping at the bit, I was wondering if the joint injections had almost worked too well. I remember another client who banned me from injecting his horse's joints when, after the procedure, the horse felt so good, that he ran off with his rider and bucked him off in a field. Luckily, Ron was so pleased to have Metro feeling good that he was willing to put up with the exuberance and added challenge to the ride.

Unfortunately for Metro, the positive effects of the joint injections were short lived and 6 months later we were repeating them. Again, after the procedure, Metro was back to being an energetic race horse. This time Metro's trainer took him out for the first ride and got to experience the exuberance and speed of the former stakes horse.

Another 6 months passed, and we were repeating the injections again. I took x-rays of Metro's knees to see how much bone change and arthritis was present. It didn't look good for Metro. As expected, his arthritis was worsening. The joint spaces were collapsing and filling with bone. A horse's body doesn't always respond to injury in the most helpful manner, and unfortunately Metro's knees were not getting better. Metro had damaged and fractured a couple of the bones in his knees while racing. Although, the chips had been surgically removed, the trauma had made him more prone to developing abnormal bone deposits and osteoarthritis. Metro's joint pain, tenderness, stiffness, locking, and swelling were due to the degradation of the cartilage and subchondral bone as well as the growth of bone in abnormal locations of the joints. Metro Meteor's lameness and flexibility were going to worsen as unlike for people, knee replacements are not currently a feasible option for horses.

Over the next year, the joint injections became less effective and I took a new set of x-rays of Metro's knees. I found myself in the unfortunate position of telling the Ron and Wendy that Metro wasn't going to be rideable on most days. His condition had deteriorated and except for when he was having "good days," Metro couldn't even be taken on light trail rides. I've been in the position of telling many owners that their horse should no longer be ridden. When given the news, some turn the horse out in a field and continue to take care of it, some owners have me euthanize the horse, and others load the horse up with so much pain reliever that the horse temporarily looks sound. Then, they take him to auction to dump their problem on somebody else. However, Ron and Wendy had a different approach. They were not going to downgrade Metro to a cheaper boarding facility where he'd just be turned out in a field with minimal care. Instead they asked if I thought Metro would be comfortable enough to paint. Yes, that is right, paint. I remember just looking at Ron when he asked me that question and asking him what he meant. Ron, who is an artist himself, wanted to teach Metro to hold a paint brush in his mouth and paint. After a brief discussion on which paints are toxic, I said to give it a try and see what happened. At the time I had my doubts about how successful Metro's new career would be. After all, I work on a lot of horses with different amounts of training and purposes but none of my other patients are artists. In no time at all, Metro was creating abstract artwork. Not only was Metro painting, but he was painting well and the paintings were selling.

Ron and Wendy decided that they would put Metro's talent to use helping other race horses. Unfortunately one of the downsides of horse racing is that it creates a large number of thoroughbreds, who, when at the end of their racing career, are in need of homes. Some of these thoroughbreds have old injuries that will need continued treatment. It is very rare to find owners who are willing to take a horse that they know is lame, and will require expensive veterinary care to keep comfortable. Ron and Wendy decided that half of the proceeds from Metro's painting would go to New Vocations, a charity that helps to find homes for ex-racehorses.

Metro now has two stalls at his boarding facility. Metro's first stall is where he spends his time eating hay when not turned out on pasture. His second stall has been draped with drop-cloths and converted into an art studio. Metro seems to enjoy himself when he goes into his studio and paints.

Currently we are trying a new therapy for Metros' knees. While to my knowledge it has not been used to treat knee arthritis, it has been shown to be effective for Navicular disease, ringbone, and hock arthritis. With any luck, it will help Metro's knees too. Metro's owners are realistic, and understand that Metro will never have normal knees. They are just content to see Metro enjoying himself, even if his artistic pastime is not a usual activity for a horse.

If you want to see Metro's artwork go to Gallery 30 in Gettysburg or to or like him on Facebook at Painted By Metro.

Note: The owners gave permission to use their real names and disclose medical information for this article. The owners also provided Metro's photo.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw