By Raiza Giorgi

Nearly 200 leaders in veterinary medicine from around the country gathered in early February for the two-day Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center Veterinary Symposium at the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott

Practitioners and speakers from many genres of veterinary medicine, as well as some medical professionals who work with people, gathered to learn how they can collaborate and share data. 

Discussing advancements in sports medicine, orthopedics, reproduction, diagnostic imaging and neurology, the symposium offered a look at compelling clinical practices and continuing research to improve medicine for equine and human benefit. 

“There’s research as well as new technologies in veterinary medicine that may be able to help us in our studies of dementia and Alzheimer’s. We are learning how complex dementia is and how individual it is in each patient. If we can partner with leaders in equine neurology, perhaps we might be able to discover something new or learn how their practices might benefit the human neurology,” said Dr. Lynn Berkis of the Cleveland Clinic Genomic Medicine Institute. 

Berkis talked about the genetics of aging-associated neurodegenerative disease at the symposium, where dozens of other scientists and researchers also presented programs. 

Other notable speakers included Dr. Caanan Whitfield of Texas A& M University on the equine microbiome in health and disease. 

“Why does horse poop matter?” Whitfield said, to the laughs of more than 200 audience members. 

Whitfield presented his studies of microbiomes in the gastrointestinal tracts of horses and the importance of probiotics in the gut to prevent common problems such as colic and colitis in horses. 

“Prevention is important, and how we can alter the microbiome to improve horse health. This is such a new field of study that data is yet to be discovered,” Whitfield said. 

The symposium was started by the late Dr. Doug Herthel of Los Olivos, who was known internationally for cutting-edge veterinary medicine before he died in the summer of 2018.

The late Dr. Doug Herthel, shown working with a horse in a recovery pool, was an innovator in equine medicine.

A pioneer in colic surgeries, Herthel also did work in regenerative medicine that became the foundation upon which all other veterinary stem cell programs were built. He helped found the North American Veterinary Regenerative Medicine Association, and he inspired the work of veterinarians and Ph.D. scientists alike, according to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. 

In addition to the surgeries, Herthel was concerned for a horse’s health afterward, always trying to ensure it healed properly. From that concern he came up with a nutrition formula to speed the process. That formula gave birth to the Platinum Performance line of products that are now used not only in equine health, but also in domestic animals and humans.

“My father was an innovator, and he would be proud that we are continuing the work he started in equine medicine. This is a great way for scientists, researchers and physicians to get together,” said Mark Herthel of Platinum Performance. 

Topics of discussion also included cervical vertebral stenotic myelopathy in horses by Dr. Steve Reed of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. 

Veterinarian Jennifer Barrett of Virginia Tech University spoke about stem cell therapy for horses, and Dr. Erin Byrne of Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center followed with case studies of the use of stem cells at their clinic. 

Alamo Pintado veterinarian Wade Walker spoke on new technologies and techniques for facing surgical complications. 

Other presentations were on extreme traumas, modern imaging, and uterine or ovarian abnormalities, among others.

For more information on the symposium or Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center, log onto