Thunder, the Denver Broncos’ mascot, will return to Mile High Stadium Sunday for the first time since a Colorado State University equine surgeon repaired a potentially debilitating knee injury six weeks ago.
Using techniques also applied in human orthopaedic surgery, Dr. Gayle Trotter removed fragments of bone from Thunder’s right rear stifle joint, the equivalent of a human knee but farther up the horse’s leg. The joint called the knee on a horse is actually more equivalent to the human wrist and is located on the animal’s front legs.
Trotter performed two arthroscopic surgeries on Thunder, in which a small microscope was inserted into the knee joint and used to help locate and remove bone fragments from the thick cartilage and tissue surrounding the joint. The previous surgery took place Sept. 3 at Colorado State’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.
The 14-year-old, pure-bred Arabian stallion stayed at the veterinary hospital for two weeks after surgery and has undergone a controlled exercise program to restore strength in his leg. The horse, whose registered name is JB Kobask, is owned by Magness Arabians of Fort Lupton, Colo.
"It was a very large fracture, one that could have caused permanent arthritis and chronic lameness if the bone fragments had not been removed," Trotter said. "Thunder did extremely well through both surgeries and I anticipate a full recovery."
Trotter said that rear stifle joint fractures are uncommon in horses and Thunder’s injury was about three times larger than a typical fracture. A mare that was being bred to Thunder was apparently responsible for delivering the kick that gave the Broncos’ mascot the injury.
Although Thunder will return to the field on Sunday when the Broncos take on the Seattle Seahawks at Mile High Stadium, it may take up to two more months before the stallion can be ridden at a full gallop. Trotter said the recovery time is critical in order to allow scar tissue to grow and strengthen in the area where bone fragments were removed.
Thunder is in his fourth season with the Denver Football Club and made his debut at Mile High Stadium on Sept. 12, 1993, for a Broncos victory over the San Diego Chargers. Thunder is always accompanied by his rider, Angela Moore, at home games. Moore, horse trainer at Magness Arabians and a Colorado State University alumna, assists with training, veterinary care and grooming Thunder and other horses.
Thunder’s surgery isn’t the only relationship Colorado State’s equine surgeons have with the National Football League. The NFL has teamed up with Colorado State’s equine orthopaedic research group and Vail’s noted Steadman-Hawkins Sports Medicine Foundation to develop new methods for treating knee injuries. The research is being funded by grants from the National Football League Charities.