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Horse Fitted with Prosthetic Leg Sparks Fury

A video posted on social media showing a horse fitted with a prosthetic front leg has angered equestrians. The horse concerned is clearly struggling with his new limb and both horse lovers and vets have voiced their disapproval of his treatment.

The video appears to have been filmed in Colombia and it isn’t the only such video to be found on YouTube. Viewers of Channel 4’s Supervet series will be familiar with the concept of fitting prosthetic limbs to animals. However, whereas a dog can often cope well with a new limb, horses are often a different story.

Equine Anatomy

Horses bear most of their weight on their front legs. If a prosthetic limb is uncomfortable or painful, a horse will transfer more weight to the other front leg. This will then lead to problems with the remaining leg.

There are fears that horses may be fitted with the limbs to prolong their lives for breeding purposes rather than for the benefit of the horse. Those fears are probably legitimate. The proliferation of videos showing off horses with prosthetics also hints at a touch of arrogance on the part of those treating the animals. At this point in time, the prosthetics are essentially experimental and do not allow horses to exhibit their normal behaviour. They may also be causing distress.

Progress with Prosthetics

Whilst it is easy to recoil in shock and condemn the artificial limbs, there are two sides to every story. Prosthetics were first fitted to horses in the USA as long ago as 1970 and techniques have advanced significantly since then. Each horse is different as is each injury. Some animals will never adapt to an artificial limb and the regime associated with it. This includes having to stand on three legs whilst someone fits the limb or removes it. But there have been success stories.

Advanced Features

The latest equine prostheses often feature shock absorption, joints, and a form-fitted open/close mechanism. The limb is secured in place with straps or clamp closures like those found on most ski boots. Materials have progressed significantly since the days of iron and leather and now include lightweight, durable moulded plastics, fibreglass and carbon graphite. In other words, the limbs are constantly evolving.

Whilst watching a horse struggle with an artificial limb is a disturbing experience, it is important to remember that effective treatments can only be created as a result of experimentation and constant evolution. If the idea of prosthetics for equines is dismissed out of hand, a satisfactory treatment will never be found.

Choosing the Right Horse

Progress is being made and perhaps one day there will be amazing prosthetic limbs which work well for horses. But not if new developments are never tested. Perhaps the best way forward is to continue fitting prosthetics but only in the most appropriate cases for this type of treatment. It would appear that the Colombian horse was not an appropriate subject.

What do you think?


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