Nearly every day at Penn Vet’s New Bolton Center, horses are put through their paces in the Ilona English Equine Performance Evaluation Facility. Known as “the indoor,” this world-class arena has proven to be invaluable during its first 18 months of operation.
Safe and comfortable, the arena creates the perfect environment for clinicians to conduct in-depth evaluations of horses for medical and performance issues, most commonly lameness.
And it is unique in the region for a veterinary practice, providing horse owners and referring veterinarians with a state-of-the-art indoor option when a horse needs a thorough examination while exercising.
“The arena allows me to do my job better, to more effectively evaluate horses,” said Dr. Elizabeth Davidson, Associate Professor of Sports Medicine at New Bolton Center. “I can see the abnormalities the rider feels at home because I am able to evaluate the horse in a similar environment.”
Examining horses while exercising is critical to an accurate and efficient diagnosis, she said. The enclosed arena has jumps, and is large enough to accommodate any pace. Weather is no longer a factor for these appointments, which has been an enormous benefit, especially this past winter.
“The goal is to better evaluate the horse so we can come up with an accurate diagnosis and institute an appropriate treatment,” Davidson said.
The indoor opened in November 2012, made possible in part by a generous donation by Ilona English, owner of Summit Sporthorses Ltd. in Ringoes, NJ, which breeds and sells performance horses.
“The availability of the indoor has allowed horses to arrive and be evaluated regardless of weather or time of day,” English said. “It also provides veterinary students with the opportunity to view the evaluation process for a variety of horses and issues.”
The 80-foot by 120-foot arena is flooded with natural light from large windows. The atmosphere is very quiet, even when it is raining, as there is extra insulation in the roof. But perhaps the best feature is the specialized, all-weather footing, MC Ecotrack®, providing a consistent and level surface that is familiar to elite equine athletes.
Most of the evaluations in the arena are for lameness or gait, especially in riding performance horses, as they go through particular movements depending on their athletic discipline, Davidson said.
“We are looking for very specific gait abnormalities, a subtle lameness while they are at different speeds of trot – medium versus extended,” Dr. Davidson said, “or when they are doing specific movements, be it during canter lead changes, or, if it is a dressage horse, during piaffe or passage or pirouette or lateral movements.”
“It is nearly impossible to simulate many of these movements when you jog a horse in hand,” she continued. “The arena allows us to simulate those types of movements when a horse is being ridden.”
Evaluations for cardiac and respiratory issues, and even neurologic problems, are conducted in the arena. It is also used to exercise horses before certain diagnostic exams that require good blood flow to distal limbs, including nuclear scintigraphy for the best bone-scan results.
The arena is surprisingly quiet, which can be important during an evaluation. Davidson says “If I’m trying to hear certain foot-flight patterns or if I’m trying to hear abnormal breathing noises, the arena allows me to hear those sounds.”
Dr. Daryl Layfield Insley brings his own eventing horses, and also refers client horses to New Bolton Center. Dr. Insley provides the equine care at his mixed-animal practice, Layfield Veterinary Services, in Pocomoke City, Maryland.
“It’s been great for me, riding these horses and being able to convey to the veterinarians what I am feeling,” Insley said. “Consistency is so important when looking at subtle lameness. You have to have the consistency. Footing in the arena makes it so I can go in and ride and jump, and it is consistent.”
Good, level footing for evaluations is very important, Davidson agreed. “The safety factor is huge,” she added. “Being in an arena puts the horse and rider at ease.”
Before the indoor opened at New Bolton Center, evaluations had to take place in an open, grassy area adjacent to the hospital. The surface is uneven and inconsistent and the area is not fenced.
And the weather? Eastern Pennsylvania can have terrible rain, snow, and ice storms, which often made evaluations impossible, or at the very least, uncomfortable. “Many clients have expressed their gratitude, because they are not concerned that the horse will be injured during evaluation in bad weather conditions,” she continued.
Insley is one of them. “We can ride high-level horses to evaluate lameness without worrying about grass, rocks, hills, slippery footing, and a lack of boundary fences,” he said.
New Bolton Center is planning to make the performance horse evaluation experience even more convenient, efficient, and effective with an expansion of the clinic. The multi-faceted building will include a diagnostic center adjacent to the indoor arena, with examination rooms, quiet exam rooms, holding stalls, and a client waiting and consultation area.
The expansion will offer more evaluation surface choices, including an enclosed, hard-surface jogging area and a semi-soft surface for lunging.
“Phase II of the Evaluation Clinic expands the functionality of the complex,” Ilona English said. “Not only does it offer the evaluation capabilities, but it also provides the ability to do advanced diagnostics and treatment without having the equine patient exposed to other areas of New Bolton Center.
“This efficiency serves to reduce stress on the horses and owners,” English continued. “Additionally, the facility offers clients the ability to conduct pre-purchase exams in a facility where the horses can be ridden, evaluated, and examined diagnostically in one location and all in one visit.”
If you would like to donate to Phase II of the Evaluation Clinic at New Bolton Center, please contact Jane Simone, Director of Development for New Bolton Center, at email@example.com
, or 610-925-6180.