Equine Prosthetics

Monday, August 13th, 2012 | Filed under Medical

Hello all!

Many of you have had much to say about- and many questions pertaining to – equine prosthetics, prosthesises and Star.   (Star is our August Bucket Fund mare and you can read her story here.)

Since I have already written a blog post about equine prosthetics and prosthesises, I thought I’d repost it today to hopefully answer questions.

But first, our update!


Star has been living comfortably at HOPE EQUINE RESCUE as she awaits the final decisions regarding the proper procedures for her long term recovery.

In fact, she has an appointment with Dr Graves of Equine Orthotics  & Prosthetics on Wednesday!  There is hope that they may be able to help her without amputation.  A prosthetic would be the best of all outcomes!  So, we will see.

Right now, Star is in a temporary splint prosthetic that seems to really be helping.  Yay!

The other fun news is that a professional photographer who is a friend of the Hope Equine Rescue, was coming out today (Sunday) to take photos of Star.  Unfortunately, it rained all day so they postponed her photo shoot.  However, Star was already freshly bathed and dolled-up, so the volunteers took some shots to send to us.

(If you would like to DONATE to her cause, please click here!)

From this (May 8th, 2012):

This is Star’s face the day she was rescued. She had fly eggs all over her and maggots in her eyes…

TO THIS (photo taken yesterday)!

This is Star, all dolled-up for the photo shoot yesterday that had to be postponed due to weather. Clearly purple is her color. And, you can see that she is standing comfortably on her temporary splint. So far, so good.

Here is Star getting her bucket of grain after being such a good girl during her grooming session.  She likes to eat.

 EQUINE PROSTHETICS (Originally posted 3/28/11)


I’m sure many of you read this story about Midnite the pony, who received a prosthetic leg.  He was all over the news and I even saw a clip on Perezhilton.com! If you missed it, in short, below is his story.  And, you can watch the video or go to this link and read more…




A new life for Midnite at Ranch Hand Rescue

Midnite was born with no hoof and no coffin bone.  I cannot imagine what that looks like… or feels for the horse.  Ouch.

I’m hoping to procure more detailed photos of his deformed foot from the Rescue that saved him, Ranch Hand Rescue. (They have been inundated with media calls since the various news casts so it may be a while…)

Anyway, poor little Midnite was born without his left rear hoof and coffin bone.  Evidently, he got around on 3 legs but wherever he was living previously, they didn’t treat him well.  He was skinny and depressed.  He had a difficult time getting up and laying down.

Animal Control stepped in and seized Midnight which is how he ended up at Ranch Hand Rescue.

Ranch Hand Rescue thought that this little guy deserved a full life (Midnite is only 4).  The owner of the Rescue thought about human prosthetics and wondered if it could happen for an equine. Yes!  was the answer.

Upon consultation with vets, the first thing was to get a boot which would help Midnite learn how to reposition his weight so he could gain muscle in his atrophied hip and leg.

Soft Ride donated a used boot. I didn’t know about Soft Ride (and you would think I should with all the feet issues we had with Norma…) so I’m showing you a photo which is linked to the website.

Soft Ride boots

Here an excerpt from the website describing this process:

The process was lengthy, as we had to tape the boot on each morning and remove it each night. In addition MidniteÕs leg needed to be massage and powdered every evening. As he got used to the boot, he learned how to redistribute his weight. This was important because as Midnite got healthy and came up to his normal weight our Vets were concerned he would break his hip and most likely his good rear leg. These injuries in a horse like Midnite are life threatening.


Once Midnite was strong enough, the Humane Society of North Texas went about procuring a true prosthetic.

The prosthetic device for Midnite



Prostheticare, Fort Worth LP took on the challenge. We met with their representatives, our Vets & staff and concluded it was possible. The process has taken a couple of months because we had to do several fittings. The Prosthetic is made of Carbon Graphite and nyglass Stockinette with Acrylic resin. The liner is made of a foam called pelite with a leather soft distell end which conforms perfectly to his leg. It’s bottom has been designed to look like a hoof.



Well, the first day the new prosthetic was velcro’d on, Midnite took off running!  Incredible, really.  If you watch the video, there won’t be a dry eye in the house!

The goal of the Rescue now is to raise enough donations to purchase a special trailer for Midnite to go on the road to spread his message of hope and confidence!

Here is the video (get a tissue!).

Midnite RUNNING! Click to watch this tear-jerking video!



I think you have all read about Molly.  She’s the pony who was rescued during Hurricane Katrina only to lose her leg to a dog mauling.

As the story goes, Molly was taken to Louisiana State University for care.  But, since she was a welfare case and a hurricane had just come through… she wasn’t a priority.  So, she sat, stalled.

While she was stewing at LSU, one of the surgeons noticed that Molly was very careful of her injury and her well-being.  She was very careful laying down and getting up.  While standing, she always shifted her weight so as not to strain any of her other legs…  This impressed him.

So, Dr. Rustin Moore agreed to do the surgery on Molly.

The rest, so they say, is history.  Molly has been on television and in several newspapers.  If you google, ‘Molly the horse’ or ‘Molly the pony’, lots of stories will appear.  She travels to sick children and Prosthetic institutions where the residents need a lift…

My favorite little tidbit of this story is that the people who created the prosthetic put a smiley face stamp on the bottom of the foot.  So, everywhere Molly goes, she leaves a smile… nice!  Oh, and Molly has her own book...

Here is a link to the video or you can click on the photo below.

Click to watch the video of Molly and her smiley face prosthesis



My general understand of horses’ legs was if a leg had a huge problem, like a severe injury, that was the end of the horse.

But, it appears that if you have the funds, there are opportunities in equine prosthetics!

Now, what surprised me was that the first equine prosthetic limb was fitted in 1970.  That’s a long time to make improvements.  And the good news is that equine prosthetics are based on human prosthetics so many of the advancements in human prosthetics can benefit equine prosthetics.

This is Riley and her prosthesis at Sheridan and Cody Equine hospital


Well, it isn’t cheap (but you knew that..).  The  fees run around $12,000 – $15,000 for surgery, the prosthetic and the after care (2 months of hospitalization).

Since there are few general funds for research, vets/hospitals have to decide to ‘take on’ an amputation/prosthetic case.   Or the owners have to pay high dollar to allow for all the time, care, research and the prosthetic.

The hope in this industry is that once this procedure ‘catches on’, there will be more endowments for research and development as well as more surgeries performed (experience) and surgery centers.

Upside:  There are many happy endings!

The smiley face on the bottom of Molly’s prosthetic limb


I found this list on Horse.com… (Sushil Dulai Wenholz)

–Traumatic loss of limb below the knee or hock;

–Compound comminuted fractures of the distal limb;

–Septic arthritis

–Cellulitis in the distal limb that has not responded to aggressive therapy.

Other injury-related points to consider:

• Hind limbs are preferable, since they bear less weight than forelimbs and usually let the horse retain a more normal gait.

• Amputations lower on the leg–but ideally no closer than six to eight inches from the ground–generally require less complex, and therefore less costly, prostheses. Not having the knee or hock encased in the device also allows the horse to lie down and rise more easily. Amputations above the knee or hock present a difficulty: Without the bulbous joint protrusion to provide a “catching” place, it’s hard to keep the artificial limb in place. Redden has used a girdle-like harness for the purpose, but with limited success. Vacuum or pneumonic-style devices that work well in humans aren’t effective for horses.

• A horse crippled from an injury or disease that occurred months or years earlier, who is healthy and has learned to adapt to the disability, is not a candidate. “If the horse is happy, we don’t take the leg off just to try and make him happier,”.

In all the articles I read, all the vets said that the most important ingredient is the horse’s will to live – through the pain.

This is Thor at a show, telling his story…


Since I’m not a vet, I cut and pasted this from Dr. Vlahos from Sheridan and Cody Equine Hospitals (Wyoming).  Dr. Vlahos has performed over 28 of these surgeries.  He says that he, and others, have offered the surgery to all sorts of horses and many of them have gone on to be breeding stallions or broodmare, pasture pals, lead line horses (although he discourages using amputees as riding horses) and beloved pets.

Click to go to this site. Dr. Vlahos

Here is how he describes it: (via Gayle Smith Gering)

“In fracture cases that can not be repaired with traditional plates and screws, or in severe bone or tendon infections, or loss of blood supply to a leg, amputation is a very viable option”.

Most of the horses recuperate well from the surgery. I know of one case in Kentucky that happened 17 years ago, and she is still a successful broodmare.

The process of performing an amputation involves removing the diseased limb just a couple inches above the unhealthy tissue. “We utilize one of two techniques,” he explained. “We close the stump, but in the cases of the lower leg from the fetlock or lower, we usually place two large pins in the horse’s cannon bone. When we incorporate the pins with a transfixation cast, it allows the horse to fully bear weight on it immediately after surgery, without putting weight on the stump, so that the stump has time to heal.

Once the stump has healed, which is typically 30-45 days after surgery,  they fit the horse with a prosthesis. We have a human prosthesist manufacture a new leg for us. The leg is typically made of graphite, fiberglass, and titanium. It is extremely durable, and we expect it to last for several years.

Once the horse has recovered from the amputation, and they have fitted the prosthesis, they monitor its leg for pressure sores and make any adjustments necessary. After it is fitted with a prosthesis, the horse wears a wool sock that has to be changed every day or every other day, depending upon the weather and how sweaty or wet the sock gets.


This is Gideon without his prosthetic leg



There is so much information out there regarding equine prosthetics, I thought maybe the best way to relate some of it would be through stories…  So, here are three stories with happy endings.

Gideon has been breeding for over 14 years…


Gideon is a Missouri Fox Trotter stallion who is standing at stud at Serenity Equine, and Equine Podiatry Center.  He has had his prosthetic leg for over 14 years and breeds often – WOW!  14 years and he is totally healthy and happy!

An awesome detail about Gideon is that his stud fees are donated to the Cashvan Family Memorial Fund.

What is the Cashvan Family Memorial Fund?  Gideon’s prosthesis was funded by the Cashvan Family Memorial Equine Fund which is a non-profit foundation providing research for equine amputations and prosthetics.  So, now that Gideon has survived because of the Fund, he is giving back through his stud fees.  Nice!  (Great idea for an endowment or trust, eh?)

Here is an excerpt from Gideon (I think someone else wrote this for him…)

I caught my cannon bone in a high tensile fence when I was a three year old. I tore all the nerves, blood vessels, tendons and ligaments off my leg. My owners wanted to save my life, so they took me to see Dr. Ric Redden who gave me a new leg. A few years after that, I came to live at Serenity Equine. I like it here. I finally had the confidence to breed some pretty mares naturally. I have a daughter and a son. I have been in a prosthesis now for 14 years, they told me that is a record.

Handsome Gideon, 14 years after his surgery!


Cheyenne is a mare who lives in Colorado.

Poor girl had a severe leg injury which led to laminitis and a bone infection.  Yikes.  Most of us would see the final curtain here.

But, not for Cheyenne’s owners…  They brought her to Dr. Vlahos in Wyoming.  There, the vet team successfully amputated her leg and fitted her with a prosthesis.

This is incredible news for those who have horses with similar misfortune.

Cheyenne, pretty girl…


Here is a great article on Thor, another horse with injuries that normally would be fatal.

Thor, at the time of his surgery, was a 16 year old Thoroughbred (16′).  He had been neglected at a floundering equine rescue facility where he mangled his right rear leg in wire fencing.

He suffered trauma that severed his deep and superficial flexor tendons, his lateral suspensory, and broke his lateral splint bone. The first attempt to correct this condition resulted in his P-3 breaking and his hoof capsule being shed.

Yikes.  Most people would quit at this point…

The wonderful people at Equine Prosthetics stepped in to save him.  Here is what they had to say:

Although his residual limb is not ideal, Thor now wears the same type devise that the athletes in the Para-Olympic Games wear. He goes outside, bucks and plays and grazes. He is a very gentle horse and a wonderful ambassador. He regularly travels to events such as the Adventure camp for amputee children, benefits for the Christopher Reeves Paralysis Foundation, and to a local Disability Awareness Day. Through his example, these children can see that anything is possible!

You can read Thor’s story here.

Thor, happy and healthy!



Here is a great story about Riley the horse that was saved from slaughter but had a horrible wound… This beautiful girl was saved by Best Friends Animal Sanctuary and Dr. Vlahos did the successful surgery.  Now, she is an ambassador!

You can read Riley’s story by clicking this photo


HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!

Click here to learn about Star and donate to her continued care! Our August Bucket Fund mare!



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HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!

8 comments have been posted...

  1. Latisha

    this is amazing.. my horse has foundered in his front right hoof pretty severely, he is such an amazing horse, and with time, as with cases of founder it keeps getting worse.. I cant bring myself to put him down. He has such spirit and life in him, his foot issue is just holding him back and bringing him down. Would he be able to maybe get a prosthetic hoof?

  2. Big Hat

    As a farrier I have to ask can the horses stand on the prosthesis long enough to trim of shoe the other hoof? or do you have to use a sling or other devices?

  3. Nina Eckhoff

    Dawn, your resoucefulness is awesome. Aside from being entertained by your blog, I have learned so much. This one tops it all! I will pray hard for Star to be delivered to the best possible outcome that works for horse and man (or woman!). Thanks again.

  4. Jalkr

    Those who say it cannot be done will never know the tearful satisfaction of knowing they helped a friend live a long, happy life.

    Bravo, to you and to those who forge a new possibility.

  5. Sarahkate

    Thank you for putting so many of these prosthetic stories together in one place. I have watched with interest ever since I met one of the equine prosthetics pioneers Dr. Barrie Grant at Washington State University many years ago; I believe he is, or was, in the San Diego in recent years working on the same concepts. Not to bring up another tragic tale but I wonder if other horse people have the same thought I did – that Barbaro with his great courage and will could have been a likely candidate for hind-leg prosthesis – prior to the laminitis, that is (and a corollary rhetorical question, knowing the risks of general anesthesia to precipitate laminitis why was he subjected to seven (count em – SEVEN) surgeries under GA when a simple straightforward low-leg amputation followed by fitting a prosthesis might have meant he would still be with us today. We can only speculate, I guess. My SO is retired from the human O/P profession and has also worked on dogs and he and his bus. partner hold some 30+ patents – and he knows horses – he thinks Barbaro should have had this.

  6. Linda Horn

    Yep, tissues definately required! By the time I read all the links and watched the videos, I’d gone through quite a few. The videos linked to other videos, and I’ve spent about an hour watching. Even saw a couple of shorts of Thor BUCKING (Yikes!!!).

    This is one of Molly receiving photonic therapy. I’ve always wondered if photonics work, especially on horses. Hope the link is good.


  7. peg

    Wow ~ just wow!!
    I have no words and am trying to pick my jaw up off the floor..

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