By Erin Gilmore
The Benefits of Equine IR
Potential injury, questionable lameness, ill-fitting saddles – all these terms cause anguish and often unanswered questions for horse owners and trainers. When ‘saddled’ with a soundness issue, it can be comforting to literally get a picture of what is happening. In color no less. Enter Equine Infrared (IR) – an International Network of Certified Thermographers, trained in the application of Equine Thermography.
An underused technology in the horse world, Equine Thermography is a useful tool in diagnosing problems ranging from lameness, to chronic nerve damage, to poor saddle fit and more.
Thermal imaging is not a new technology; it’s been used in many different ways, outside of the horse world, for decades. With thermal imaging cameras that capture variations in temperature, firefighters can find people hidden by smoke, the military can see subjects across long distances, and electrical engineers can find hot spots in weakened structures.
Thermography is also used as a tool in human diagnostics, but its applications are just beginning to be put to use in the sport horse industry. In the early ’90s, attempts were made to put IR imaging into practice for horses, but with large, bulky cameras, and little knowledge about how to prepare an image, the method lost popularity.
Today, IR cameras have evolved to small, light devices that are easy to handle, and a certification program ensures that thermographers are specially trained to read, access and diagnose “hot spots” through Infrared images.
It’s still not as simple as looking at a rainbow-colored picture for answers. Certified thermographers also know equine bone and muscle physiology, and are trained to carefully prepare the surrounding environment so that the resulting image is as accurate as possible.
Dr. Joanna Robson, DVM is lead technical director of Equine IR, and in addition to training technicians in thermography, uses it in many applications in her own practice.
“The majority of my IR cases are saddle fit cases,” Dr. Robson explains. “But we use IR in everything from horses that have slipped and fallen and sustained nerve damage, to small fractures to hoof issues. When an area is inflamed, we can see it and then assess it further to find the source of the irritation.”
A fabulous technology for diagnosing soft tissue injuries, Dr. Robson explains that IR is an “additional, excellent tool that we use in our bag of tricks.”
When read correctly, the heat that gathers around an injured area can help solve many of the body’s mysteries. Red indicates irritation and swelling, and blue can show loss of circulation or nerve damage. “An IR scan can pick up a lot of things that other technologies can’t,” adds Dr. Robson. For the average horse owner, an accurate IR scan is easier to comprehend in color than an ultrasound or MRI image. While IR images don’t replace those diagnostic tools, Equine IR presents an image of an issue in a way that owners and trainers can immediately understand, helping them ad their horses down the path to diagnosis, treatment and hopefully recovery.