There are few places as horsecentric as Newmarket, England, a small town 90 minutes north of London known for its prestigious race meets and first-class breeding and training facilities. It's the type of town where horses have the right-of-way at traffic intersections, roads are flanked by bridle paths rather than bike paths, and passersby can watch Thoroughbreds gallop daily up the famed heath hills.

Dr. Sue Dyson confers with an intern while performing a lameness exam at the Animal Health Trust.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

The AHT's clinical yard houses up to 26 horses.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

A designated rider works horses under saddle during lameness evaluations.

Photo: Alexandra Beckstett

I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon there prior to covering the British Equine Veterinary Association's annual Congress last fall for The Horse. Besides being home to thousands of horses, Newmarket hosts the Animal Health Trust (AHT), a veterinary charity and research hub to better the health and welfare of cats and dogs as well as horses. I took the two-hour train ride from London to visit the organization's orthopedics department within the Equine Centre, headed by esteemed veterinarian Dr. Sue Dyson.

Dr. Dyson and a small, core team of researchers and interns combine money-earning with science, functioning as both a clinic and a research platform. Clients sign wavers giving the clinic the ability to design studies around their patients. Their focus is lameness and diagnostics, and their clientele is primarily performance horse.

While watching Dr. Dyson examine a gelding presenting with a stubborn hind-limb lameness, I asked if most of the horses she sees are Thoroughbreds, given the local racehorse population.

She shook her head and explained that although the AHT is located just three miles from the track, they attend to very few racehorses. Two other equine clinics in town handle the racing caseload, whereas Dr. Dyson sees a large influx of show jumpers, dressage horses, and other sport horse types.

Accordingly, her research is sport-horse-related. Current areas of study include saddle slip causes, the effects of arena footing on a horse's gaits, the effects of extension and collection on the suspensory apparatus, the Pessoa Training Aid's effects on performance and rehabilitation, and how MRI can help pinpoint pathological changes in horses' limbs, among others. Above all, Dr. Dyson wants to see horses have more sustainable athletic careers, and each element of her and her colleagues' research--from conformation types to arena surface--is helping achieve that goal.

The department's facilities are equally sport-horse-oriented, with 26 main yard stalls, manicured paddocks, allocated longeing and trot up areas, and a full-size outdoor arena with all-weather footing (Dr. Dyson likes to evaluate horses under saddle and even has a designated rider for doing so). They also have an impressive array of imaging technology to see inside horses' bodies and pinpoint complex problems.

When I hopped on the train back to London, I left with a great appreciation for what the AHT's equine orthopedics team does. They perform lameness exams and diagnostic procedures day in and day out like any other clinic, but they also note the patterns and pathologies they see and work to put science behind their observations. After all, the longevity and soundness of our equine athletes depend on such clinically related research.

If you're interested in reading more about the ongoing research at the AHT's equine orthopedics department, check out my feature in the July issue of The Horse, due out mid June.

Have you ever had a particularly impactful experience at a veterinary clinic?