Ellie’s Stem Cell Therapy

Emily Tovey tells us about her Exmoor pony, Ellie, that has made a little bit of veterinary history…..
Caperton’s Silver Seagull (375/1) is a 14 year old mare by Knightoncombe Clouded Silver out of Bemborough Kyte. Back in 2011, the wonderful welsh section D I had on loan headed home to his owners and I was sad to be left with nothing to ride and pamper over the summer holidays after I had finished my GCSE’s. My then riding instructor had recently had two ponies brought over to her yard for backing and schooling to be sold on, I was expecting a 14.2hh pony that was reasonably straightforward, and that’s when I met Ellie. She was very overweight, grumpy and slightly feral, taking me hours to catch each day. I started working with her on the ground and eventually climbed aboard when  the time was right, but she did not want to play ball, and had to be guided everywhere with a polo for months before accepting a rider.

Ellie’s journey was not easy, it took over a year to build up enough trust with the farrier to get shoes on her, she often took 2+ hours to be caught and on one occasion had to be herded with fence tape into the corner after she had pulled her rug neck over her eyes. After a lot of blood, sweat and tears, Ellie began to trust me and became my best friend. I spent hours hacking out across the commons with her, took part in show jumping lessons, completed several fun rides, took her cubbing but XC was her favourite. A year after I started working with Ellie, it was clear to everyone that we had bonded so well, and the Randalls, who bred the Capertons’ herd gifted her to myself, much to my delight. The fun didn’t stop there and I decided to turn my attention to dressage and showing, with a bit of guidance along the way I spent hours schooling Ellie on the flat to turn her into a dressage diva, with 3 established paces.

Over the 2013 and 2014 showing seasons, Ellie proved herself as a great show pony, keeping a level head at all times and bringing home the ribbons every time out, a particular favourite memory is winning a huge mixed M&M class against welsh stallions. Not only did Ellie do well in the show ring, she had matured into a lovely first ridden pony, teaching both my mother and a friends children (6 and 8) to ride. In the autumn of 2014 it was time for me to head off to University, so I made the hard decision to put Ellie out on loan, where she continued to have a fun and built a great bond with her new jockey. After spending a year show jumping, doing XC rally’s and having a go at side saddle, she unfortunately sustained an injury to her left stifle, leaving her with a subtle lameness. After further investigation it was unclear whether Ellie would ever be sound again, so I made the decision to bring her home to rest. Under the guidance of my fantastic vet, we located the issue to the soft tissues within the stifle, either cruciate ligament or meniscal damage however without Ellie undergoing an arthroscopy the extent of the damage was unknown. Instead of surgery I opted for 12 weeks of box rest with very limited turn out which over time improved the lameness, and she was given the go ahead to start gentle work again, unfortunately the lameness soon returned and was worse than ever before, leaving me with a very difficult decision to make as her welfare is of upmost importance to me and she was suddenly very unhappy.

At the beginning of July, I called out my vet to discuss what options I had left, and he suggested that he may be able to complete stem cell therapy on her, it is a new up and coming treatment in the equine veterinary profession, with only three vets in the UK currently performing the treatment, and it had never been performed on a stifle before. After many long phone calls and thought, I decided to give Ellie one last final attempt at becoming sound, and a couple of days later headed over to Cirencester Park where the therapy was done. It involved taking adipose tissue, of which she had plenty of, from her hind quarters, extracting the stem cells before injecting them into all three compartments of her stifle, the whole process was completed in little over an hour with great success. The hard work then began for me, and she was on five weeks of very strict box rest to give the soft tissues in her stifle the best chance of recovering, she coped very well although was desperate to head out for some grass. Earlier this week, the five weeks were up and it was the moment of truth whether it was a success or not. I was over the moon when she trotted up sound and haven’t stopped smiling since, she is now back in ridden work to build up muscle and strengthen the leg.

The experience has been very interesting and Ellie is now being used as a case study for the treatment around the country. It is thought that in the future, stem cells will be used much more commonly to treat all different types of soft tissue injuries, but for now it is great to know that an Exmoor pony has made history in the veterinary profession. ​

​BY EMILY TOVEY.

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