Robotic Lift Offers New Hope for Injured Horses

Posted by TF Oren
University of Saskatchewan

For a horse, a fractured or broken leg can be fatal.

Each year, hundreds of horses suffer broken legs, and are euthanized as a result. While a fracture or a break is not necessarily a death sentence for a horse, the recovery process from such an injury is an obstacle course of additional complications and secondary issues due to lack of mobility and a horse's heavy bodyweight.

After undergoing surgery to repair a broken leg, a horse is confined to a sling while it recovers. Unfortunately, slings place all of a horse's weight on the thorax and abdomen. This can lead to lung compression and pressure sores, among other issues.

Fortunately, there might now be a solution in sight for horses with otherwise fatal leg injuries. A team of engineers and veterinary researchers have joined forces to create a robotic lift system designed to improve the odds of survival for horses recovering from broken legs and other musculoskeletal injuries.

The team includes engineering experts from Saskatoon's RMD Engineering, and veterinary specialists (including an equine biomechanics specialist and a veterinary radiologist) from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan.

The new lift is now undergoing trials. Photo by Christina Weese via ScienceDaily
Christina Weese via ScienceDaily

The new robotic lift redistributes a horse's weight more evenly, and allows for partial mobility, while still providing ample support. Team leader Dr. Julia Montgomery believes the new lift will drastically increase the odds of survival for many injured horses that ordinarily would not have a chance at recovery.

"We can allow the horse to move around so we don't have issues with muscle wasting. It really provides a novel and unique solution to a very frustrating problem that currently doesn't have a solution," Montgomery says.

Horses with leg fractures will likely be the most common beneficiaries of this new technology, but the lift will also benefit horses recovering from a variety of other musculoskeletal and neurological issues.

Initial trials are now underway. The team hopes to study the effects of the lift on horses' behavior and physiological metrics, such as blood flow and muscle enzymes. Dr. Montgomery and her team are first testing the design on three healthy horses to study how well they do in the lift over long periods of time. The next step will be to test the lift on horses with fractured legs-- horses that would ordinarily be euthanized due to their injuries.

If the trials go well, this new technology stands to expedite healing time, decrease pain, and cut down on the number of complications an injured horse faces during recovery.

Want to learn more about this potentially life-saving advance in the field of equine veterinary medicine? Read all about the new technology here.

Robotic Lift Offers New Hope for Injured Horses