It’s one of every horse owner’s worst nightmares–a case of colic that progresses into emergency surgery. Among the many other questions swirling in an owner’s mind before colic surgery might be whether their horse will recover well enough to return to work when the ordeal is over. Researchers at North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) College of Veterinary Medicine recently tried to provide better statistics to answer that question.

The research team followed up with owners whose horses underwent exploratory celiotomy procedures for acute colic at the university’s clinic between 2003 and 2010 and survived at least six months after surgery. After six months, the team learned, 68% of the 195 horses had returned to their previous job; of those, 54% were working at or above preoperative performance levels. At one year, these numbers increased to 76% and 66% respectively.

Of horses that did not return work, several pre- and post-operative complications seemed to play a role, the team noted, including herniation at the surgical incision, pre-existing lameness, and laminitis during or after hospitalization.

If needed, repair of incisional hernias as the result of weakened body wall or as a complication after incisional infection must be delayed for four to six months to allow tissue to remodel, noted researchers. Affected horses were almost four times less likely to be working at one year as compared to horses without hernias.

Callie Fogle, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, clinical assistant professor of equine soft tissue surgery and an author on the study, speculated that this statistic might be due in part to the physical b