Infrared thermography, a technology first introduced to the equine industry in the 1960s, is finally making its way into the horse health business. Simultaneously, it is proving itself as a career opportunity for horse enthusiasts. United Infrared, Inc., the world’s largest infrared service provider, has added Equine Thermography as a new service and training module. The module, EquineIR™, employs Joanna Robson, DVM, as technical director, due to the experience and expert direction she provides in regards to the training curriculum. Robson is also a certified thermal imager.
United Infrared currently offers thermography services in over 25 U.S. states and Canada, and is a corporate sponsor of this year’s Alltech World Equestrian Games. Their participation in the Games is part of a national effort to spread the word about the invaluable contribution infrared technology provides to the equestrian community. The Games will be held Sept. 25-Oct. 10 in Lexington, KY. As part of its participation, EquineIR™ will provide scanning services to those participating horses.
A thermal imaging scan is a non-invasive diagnostic procedure. A thermal imaging camera is used to convert infrared waves into images visible with the human eye. The camera detects points of heat in the body. “The science is simple,” explains Peter Hopkins, vice president of United Infrared. “By thermally mapping the horse’s heat signature with a series of images, you can identify areas of elevated heat and cold areas, which can help identify common injuries: injuries often not detected by other modalities.” When this service is used in conjunction with their interpretation system, a licensed and qualified infrared trained veterinarian will review the images and provide a professional interpretation.
Over a period of many years, Hopkins, in conjunction with a series of well qualified and IR trained veterinarians, developed a whole body scan procedure. Owners are instructed to prepare the horse before the thermographer’s visit. The routine begins with a short period of exercise to stimulate blood flow, followed by a prescribed rest period. Although the horse’s overall body temperature will have cooled down, an injury or problem area will typically have elevated temperatures for up to 24 hours. The images can either be sent to United Infrared’s interpretation system and/or sent to another veterinarian familiar with and trained in thermography.
The scans can be taken at the horse’s home stable and are typically completed within 15 to 20 minutes. The cost is a bargain, especially compared to that of other diagnostic services. A scan with a veterinary interpretation is priced around $250. Hopkins has seen confirmed results of kissing spines, broken necks, saddle fit problems and nerve damage. Spinal inflammation, hoof imbalances and laminitis, fractures, saddle fit issues and muscle problems are just a few of the issues that infrared thermography can detect. Tendon and ligament injuries may be found up to two weeks before they manifest themselves as lameness or show up in other diagnostic methods. Infrared imaging does not replace traditional modalities such as radiographs (x-rays), but is able to see circulatory changes involving both bone and soft-tissues. It is considered physiological imaging, rather than anatomical imaging, and, as such, has the ability to monitor healing and changes in circulation.
Infrared thermography was first introduced to the equine world in the 1960s, mostly with racehorses. Its use crossed into the sporthorse world much later, and has snowballed in the last three decades. In a scholarly paper on the subject, Inspiritus Equine veterinarian Joanna Robson, relays that, during the 1996 Olympics, infrared thermography was the most requested diagnostic tool, chosen over many other available modalities.
New Career Path
Growth in demand for infrared scans means growth in jobs for those who can provide them. Horses, being horses, are always going to injure themselves and, in any economy, owners are interested in economical ways of receiving the most effective treatment, which always starts with a good diagnosis.
EquineIR™ is part of the United Infrared, Inc. network, which offers nationwide application-specific training and business mentorship. The three-day intensive training course is offered regionally throughout the United States, including an upcoming April session in San Diego. The course curriculum includes instruction on performing the scans as well as information on marketing and growing an equine infrared business. It consists of classroom instruction as well as extensive hands-on training.
The course begins with an infrared orientation and covers equine anatomy and science along with infrared case studies, saddle fit technology and all the theory and practical knowledge needed to use the infrared camera, conduct the scan and run and grow an equine thermal imaging business.
Income opportunities depend on the effort and enthusiasm of the business owner. “If someone is highly connected in the equine market, they can become very successful,” says Hopkins. “It is not unheard of for thermographers to make six-figures. Equally important is the gratification of helping horses on their way to healing,” he concludes.
For more information on the United Infrared services or courses, visit www.equineir.com, call Peter Hopkins at 888-722-6447 x3, or e-mail