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University of Missouri Introduces
MRI for Equine Athletes

Wise Guy N, an 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood, is loaded into the MREquine coach at the MU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. MU veterinarians use the mobile magnetic resonance imaging technology to diagnose the cause of the champion horse’s subtle lameness.


Wise Guy shows off the championship form that earned him top awards in elite dressage contests before his performance began to suffer due to an injury that was difficult to detect.


Within the MREquine coach, Wise Guy is examined. His MRI scan reveals a bone bruise and fluid build-up deep within the distal cannon bone.


For decades, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology has provided accurate diagnosis of orthopedic ailments. Athletes, in particular, have benefitted from the detailed images MRI studies provide. Now, the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine provides equine athletes with the same competitive advantage. This is welcome news for equine lameness experts whose focus is keeping these horses in top health.

The University of Missouri is among a handful of institutions in the Midwest with access to MREquine services, an independently owned mobile unit equipped with a high-field MRI unit sensitive enough to identify very subtle changes in bone and soft tissue. It is an imaging modality that allows the interface of bone and soft tissue simultaneously, with tremendous detail.

The elite coach housing this technology cannot pull up and provide services at just any location. The MREquine unit requires a specific electrical unit and docking station, as well as veterinary staff and facilities equipped to perform all aspects of anesthesia and patient management, from induction to recovery. In most cases, an attending veterinarian works in collaboration with the horse’s own veterinarian. The University of Missouri easily meets these criteria.

The first to board the mobile MREquine at the University of Missouri was Wise Guy N, an 8-year-old Dutch Warmblood. Laurie Daniels, who owns and operates Tree Top Farm V in Troy, Mo. imported the upper-level dressage horse from Europe. “He is my once-in-a-lifetime horse,” Daniels said.

Since his arrival in the United States in 2007, Wise Guy has earned top awards in elite competitions. But in 2011, Daniels and the horse’s trainer, Pamela Davies of Royal Oaks Equestrian Center in Foristell, Mo., noticed that Wise Guy’s physical performance was just a little off. “In dressage competition, a hair off is significant, and cause for investigation,” Daniels explained.

Wise Guy’s veterinarian, Dr. Mark Cassells of Pacific, Mo., performed exams, X-rays, ultrasounds and nerve blocks, but they provided no clue to the source of the horse’s subtle lameness.

Then, serendipity stepped in.

Around the time that Cassells, an MU CVM alumnus, was pondering Wise Guy’s condition, he learned that his alma mater would soon provide equine MRI services. Wise Guy was promptly scheduled to take advantage of this technology.

Wise Guy came through his MRI experience — from initial anesthesia to an overnight stay at the MU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital — without incident. His MRI report indicated a bone bruise and fluid build-up deep within the distal cannon bone, which is a major long bone in the leg of the horse that is part of the fetlock joint. The injury was likely the result of trauma.

The attending CVM veterinarian in Wise Guy’s case was Shannon Reed, DVM, DACVS, who specializes in equine lameness.

“Our ability to perform MRI greatly enhances our ability to provide top-notch care for performance horses,” said Reed. “The MRI successfully diagnosed the cause of the lameness in Wise Guy, a diagnosis that would have been very difficult to come to without it. It’s a huge capability.”

“It was a great experience, from start to finish,” said Daniels. “We received a warm greeting and were escorted through the entire process. They kept us informed at each step.”

Wise Guy’s rehabilitation plan dictated conservative measures, including rest, treatment with a drug to help bone healing, and rehabilitation before resuming under-saddle training. However, in other cases, the detailed images gleaned from equine MRI pave the way for more advanced rehabilitation approaches. There are medications and surgical approaches for rehabilitation therapy such as stem cells, platelet rich plasma, interleukin-1 receptor antagonist protein injections, shockwave therapy, arthroscopic surgery for debridement and repair of cartilage, as well as programs using physical therapy, and treadmill and pool exercise. In fact, as the use of equine MRI studies increases, so does the development of innovative surgical and non-surgical and rehabilitation programs for equine athletes.

The MREquine unit returns to the MU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital once or twice monthly depending on demand.

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College of Veterinary Medicine
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Last Update: February 29, 2012