Every winter at Oakham Veterinary Hospital we see a large number of horses with acute synovitis following thorn penetration after a days hunting. Many local riders would agree that incidence of this condition is increasing. These horses are generally found to be lame about 3 hours after the penetration occurred which is far more aggressive than we would expect with other penetration injuries.

To date, there is very little literature for horses or humans on thorn penetration injuries. Currently, we do not know what causes the synovitis or if the response is unique to the blackthorn. We believe the relatively large number of cases seen at Oakham, due to our close proximity to the incredible, surrounding hunt country presents us with a unique opportunity to investigate this serious condition in detail.

In our experience complete removal of all the offending thorn fragments and a lavage of the synovial structure is essential to achieve a rapid return to full athletic function. Thorns and thorn fragments can be located in joints, tendon sheaths, bursas or tendons. In some cases locating and removing the thorn fragments requires sophisticated endoscopic surgical techniques. For instance in hind fetlocks they often pass between the condyles, and are fragmented and deposited on the intersesamoidian ligament.

The aim of our study is to establish the pattern of thorn injuries, evaluate current treatments and investigate the nature of the pathology. We hope the findings will enable us to develop improved treatments and preventative measures. We have expanded the study to include all synovial penetration injuries, so that they may be compared to thorn penetrations, and to provide data for a large multicentre study.

All cases will receive a ‘Gold’ standard treatment protocol that we hope will be subsidised by one of the large drug companies, with whom we are currently in negotiation.  Protocol will include:-

  1. Synoviocentesis, synovial analysis and culture, ultrasound evaluation
  2. Arthroscopic evaluation, lavage and thorn fragment removal
  3. Broad spectrum antibiotics and anti-inflammatories
  4. Hospitalisation for a minimum of 5 days, with appropriate dressings and detailed monitoring

If you would like to discuss the study and how you can be part of it, please contact Neal Ashton or Jim Doles on 01572 722647.