Updated on 09/15/2011 12:38PM

Track vet keeps a careful watch for heat stroke


Keeping hydrated and cool is just as important for Thoroughbreds as it is for humans on hot summer days.

Heat and humidity, coupled with the stress of racing, can lead to heat stroke in horses.

Heat stroke occurs when the brain becomes overheated and fails to function properly. Horses become disoriented and wobbly, sometimes kicking out at things that are not there. In extreme cases, a horse with severe heat stroke will fall to the ground.

Dr. Neal Cleary, the chief examining veterinarian for the New York Racing Association, said he and his crew carefully monitor horses for signs of heat stroke after they race.

Cleary said each NYRA track has water hoses located near the unsaddling areas and in the paddocks, and they are immediately put into use if a horse appears to be suffering from heat exhaustion.

The cooling water from the hoses is also used as a preventive measure against the onset of heat stroke on steamy days.

"You need to cool the sutaneous veins in the neck, chest, and shoulder areas," Cleary said. "Cooling the blood in those veins acts like radiator fluid and lowers the temperature. Really, water all over the body is good because the more veins you get under the water, the better."

Cleary keeps a record of horses who have a history of heat stroke, so he and the other NYRA vets can monitor the horse. Typically, he said, he only sees one or two cases a year of severe heat stroke.

A horse who is dehydrated before a race has a better chance of getting heat stroke after he competes. Contributing to water loss are long journeys on race day in sweltering vans and the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, which acts as a diuretic.

Health care symposium

Equine health care is the focus of the three-day Cornell at Saratoga symposium on Aug. 13-15 at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The symposium is presented by the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc., in conjunction with Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

With the exception of the final day, when business-related topics are on the agenda, the symposium is dedicated to equine health issues.

Here is the schedule of sessions:

Monday, Aug. 13

10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome: Veterinarians from Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine and from Kentucky's Hagyard-Davidson-McGee Associates field questions concerning this year's foal crop loss in Kentucky.

2 to 2:45 p.m.

Nutrition: Susan Garlinghouse, a clinical nutritionist for Chiron Equine Research Foundation, discusses nutritional management for broodmares and foals during pregnancy and through the first year of growth.

Pasture Management for Horses: Debbie Cherney, a senior research associate at Cornell's department of animal science, details the planning and management of quality pastures.

4 to 5:30 p.m.

Equine Chiropractic: Cornell's Dr. Kevin Haussler discusses chiropractic care in horses.

Genetic Banking: Dietrich Volkmann, an associate professor of theriogenology at Cornell, examines equine breeding techniques, including artificial insemination and collecting cellular material for future cloning.

Laser Surgery: Dr. Norm Ducharme, a professor of surgery at Cornell, presents various laser surgeries and their advantages and disadvantages.

EPM Update: Cornell's Dr. Tom Divers discusses what's new in the research of equine protozoal myelitis, and possible vaccines for the disease.

Tuesday, Aug. 14

9 to 10 a.m.

Conformation: Dr. Michael A. Spirito, a surgeon with Hagyard-Davidson-McGee, reviews the basics of conformation and how it may relate to soundness problems.

10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Osteochondrosis (OCD): Dr. Alan Nixon, a professor of orthopedic surgery at Cornell, covers the prevention and treatment of osteochondrosis, which damages the joint cartilage and bone beneath the cartilage surface.

Foaling and Foaling Emergencies: Dr. Douglas Byars and Dr. Walter Zent of Hagyard-Davidson-McGee discuss normal and abnormal foaling situations.

1:30 to 3 p.m.

Throat Problems in Weanlings and Yearlings: Dr. Norm Ducharme, a professor of surgery at Cornell, outlines the conditions associated with wind soundness in young horses.

Care of the Newborn Foal: Dr. Douglas Byars and Dr. Tom Divers will cover, among other foal-related topics, foals out of high-risk mares, abnormal foals, and neonatal medicine.

3:30 to 5 p.m.

Conformation, Osteochondrosis and Throat Problems: A panel of veterinarians, plus trainer Joe Orseno, consigner Meg Levy, and William Graves, Fasig Tipton's director of yearling sales, will answer questions concerning conformation, osteochondrosis and throat problems as they relate to the buying and selling of weanlings and yearlings.

Foal Infectious Diseases: Dr. Dorothy Ainsworth, an associate professor of medicine at Cornell, reviews the symptoms, treatment, and preventive measures for infectious diseases in foals.