Fractures are no longer uniformly fatal for horses, but many people -- including some vets -- are unaware of the new technologies in Australia which have developed over the past decade.
Horse owners now have many more options when a horse sustains a fracture, with today's global communication allowing equine surgeons as far away as the U.S to provide expert opinion on individual cases.
The day before speaking to The Huffington Post Australia equine specialist surgeon Dr Benjamin Ahern received a text, including the x-ray of a fracture, from someone with a patient hours away.
"They had an answer with their options within five minutes allowing them to make an informed decision," Dr Ahern said.
The equine surgeon is speaking at Australian Veterinary Association's annual conference next week to inform veterinarians about many facets of fracture repair including the improvements in diagnostic imaging, compression plates and methods to prevent infection; all improving the likelihood of a horse surviving a fracture.
"There are few cases now where horses need to be euthanased immediately on presentation and they can be stabilised comfortably whilst information is gathered," Dr Ahern said.
"People need to be aware that what even ten years ago was a life-ending injury doesn't necessarily have to be; and that includes everyone involved with these wonderful athletes."
Locking Compression Plates (LCPs) now have approximately four times the strength as the plates used only a decade ago while the ability to apply high concentrations of antibiotics to the area locally has reduced the incidence of infections that can be difficult to control.
"Some fractures can even be repaired with the horse standing, avoiding the need for anaesthesia, which is a very exciting development," Dr Ahern said.
"Overalll the techniques and technologies are coming ahead in leaps and bounds thanks to all the research effort going into preventing and treating these fractures," Dr Ahern said.
"Even going back five years a superglenoid tubercle fracture, for example, would have almost they no chance of athletic function, but now by using LCP technology instead of the older option of lag screws horses now have a good chance of returning even to full athletic function."
The most crucial role a veterinarian plays is stabilising the horse to then obtain a specialist surgical opinion. And Dr Ahern said the number of highly trained specialists in the country has grown from "a handful" to "multiple dozens" in the last two decades. There is an equine surgeon at all universities around the country now with multiple large private practices.
"Once the [horse] is stable there's time to breathe and time for everybody to get information to work out exactly what their options are. Then they can decide based on knowledge, so you no longer have this knee jerk response of you've got a fracture that can't be fixed."
Costs vary vastly depending on the nature of the fracture, but Dr Ahern said a reasonable range would be approximately $3000 to $15,000 to repair many fractures. However, each fracture is very different and the surgeon stressed ringing and discussing the options available with a local veterinarian and specialist surgeon is essential.
"The quality of care available and the rapidity in which information can be obtained is both vastly superior to the human field and is an awesome development to maximise the chance of as many horses as possible returning to a happy, healthy life."