Word’s Gotten Out About Cornell’s Ruffian Equine Clinic

Horses are chiefly heir to orthopedic, gastrointestinal, and respiratory problems, all of which can be serious
Dr. Kyla Ortved, one of the Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists’ three full-time surgeons, and the clinic’s practice manager, Jill Nordberg, were at the Hampton Classic Friday. Jack Graves

The Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists clinic, which is adjacent to Belmont Park, gave a lunch at the Hampton Classic Friday, and one of the top-notch veterinarians there, Dr. Kyla Ortved, a specialist in orthopedic surgery, was on hand to field questions.

The clinic, whose caseload, she said, has grown greatly in its first year of operation, has been very well received by Long Island horse owners and vets, who have benefited as well from the clinic’s monthly seminars on various veterinary topics.

Horses are chiefly heir to orthopedic, gastrointestinal, and respiratory problems, all of which can be serious.

Cameron Gurney, a former Amagansett resident who oversaw the establishment of the clinic, said that its proximity has, first and foremost, substantially reduced colic deaths on the Island.

“Horses with tied-up intestines no longer have to be transported up to five hours to clinics in New Jersey or Connecticut or to Putnam County, during which they might die en route,” he said.

In a May 29, 2014, article in The Star, Gurney said that the Ruffian clinic — named after the famous 3-year-old filly who died following a match race at Belmont in 1975, and who is buried in the infield there, her nose pointing toward the finish line — boasts “a dream team” of equine vets, namely Dr. Norm Ducharme, an upper airway expert, Dr. Alan Nixon, an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Lisa Fortier, an orthopedic surgeon and regenerative tissue specialist (who also covers Triple Crown races for Fox News), Dr. Samuel Hurcombe, who specializes in internal medicine and emergency/critical care, Dr. Tom Yarbrough, a specialized sports medicine surgeon, and the aforementioned Dr. Ortved.

Drs. Ducharme, Nixon, and Fortier are world leaders in their fields, Dr. Ortved said.

The clinic performs elective and emergency surgeries “24/7” and offers standing M.R.I. bone scans, and several versions of digital radiography as well. Dr. Ortved is one of three vets there full time. Drs. Ducharme, Nixon, and Fortier, all of whom teach and oversee labs at Cornell’s school of veterinary medicine, alternate time at the clinic on a weekly basis.

“Their upper respiratory tract — their airway — has the potential to cause problems,” Dr. Ortved said in answer to a question. “Show horses and especially racehorses are the equivalent to elite human athletes. . . . Dr. Ducharme has led the upper respiratory field clinically by developing a lot of different surgeries and pioneering in various techniques.”

Dr. Nixon (her doctorate adviser) was, Dr. Ortved said, “very much focused on orthopedic surgery. His research has focused on joint disease. Dr. Fortier’s research at Cornell has focused on regenerative medicine. She’s had success with platelet-rich plasma injections, generated from a horse’s own blood, into its tendons and ligaments.”

“Horses can get arthritis a lot,” Dr. Ortved added, when asked where improvements could be made. “So research is very important for that. They’re looking for better ways to prevent it and to treat it when it does occur.”

“Something can always be improved upon,” she continued, “everything from preventative treatments through emergency care. . . . Everyone on the team is either a board-certified surgeon or board-certified in internal medicine.”

Standing surgery, she said, was “limited to the head and throat, but we also have a lot of minimally invasive surgeries, such as laparoscopy, where a camera is inserted into the abdomen, and arthroscopy, which is the same idea, in which a camera is put inside a joint. By not having to open the entire joint, recovery time is faster and there’s time for better healing.”

Also with Dr. Ortved that day was Jill Nordberg, the clinic’s practice manager, Cameron Gurney’s “first hire. . . . Jill actually runs the show. . . . We were looking to turn the corner in three years, but the clinic’s already making money now, I believe.”