Cured of Kissing Spine, T-bred finds new home

Heartly Smart with her first owner, Dr. Julianne Ragone

Heartly Smart with her first owner, Dr. Julianne Ragone

Beautiful Heartly Smart, free now from back pain after successful Kissing Spine surgery in February, has found a loving new home with a veterinarian who wants only to provide the ex-racehorse Thoroughbred with good care until the end of her days.

“There’s no pressure on her,” says Dr. Kathy Collins. “I don’t need to have her anywhere any time soon, so she can get through the process” of post-operative care “before she gets passed to me.”

Collins read the chronicles of Heartly Smart’s surgery and aftercare, she says, and eventually decided that she was in the perfect position to take in a horse.

“I started reading the blog posts about her on Facebook, and I forget which story it was, but I thought she looked pretty darn happy, and that maybe I could contribute to that,” Collins says. “I’ve been on and off about having a horse again. I had one for a long time. And I just decided that I could give her a good home, one in which she doesn’t have any pressure on her.”

Heartly Smart
Sire: Lion Hearted
Dam: Refined’n’smart, by Dance Brightly
Foal date: March 9, 2007
Heartly Smart, who everyone calls Olivia, was originally owned by small-animal veterinarian Dr. Julianne Ragone until evidence of Kissing Spine reared its head, and the lovely gray mare became difficult to handle.

After successfully eventing her for about a year, things suddenly changed for Heartly Smart. She became unusually grumpy during saddling, and overreacted to the weight of the saddle and of her physically fit rider.

“She was grumpy when I saddled her and when I mounted her, she would crumble to the ground as if I weighed 3,000 pounds,” Ragone says in an earlier interview with “My weight was stable, so I knew there was another problem.”

When all other attempts to ease her pain failed, including chiropractic work and massage, Dr. Ragone agreed to collaborate with large animal veterinarian Dr. Christy Cable and Sue Swart of Thoroughbred charity ReRun, Inc., on a novel approach.

The trio agreed to work together on a pioneering Kissing Spine surgical technique currently showing promise in clinical trials in Europe.

Dr. Ragone with Heartly Smart, DVM

Dr. Ragone with Heartly Smart, DVM

Ragone donated the mare to ReRun, Inc., where she could undergo rehabilitation and re-training after Dr. Cable performed a minimally invasive technique to ease her pain.

Dr. Cable followed the technique of English veterinarian Dr. Richard Coomer, after she studied his papers and reports.

First, radiographs of the mare’s spine were taken, and four areas of kissing spine identified and marked with metal tags. Next, an ultrasound was used to pinpoint the exact location of the “kissing” or touching spine.
After the mare was prepped and given a sedation regimen similar to what is prescribed for a horse undergoing a dental procedure, incisions were made at the trouble spots, and an interspinous ligament desmotomy, or cutting of ligaments, was performed.

The theory behind the procedure, initially put forth by the British veterinarians, was that the small incisions cutting the ligaments would alleviate the pain, Cable explains.

Following the mid-February operation, Heartly Smart underwent a regimen of stall rest, followed by increasingly challenging physical therapy. With every step she improved, and Dr. Cable pronounced her pain free about a month ago.

And as if things weren’t good enough, this month Heartly Smart was cleared for riding and found a permanent home!
Swart, who heads up the New York chapter of ReRun, Inc., cared for the recovering mare with kid gloves. She took her on many hand-walks, spent hours doing light-to-moderate physical therapy with her, and even more time clocking her progress.

Now that the lovely animal is pain free and nearly ready to be adopted, Swart feels a sense of accomplishment in a journey she hopes will inspire others.

“In the beginning, it was just exciting to be able to take on a challenge like this,” Swart says. “I don’t know if I have yet grasped how it affects other horses and riders suffering with Kissing Spine.

“For me, it was a great honor to be involved and then contribute to finding her a new home.”
And for her new owner, it is a chance to give a gray mare, so much in looks like her longtime horse, a permanent home. Collins plans to restore her old barn and ensure the mare’s physical therapy and other needs are met.

“It was one of those things,” Collins says. “It felt like the right thing to do.” — This story was originally published on June 5, 2013, and Off-Track Thoroughbreds hopes to do a followup story soon. 

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3 responses to “Cured of Kissing Spine, T-bred finds new home”

  1. Jo-Ann Galanis

    My OTTB was recently diagnosed with kissing spine and I’m exploring all of my options. Surgery seems to be what everyone ends up doing eventually because most other options don’t give a permanent fix. My question is now that this mare is way past her surgery and rehab time, has she been able to go back to work and have a job? I really want to know if horses who had a career whether it be dressage or jumping are able to go back to that once they’ve recovered and rehabbed?

  2. Barbara Zylbert

    Where is Christy Cable DVM located? I know of another horse who could benefit from the procedure. Thanks.

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