Maggot Therapy Saves Careers of Two Superb Rope Horses

CR Bradley's (and Tuf Cooper's) Roanie and Kaci Riggs' Jackson owe their careers to Dr. Rhoads' maggots.
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CR Bradley's (and Tuf Cooper's) Roanie and Kaci Riggs' Jackson owe their careers to Dr. Rhoads' maggots.

When C.R. Bradley qualified for the 2004 Wrangler NFR in tie-down roping, it was even sweeter that he did it riding a blue roan mare he raised himself.

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In her storied career, Twisters Enola Gay (“Roanie”) also won him four world championships in the AQHA, and she returned to the NFR under Tuf Cooper in 2010, taking Cooper to the reserve NFR average title that year. She helped Cooper win Omaha in 2011 en route to that year’s world championship, and Cooper again rode her in Las Vegas straight to the 2012 world championship.

As a mama, she also produced the 2014 AQHA Superhorse, Twister’s Enola Rey by Dual Rey. She’s part of the Bradley family, which is why it was so heart-wrenching for them last year when a hoof abscess nearly cost Roanie her life. 

“The infection got into her coffin bone before we found it, and we almost had to put her down,” said Bradley’s wife, Rosie. 

Instead, their veterinarian, Dr. Bill Rhoads of Premier Equine Veterinary Services in Whitesboro, Texas, healed her with maggots. Healed her so well, in fact, that Bradley rode her in February at the Fort Worth PRCA rodeo and at the Semi-Finals of RFD-TV’s The American—at 24 years old. Today, she’s still so sound that he loads her for the big events.
Here’s the premise: infected living tissue cannot heal. With maggot therapy, disinfected fly larvae are applied to the wound, where they consume dead flesh and bacteria and foster the formation of healthy tissue.

“We gave her a full year off, and she honestly came back better than ever,” said Rosie. “The maggots saved her life.”

A month after the therapy helped Roanie, a friend told Charlie 1 Horse executive Kaci Riggs about Dr. Rhoads, knowing Riggs was faced with a chronic lameness in her head horse.

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“I had an amazing experience with it,” said Riggs. “My horse was 20, but he didn’t have navicular and hadn’t even had a hard life. I bought him when he was 17, and later he began having chronic abscesses. My vet couldn’t get anywhere.”

Dr. Rhoads discovered the horse’s coffin bone was infected to the point antibiotics wouldn’t help.

“In the surgery, he cut out just a dime-size hole, scooped out what dead tissue he could, and packed it with maggots,” said Riggs. “After about four days, if the wound is clean, you don’t even need another round. My horse was off Bute and medicine within a week. It was the fastest, most amazing surgery.”

Using maggots to clean wounds is nothing new. It was used by the Mayans in South America, by aboriginal tribes of Australia, and even by Napoleon’s doctors to treat the wounded after battles. The larvae produce enzymes that destroy and consume not only dead tissue, but also harmful bacteria, which means they can clean a wound far more precisely than a surgeon—and it takes them just a few days. The FDA approved maggot therapy for humans in 2004, and Dr. Rhoads gets his larvae from a human lab in California.

Puncture wounds can be a precursor to bone infections, and laminitis can produce a good environment for developing abscesses, according to Dr. Rhoads.

“Certain horses can get some infection that will smolder and never go away,” said Dr. Rhoads. “You really can’t determine the depth of the problem just by looking, so in the past, the pathway to healing might require a pretty aggressive hoof-wall resection. And that really hampers the horse’s mobility in recovery and extends recovery time.”

And in cases where tissue isn’t getting blood supply, antibiotics just won’t do the trick, no matter how many times they’re administered. That was the case with Riggs’ horse. She debated going ahead with the surgery, considering she was basically going to retire the horse anyway. But he was good with her nephews, and darn it, he was the best head horse she’d ever ridden. So she went ahead.

After the therapy, she kept him in Soft Ride boots to protect the foot for a few weeks, then turned him out on grass a while longer before eventually getting him back in shape.

“I just wanted him comfortable, but now I actually rope on him again,” she marveled. “He’s stronger than he’s ever been and he’s 21 years old.”

Dr. Rhoads, who focuses his equine practice on surgery, lameness and sports medicine, is one of few surgeons board-certified in both the American College of Veterinary Surgeons and American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. The New England native shows reining horses in his spare time—a hobby that makes it easy for him to empathize with horse owners battling chronic lamenesses and sicknesses.

If you suspect a lingering hoof infection, consider checking out maggot therapy with your veterinarian. For more, visit PremierEquineVet.com or call 855-HORSVET.