The Modern Equine Vet
May 2024
Vol 14 Issue 5 2024
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News Notes

Cornell Surgeon Retrains Retired Racehorses

By Lauren Cahoon Roberts

From participating in the US Pony Clubs as a child to serving as an equine surgeon at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, the love and care of equines has informed the talents of Aimee Colbath, VMD, PhD, DACVS-LA.

That passion enables Dr. Colbath to focus on her clinical work in orthopedics and sports medicine, while her research centers on therapeutic interventions for musculoskeletal diseases, including osteoarthritis, fracture repair, and tendon and ligament disease, with a special focus on stem cell and bisphosphonate therapies. “Everything I do in my research influences my clinical work and vice versa,” she said.

This synergy is also true for treating and riding horses. “Being a rider helps me understand what clients mean when they say something doesn’t feel right, or ‘my changes aren’t clean,’” Dr. Colbath said. “I also understand what they go through emotionally—I know what it’s like to be on cloud nine with your championship-ready horse 1 day and then have it get tendonitis the next.”

As a way of giving back to the animals she has loved all her life, Dr. Colbath began training retired Thoroughbred racehorses so they can be adopted.

“Racehorses come in with some baggage—they’re awesome horses, but they’re not ready for the average rider,” she said. “All I need to do is spend some time working with them, show them how to be good citizens, and suddenly there is a broader group of people who can take them and give them homes.”

Dr. Colbath has done this with several horses and is in the midst of working with her newest project, a chestnut gelding named Snaps that she took in at a major turning point in her life. A friend sent her a photo of the 3-year-old horse while Dr. Colbath was in labor with her first child, and she was hooked. “I basically purchased a horse while I was in the hospital having my baby,” she said.

Snaps reminded her of Willy, the chestnut horse that her mother had cared for and ridden until she passed away from brain cancer in February 2023. “My mother always supported my love of horses and she really loved Willy,” Dr. Colbath said. “It’s been really helpful to have Snaps after losing her.”

Horse With Heart
Snaps has taken up the job of being an unofficial therapy horse quite well. “He’s a great little horse,” Dr. Colbath said. “People think of Thoroughbreds as being high-strung, but he’s the opposite of that.” Indeed, Dr. Colbath only rode him 5 times before competing in a horse show where he promptly won 2 dressage classes.

She and Snap recently competed in the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium put on by the Retired Racehorse Project last October, in Lexington, Ky. As its name suggests, recently retired Thoroughbred racehorses compete in various equestrian sports. Snaps and Dr. Colbath competed in eventing, Dr. Colbath’s sport of choice in which riders and their steeds compete over solid jumps, ditches and water. “It really showcases how much heart Thoroughbreds have,” she said. “They go out there to do job and please their owners.” Snaps did well, placing ninth in amateurs eventing out of a large field.

As much as she loves Snaps, Dr. Colbath plans to eventually match Snaps with a loving owner and home. “For me, if I keep the horses I train, then I can’t take another one from the track,” she said. “I just really enjoy the training process. It’s always exciting when they go over their first fence, go to their first show and ultimately, to be able to make their new owner happy. It’s something I’ve always loved and will always continue to do.” MeV

This story originally posted on the Cornell website. It has been edited for style and length. See the original with more images at https://bit.ly/3QT24u2-MeV.

 

As much as she loves Snaps, Dr. Colbath plans to match Snaps with a loving owner and home.
Photo: Brant Gamma Photos/Provided