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Can HBOT Save Your Horse?

by Sadie K. Fowler

Glen Farmer thought there was little that could be done to save his 10-year-old walking horse -- until University of Tennessee in Knoxville came into the picture.

Farmer’s horse, Generator’s Powerstroke, foundered at his Barboursville, Ky., home earlier this winter and was taken to a clinic in Lexington, Ky., where he was told there was little that could be done to save his horse. Unwilling to settle with the unfortunate news, Farmer took his horse to the clinic at UT where he awaited a second opinion from DVM Steve Adair.

“He foundered at home and was seen and treated for a few weeks at a clinic in Lexington,” said Adair. “Toward the end of his stay they gave Mr. Farmer a poor prognosis because of a compromise in blood flow within the hoof and continued progression of the founder. They recommended that he have his deep digital flexor cut (to reduce the pull on the coffin bone) and warned that he could lose his hooves.”

The second opinion turned out to be hopeful for Farmer as a result of a piece of equipment UT had obtained in the Fall of 2003. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy would allow them to practice a progressive way of treating various ailments suffered by horses.

HBOT was used to treat and cure Joe and Sally Jackson's horse Cat's Don't Dance after he was injected with an unknown substance in the summer of 2003.

HBOT is administered in a large chamber where the horse is exposed to increased amounts of oxygen that is under pressure -- two to three times the pressure experienced at sea level -- thus allowing more oxygen to be dissolved in the blood and delivered to diseased tissues.

In certain cases, Adair said there is a direct effect by the oxygen. For example, if the horse has an anaerobic bacterial infection (a bacteria that will not grow in the presence of oxygen) the oxygen will kill the bacteria and hence heal the horse.

So far, UT has used HBOT on two to three dozen horses. HBOT can be used in conjunction with traditional treatments for a variety of problems such as trauma, leg wounds, central nervous system damage, surgical trauma, large, poor healing wounds, bone infections, internal abscesses, sinus infections, systemic infections, loss of blood supply and necrosis and inflammatory injuries to tendons and ligaments.

Adair said they are using the treatment more and more on post-operative colics. HBOT then helps to restore blood flow to tissues in addition to reducing obstructive swelling in the intestinal tissue. Also, it has been found that many colic cases respond better to surgery when they’ve been treated with HBOT before and after surgery, according to Equineox Technologies’ web site (

While undergoing the treatment, horses are sedated and then placed in the chamber, which was manufactured by Equinox in Canada, for one hour. However, it takes 30 minutes to get them up to pressure and another 30 minutes to bring them down, therefore, they actually spend a total of two hours inside the chamber per treatment. The number of treatments varies, depending on the condition of each horse. It could take as few as two treatments and as many as 30. Treatments can be repeated daily.

In the case of Farmer’s horse, Adair and the staff at UT decided to try corrective trimming and shoeing in addition to HBOT.

“We were dealing with significant rotation of the coffin bone, reduced blood flow to the hoof wall starting at the heels and going all the way around the toe,” said Adair. “Additionally, we were dealing with abscess formation at the toes.”

After undergoing 15 HBOT treatments, some corrective trimming and a dorsal hoof wall resection, their clinic was able to maintain approximately 75% of the hoof wall attachment. Farmer’s horse had only lost hoof wall at the toe and Adair said they did not have to cut the horse’s tendons.

His five month stay at UT’s clinic proved to be well worth it for Farmer. Generator's Powerstroke returned to the clinic last week for a reset.

“He has grown about an inch and a half of new hoof wall at the toe, said Adair. “He is looking very good. If he continues in this direction he will have a new hoof on both front feet in about four months.”

The HBOT chamber is currently on loan at UT until August of 2005, at which time the university will need to make the $200,000.00 purchase.

If you wish to make a donation, please make checks out to UT Large Animal Clinic and send them to Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, PO Box 1010, Shelbyville, TN, 37162.

If you have questions, please contact Jeff Ray at 615-804-7088.

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