Roscoe gets a neurectomy

Yesterday, I hauled my friend Holly’s horse Roscoe down to Pine Ridge Equine Hospital for a neurectomy. (If you missed the entire Roscoe Saga, you can catch up here: Part I, Part II, Part III.)  Roscoe has had sporadic lameness on his left front due to a combination of arthritis and navicular. OsPhos and corrective shoeing worked well for Roscoe last summer, but didn’t do anything for him this year. The excellent vet Holly and I use recommended a neurectomy for him; she believed it would make him more comfortable and relieve much of his pain.

A helpful graphic from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

A neurectomy (or “nerving”) is a surgical procedure in which a portion of the nerve supply to the foot of the horse is cut or removed. When performed successfully, it will alleviate the pain associated with navicular syndrome. However, the removal of the nerves means that the foot is numb; nerved horses won’t be able to feel puncture wounds or brewing abscesses. Many horses who have a neurectomy return to careers as riding horses.  This isn’t really a concern for Roscoe- his owner simply wants him to be comfortable and pain-free as a pasture pet.

“Get me outta here, lady.”

When we arrived at the clinic, the surgeon blocked Roscoe and had a vet tech walk and trot him so he could evaluate Roscoe’s lameness. After discussing the procedure with Holly, Roscoe was prepped for surgery. I was surprised to hear that the surgery could be performed while Roscoe was standing up and under sedation with local anesthesia. This had never occurred to me; I was totally thinking Roscoe would be strapped to a table.

Clipped and bandaged for surgery!

The procedure was also a lot less disgusting than I’d anticipated. Holly and I were invited to watch the whole thing; I’m pretty squeamish about blood and gore, so I was lukewarm about watching. I figured I ought to, though- it’s not every day I have the opportunity to watch surgical procedures!

The surgeon made two small incisions along the back of Roscoe’s pastern. (He said that many surgeons make one long incision, but he prefers to make two small ones.) Another veterinarian helped hold the incisions open so the surgeon could find and remove the nerves. At one point, the surgeon said, “Do you want to see what a nerve looks like?” I didn’t, really, but I bent down to look anyway. Turns out a nerve looks a lot like a very pink piece of angel hair pasta! While there was a steady trickle of blood from the incisions, it wasn’t overwhelming or exceptionally gross.

It was hard to get a picture without getting all up in the surgeon’s business.

The surgery didn’t take long- maybe half an hour- and Roscoe was stapled up and bandaged quickly. He stayed overnight at the veterinary hospital because the surgeon wanted to do the first bandage change. Roscoe comes home today and will be on two weeks of stall rest.

Wrapped and ready to go!

As I mentioned earlier, Roscoe won’t be returning to his life as a dressage and trail horse. He’ll simply live out his life in the pasture he shares with his friend Semper Fi. Here’s hoping he’ll have many pain-free years to do so!

Have you ever known a nerved horse? What’s your experience been?

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

8 thoughts on “Roscoe gets a neurectomy”

  1. Oh man that’s so cool that they let you watch!! I don’t exactly love blood and gore either but damn do I love some science haha. Hopefully Roscoe thrives with his newly pain free limb!

  2. Thanks for writing about Roscoe’s surgery… and you know, hauling me and Roscoe, and just being there. He’s moving so well post surgery so far that he may be able to return to light riding. Stay tuned! Today, back at the barn, he was extremely interested in eating cookies. Lots of cookies.

  3. I’ve never seen a horse who had this but it’s interesting. I think that it’s a great way to help a horse live out his life pain free.

  4. Glad to hear Roscoe will be living the good life and hopefully pain free! I haven’t had a nerved horse, but I’ve known many! All the ones I have known still jumped and showed regularly. I’ve heard that the nerves can regenerate and some horses have to get the surgery done again. I don’t think that’s particularly common though.

  5. Thanks for writing this and including pictures! Nerving is still not out of the question for my little mare, so this was a very cool post to see!

  6. Hi there! I’m curious how Roscoe is doing post surgery? I am contemplating doing this for one of my lame boys but researching all the pros and cons first. Thanks for sharing this experience!

  7. In Feb 2017 my 14-yr Quarter Horse (15.3h 1200 lb, size 00 shoes! sigh) had a neurectomy for navicular, done at an equine hospital by the hospital surgeon. He was kept overnight so the surgeon could check and do the first bandage change. He had 30 days of absolute stall rest, only coming out on clean mats for bandage changes every 5 days done by my regular vet. He then started handwalking, light riding, some trotting, and now is going on short trail rides. He’s still on one bute a day to reduce damaging inflammation because the condition is still there, deterioration doesn’t stop, he just can’t feel it. He also still has front shoes with pads to hold in the supportive Equiflex material for his contracted heels/frogs (bummer, thought I’d escape at least one expensive item). His suture lines are impossible to find except for one that developed a little proud flesh, it bothers me a little, but vet said it’s OK. The total cost from first exam, nerve blocks, xrays, surgery, bandage changes was $4000 (Calif). He’s worth it though, I can haul out and explore new trails by myself, or put a kid on him, he’s rock solid sane. Now he feels better, looks around instead of down on trail, gets fresh sometimes which he hasn’t for a couple years. All I want him to do is 1-2 hr easy trail rides, maybe horse camp once or twice a year. So far so good, I’ll have a follow up exam after he’s had a few more weeks to adjust and get more fit.

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