If anyone is uniquely qualified to offer tips for keeping the sport horse fit and sound, it’s Ashlee Watts. As the director of the Comparative Orthopedics and Regenerative Medicine Lab at Texas A&M, Dr. Watts has compiled groundbreaking research and published numerous studies in the field of equine orthopedics. She’s also a competitive rider on the AA Dressage circuit, reaching the US Dressage Finals each of the last three years with her gelding Hampton.
Q: Tell us about Hampton. When did you know you had a capable dressage prospect on your hands?
AW: He’s a 9-year-old Danish gelding, I’ve had him for about 4 years. I don’t know, he’s my first dressage horse. I guess I knew from the beginning that he was amazing, and he just keeps getting more and more amazing. I got him because he had a hind limb suspensory injury, which is pretty common in the dressage horse. So we had to get him through rehab, but we’re good now.
Q: You’re also an academic veterinarian at Texas A&M, where you’ve done notable studies in equine orthopedics. What are you currently working on?
AW: We’re currently working on a new therapy for tendon healing that’s very exciting. It’s a new technology that hopefully will change medicine forever, in all different types of medicine, including musculoskeletal injury. We’re also looking at some regenerative medicine techniques to slow or stop progression of arthritis after joint injury.
Q: As both a vet and a competitive rider, what advice can you give other equestrians in terms of developing sound, fit athletes?
AW: Any horse, whether injured or not, has little things happening all the time—little articular cartilage injuries, little tendon injuries, little ligament injuries—and that’s totally normal, that’s part of being an athlete. It’s when the remodeling of that tiny little injury gets out of control that the horse has a problem, just like any athlete.
So having a program that maintains their fitness so they’re fit to the level of the work they’re doing, and then good nutrition, and potentially anti-inflammatory therapies that are helping them do a better job of remodeling those little bitty changes that happen with normal work.
He’s on a supplement that I actually did a study on. It’s a resveratrol supplement, and the brand name is Equithrive. We did a study on horses that had lameness in their hock joints. And some of them got the supplement, and some of them got placebo. And horses that actually got the supplement were less lame after four months. So I believe that supplement works. So helping them in every way you can and keeping them fit and happy is probably the most important thing.
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