Gelding Scarring - Hoofbeats article

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elding G carring S After the gelding process, the adhesion of scar tissue to localised tissue, causing mild to extreme irritation during movement, can be cured by a simple procedure.

elding G carring S by Wendy Elks

In horse keeping, some procedures are so common that something as ‘extreme’ as surgical intervention is taken for granted. The gelding of a stallion is a good example. Almost every male domesticated horse is gelded; the procedure causes little interruption to routine and no obvious ongoing issues. Or does it?

The adhesion of scar tissue to localised tissue, causing mild to extreme irritation during movement, can be cured by a simple procedure.

Most horse owners have never heard of gelding scarring, yet it’s estimated that a third of all geldings (and some estimates are up to 50%) suffer a degree of scarring adhesion at the site, causing discomfort that affects their wellbeing and performance. Gelding scarring: the adhesion of scar tissue to localised tissues, which can cause mild to extreme irritation during movement is surprisingly common. The symptoms often remain unrecognised, particularly in Australian horses. This may in part be due to the fact that the symptoms, often vague, are easily put down to a host of other causes. Once diagnosed, the problem is usually quite simply resolved, with some expert manipulation to separate the scar tissue adhesions from the surrounding area. If it isn’t resolved, gelding scarring can cause far-reaching implications, from a lifetime of chronic irritation for the horse, when asked for any movement or exercise that irritates the area (transition from trot to canter is a common issue) to serious unsoundness due to the accumulated damage of chronically incorrect or limited body movement.

Kassie Southwell and Rocinante Kassie Southwell, a classical dressage rider and trainer based near Murwillumbah in NSW, discovered that gelding scarring affected her carefully trained part-Andalusian gelding, Rocinante, after a long process of elimination and the tenacity of professionals who refused to give up on finding an accurate diagnosis. The problem is hard to pinpoint, because symptoms mimic a host of other causes, such as hoof problems, ligament or skeletal issues, or injury. When all these avenues are exhausted, symptoms may be put down to behavioural issues, or temperament. Kassie says, “This is because psychology and physiology can be closely inter-related. Horses have long memories. If through their experiences they begin to associate people with pain, an ill-fitting saddle or being ridden badly, that memory will create a ‘grumpy’ horse, that on seeing the saddle or the rider can instantly become irate, anxious and even potentially aggressive.” With her training focus tuned to what each horse is telling her during each and every encounter, Kassie’s constant thought is: This is not a grumpy horse … this is a horse communicating. “Almost always it stems from trauma in the body, which over time can also lead to trauma in the mind. The horse might pigroot because the saddle doesn’t fit correctly and is pinching or bridging and causing pain. Crookedness in the rider may not allow for correct spinal alignment to occur to enable the biomechanics to create the jump into canter. Or the horse has physical restrictions that are aggravated when asked to canter. There are many reasons why a horse may be telling you that it is too painful to make the movement being asked of it.” A multi-disciplinary junior rider now passionate about Portuguese and Spanish doma vacquara (working equitation), Kassie leaves no stone unturned in finding and resolving body issues that affect her horses’ soundness and pleasure in work. “There is no high school art in riding without the inherent beauty of a sound, happy and carefully trained horse,” says Kassie. “There is always a reason ‘why’, and for 12 months we’d been working to solve Rocinante’s inability to find real engagement

“90% of horse owners in Australia aren’t aware of gelding scarring, though it’s widely recognised in Europe and the US.” Dr Louise Cosgrove. Local vets remain sceptical - male vets in particular are prone to laughing it off - as there is no scientific evidence to support the theory. This is a pity, as anecdotal evidence is growing rapidly, treatment is relatively simple and the results can be profound, for the long-suffering horse and for its owner, who is released from much frustration and expense.

of his hind end and core. With systematic and sensitive progress through shapes and exercises the horse begins to connect the back naturally, without force or tension. This was not the case for Rocinante.” With every imaginable training and body issue tested and eliminated, Kassie’s coach Belinda Bolsenbroek, a trainer knowledgeable in functional movement and biomechanics, raised the subject of gelding scarring. “It had been talked about recently, but we hadn’t heard of anyone with the training to make such an examination,” Kassie says. “Then Belinda discovered a veterinarian trained in inguinal castration scarring examination and manipulation: Dr Louise Cosgrove from Exclusively Equine Veterinary Services, near Ipswich.”

Basically, after a 30-minute consultation and manipulation, Rocinante’s problem was cured. “Another reason that vets in Australia find it hard to accept is that its physiological nature lies in the realm of osteopathy,” Dr Cosgrove says. “Clinical trials can’t be studied and quantified, as you can’t identify and study a test group, with a negative group. Therefore, no clinical trials have been done, so there’s no scientific evidence backing it up. Diagnosing gelding scarring is more intuitive, than clinical,” she says. Louise trained in inguinal castration scarring through Australian equine therapist Kate Shorter, following professional discussions about clients’ horses. Qualified in equine sports massage, Kate learned the technique in the US, where she is currently living and studying equine osteopathy. Training in inguinal castration scarring manipulation is, at this point, limited to the US and Continued

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Gelding Scarring continued...

Europe. Only one other person in Australia, Kirsty Swindon, an equine osteopath from Equine Dynamics (Vic) is also learning overseas to treat gelding scarring. While osteopathy is an applicable modality for gelding scarring, the treatment, involving manipulation via the rectum, remains a veterinarian-only procedure, as the horse must be sedated and treated in a crush. Louise Cosgrove says she has become a consultant on gelding scarring because many horses come to her as a last resort. “Diagnoses and treatments have failed, and these horses are at the end of the line.”

“So pretty much 100% of the geldings I treat for undiagnosed soreness, lameness or behavioural problems, have this issue!”

Louise says it makes sense that scarring adhesion arising from castration can cause body issues. “Any type of trauma, including surgery, causes trauma to tissue. Scarring is the body’s response; scar tissue is thicker, adhesions (sticking) occur as scar tissue grows against other tissue, and this can cause muscles or organs to ‘catch’, causing pain and restricting movement.” A muscle commonly affected by adhesion due to its locality to the scrotal/inguinal cords is the psoas muscle, which lies directly underneath the sacroiliac muscle, a common site of soreness and treatment - and a muscle vital in collection when riding. “Vets will often diagnose and treat the sacroiliac muscle, which is subject to tightness and injury,” Louise says. “An injection of pain relief will quite often find its way into the psoas muscle, which does give relief if the horse is affected by gelding scarring, but it’s only temporary.” Kassie Southwell, who studies equine movement and anatomy as part of her horse training, explains the function of this muscle in collection. “Rocinante always struggled to connect over the back and come up and over his topline, throughout his training. He was not quite willing to truly engage his hind end or core in his work, and it was very visible in his piaffe steps. He continually wanted to fall over the right shoulder, which dropped

Dr Louise Cosgrove separates the adhesions by palpatation.

the thoracic sling, and he would take‘bum bopping’ steps rather than steps of carriage. His left hind in particular was always wanting to be carried out behind rather than stepping forward and under in his piaffe steps. He struggled to engage the psoas properly, and during riding it felt like he was tipping the rider more to one side rather than connecting the diagonal pair and maintaining balance.” This is typical of the mystifying symptoms of gelding scarring. Common symptoms are disuniting in the canter, refusal to pick up a canter lead, and an unwillingness to be ridden, manifested as girthiness, irritation and agitation during saddling up. Shortstepping, difficulty or irritation with flying changes are also signs.

“Kicking out during transitions is a common flag,” says Louise. “The kicking (at the pain) is usually to one side only, and this indicates where the problem is.” Lameness, bad temper, bucking and other ‘vices’ may be indications of pain. “Hunter’s bum’ and ‘show jumper’s bum’ (tucked and tight hindquarters) are common signs; a show jumper that barges through the jumps rather than arcing over them is avoiding the pain of collection.”

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Long-term, movement affected in this way leads to muscle atrophy and referred problems and pain in other parts of the body. “The horse may appear to be lame in front, but it’s due to the opposite hind not working properly, because of the contralateral movement. The left scrotal cord is the most commonly affected. Louise points out that fatigued, torn and tightened muscles take a lot longer to treat than a twenty to thirty-minute procedure that solves these problems forever.

Resolving the adhesions is a simple matter of separating the adhesions from the surrounding organs and structures by palpating with the fingers. Once the sedative has taken effect, Louise visually assesses the horse and palpates the scrotal area externally to detect thickened scarring and tight or atrophied muscles, indicating that the problem is likely to be gelding scar adhesion. She then inserts a hand into the rectum, cleans out the manure and has a feel around. “I’ll locate the kidney and other organs lying close, to see where any lumpy bits are. If I have any concerns I’ll do an ultrasound, to get a better picture of what’s going on.” The procedure is generally not difficult but it’s quite painful for the horse. Louise prefers the horse to be ridden afterwards, once it has recovered from the procedure. This is an important part of

“One crazy horse with off-the-charts behaviour, unable to be competed for two years, had a complete and immediate turnaround.” Brooke O’Malley and Cruiser

the healing process, as some of the damage is psychosomatic. An immediate return to normality is good for the horse, and since the horse will feel no pain, a new attitude can be kick-started. The results can be spectacular, with delighted riders reporting all symptoms gone and a happy, willing horse emerging. Some uncontrollable and downright dangerous horses are transformed, their symptoms (apart from some residual muscle tightness) disappearing overnight. While reproduction is Louise’s passion, she finds this work extremely satisfying, with the regular positive outcomes a pleasure compared to the frustration and loss of performance that indeterminate lameness can cause. Thanks to caring and determined owners and open-minded, dedicated practitioners, the lives of affected horses can be improved beyond measure in a timely, one-off treatment.

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