News, Veterinary

A Tour of the Sussex Equine Hospital

In summer 2017 the Sussex Equine Hospital moved from its original home in Arundel
(formerly known as the Arundel Equine Hospital) to a purpose-built site in Ashington, near Pulborough. Fiona Rafferty went along to tour the impressive facilities.

The Sussex Equine Hospital was founded in 1951 and since that time has grown to a team of 55 including 20 specialist equine vets, veterinary nurses, grooms, laboratory technicians, pharmacy dispensers and a whole team of administrative staff who help with the smooth running of the busy hospital.

Sitting in reception waiting for Ed Lyall BvetMed Cert EM MRCVS, who was going to give me a tour of the facilities, I was surprised at just how busy it was. It was late in the afternoon, so there were horseboxes arriving to collect horses who had been in for the day, while others were being dropped off ready for the next day’s procedures. With each new arrival the large iron gate at the top of the generous car park rolled back automatically before closing and once again securing the premises.

A long-term plan

As we started our tour Ed told me that the new hospital had been a long term plan, originally buying the land, 35 acres and farm buildings, seven years ago. Once planning permission was obtained the site was flattened and it took 17 months from start to completion. What is clear as I start walking with Ed around the site, is the attention to detail that has gone into the planning, not just into the medical facilities, but the stables, the farrier’s box and even the parking bay outside the pharmacy, which is covered over to ensure the vets can load up their cars out of the wind and rain.

Sussex Equine Hospital
One of the purpose built surfaces used to assess the horse’s movement

The mare and foal boxes have been split, so in the case of a sick foal, the foal can be dealt with safely in a padded crate, yet the mare can keep an eye on her foal and when it is safe to do so, a window in the bars can be opened, so that she can put her head through the bars and nuzzle her foal. Equally if the mare is sick, the foal can be kept next to her, yet safely separated. When appropriate the milk will be expressed from the mare and bottle fed to the foal.

Sussex equine Hospital Stabling
Inside one of the stable barns

There are two long barns each with ten large stables which are used to house both day visitors and those who need to stay a bit longer. Once again, great thought has been given to the design and
layout of the stable blocks, with some completely sealed to head height stables, suitable for stallions and colts who like to be nosey. There are bars to the front, so that they can see out.

In isolation

An isolation unit, has been designed specifically for that purpose, so that once the horse is in situ, the stable doors aren’t opened again until the horse has recovered. Entry to the unit for the staff is to the side and leads to a room where the vets and grooms can change into veterinary clothing which can later be disposed of. The unit is stocked with everything one needs to look after the horse including feed and bedding, medical supplies etc.

Sussex equine Hospital operating theatre
The custom-built operating theatre

Ed told me that they try to avoid having horses at the hospital with airborne diseases such as strangles, and the isolation unit is commonly used for horses with diarrhoea. Often the diarrhoea
occurs as a result of the horse’s immune system becoming overloaded during its time at the hospital. Horses naturally carry e-coli and other bacteria in their digestive tracts and for this reason
they need to be kept in isolation if diarrhoea occurs.

Sports horse performance

Outdoor facilities also include a 40m x 20m fenced sand school, a fenced hard surface lunge pen and both a hard and soft trot strip. There is also an indoor trot strip, which can be used in bad weather or at other times when needed. Whilst all these surfaces are perfect for diagnosing lameness, they are also regularly used in the hospital’s routine assessment of horses and sports horse performance management. The morning of my visit a local event rider had brought seven horses to be assessed before the start of the season. Knowing the horses are all fit, sound and ready for the season ahead can be a confidence building exercise and it also means that if a horse does start to drop in performance the vet will have a clearer idea of the timeframe within which it has occurred,
as well as being more familiar with that horse’s way of going.

Sussex Equine Hospital
The hospital provides a sports horse management service

Whilst not every horse will warrant a pre-season assessment, it is worth considering talking to your vet if your horse isn’t quite performing to his normal level, even if he isn’t exhibiting any clinical signs of lameness or illness. The Sussex Equine Hospital has a number of very specialist diagnostic tools and the chances are if there is something not quite right with your horse, but you can’t put your finger on it, they will have a way of finding it.
Nuclear diagnostic

The diagnostic tools include a nuclear scintigraphy suite, which is particularly useful for assessing the back and pelvis, which can be difficult to image using other techniques. It is primarily used to
assess bone inflammation and can be used to identify problems such as stress fractures, joint inflammation and subchondral bone cysts etc. For example, if there is a tiny crack in a bone it may not show up on the x-ray, but it should with a scintigraph.

Sussex equine Hospital
Using the bone scanner

The horse will be injected with a bone tracer, which will be taken up by the skeleton over a period of three to four hours. If the bone is damaged it will take up a higher level of the tracer, which will show up during the scan. Once the vets have identified the problem they can decide what treatment to give. It takes 24 hours for the radioactive substance to leave the horse and after that period the horse, its bedding, etc, are totally safe. There is a separate section of stabling for horses which have had bone scans.

Sussex Equine Hospital
The MRI scanner is useful in identifying problems in the soft tissue and bone in the horse’s lower leg

The MRI scanner can be used on the horse from the hoof to the knee and hock. It provides lots of pictures in slice form across the hoof and lower leg and is used to identify problems in both the
bones and soft tissue.

Custom built theatre

The hospital has a large custom built operating theatre. Horses which are to undergo an operation will be prepped the previous day, unless undergoing emergency surgery. They will be washed and
the area to be operated on clipped and then bandaged to keep it as clean as possible. Just before the operation the horse will go into one of two padded stalls, where they will receive an anaesthetic
injection. The horse is watched and safely helped to the ground. They are then lifted and moved to the pre-theatre scrub area, where they are cleaned thoroughly, including having their mouths
washed out.

Sussex equine Hospital Operating Theatre
Moving the horse from pre-theatre into the operating theatre

The main operating theatre is a completely clean area and only vets and staff wearing scrubs and disposable shoe coverings are allowed into this part of the theatre. There is a viewing area should
the horse’s owner wish to watch the operation. After the operation the horse is safely returned to one of the padded stalls, where with the help of pulleys and experienced staff, he will be safely helped back to his feet.

Stud work

As we concluded our tour Ed took me past Betty, the stallion teaser, who will be used in the collection of semen, which will then be taken straight to the laboratory to be checked before being sent to various locations both in the UK and Europe. The hospital is experienced in artificial insemination and embryo transfer and a number of straws from leading stallions are kept on site.

Sussex Equine Hospital
Betty, the stallion teaser used for collecting semen

The team of five stud vets can also help in choosing the right stallion for your mare and once in foal give advice and where necessary treatment, during the mare’s pregnancy. The hospital run a
separate on-call rota for the stud vet team, meaning if you need a vet in the middle of the night or at the weekend a stud vet will attend.

I thoroughly enjoyed my tour of the Sussex Equine Hospital, learning lots about the treatment of horses, whilst being extremely impressed by the facilities and services they provide. They run a number of events throughout the year, during which time you may be invited to tour the fantastic facilities. If the opportunity arises, I highly recommend attending one of their brilliant lectures or tours of the hospital.

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