A newly constructed outdoor equine arena will dramatically help provide diagnostic information on the horses brought to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for lameness or performance issues. It also will allow for greater collaboration between veterinarians for equine surgery, sports medicine, and the farrier shop.

Nearly every day at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine's outdoor arena, horses go through their paces, and this state-of-the-art arena has already proven invaluable during its first few months of operation.

Its open space and all-weather surface create a model setting for clinicians to conduct comprehensive assessments of horses for medical and performance issues, most commonly lameness.

"A safe, reliable surface is incredibly important for a lameness or performance exam. This new arena offers us the opportunity to evaluate the horse at all gaits, and it was thoughtfully designed and the footing carefully chosen to withstand all sorts of weather conditions so that we can evaluate horses year-round," said Lauren Trager, clinical assistant professor of equine sports medicine in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences.

Examining horses while moving leads to more precise and effective diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Typically, the arena is used for lameness or gait evaluations, and it's large enough that horses can be ridden under saddle.

"Evaluation under saddle is often an important part of the exam, particularly for those horses who present for poor performance or who are displaying issues that are only apparent with weight on their back. It's helpful to have the ability to ask the rider to get on and demonstrate what they've been feeling. And that's only feasible if you have an arena that is a suitable size for riding and has proper footing," said Trager.

The arena was also deliberately placed next door to the podiatry barn, where Travis Burns, associate professor of practice and chief of Farrier Services, unites the skills and experience of farriers with the college's veterinarian specialists to provide therapeutic foot care for horses.

Burns said, "The clients I have spoken with about the arena have all been very enthusiastic. It's conveniently located close to the barns and the farrier shop so that we can collaborate with the veterinarians for equine surgery and sports medicine. It will dramatically help provide diagnostic information on the horses brought to the VTH [Veterinary Teaching Hospital] for lameness or performance issues, which can only be good for the overall well-being of the horse."

For owner and trainer Katherine Abrams, who runs the Harmony Hills Equestrian Center, having the new arena in Blacksburg and the veterinary team together is a winning combination. Her horse Reina, a 13-year-old Oldenburg, was the winner of the USA Dressage Final for Intermediate Open Freestyle in 2021.

"It's fantastic to have this so near to our stables, and I know many others that must travel so far to find similar services and facilities. The combination of Travis, Dr. Trager, and the arena really helps keep my horses sound. My horses work so much it's essential to me to have this support."

"Good, level footing for evaluations is essential and a dedicated space to perform the exam is wonderful," Trager added.  "Ultimately, all of these things enables us to best serve the horse, which is our main priority."

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