No operation is of any considerable value to the veterinary surgeon unless he is able to show that after it he has left his patient workable. The alleviation of pain alone, commendable as it is from a humanitarian standpoint, is of no interest to the average owner of horse-flesh, unless with it he sees his animal capable of justifying his existence by the amount of labour performed.

Criticised in this way, is the operation of neurectomy justifiable? Upon that point the opinions of many practitioners, even at the present day, differ. We have already partly answered the objections likely to be raised on this score by stating that the work afterwards allotted the animal should be fixed to suit his altered condition. It may be taken as a general rule that in all cases where the animal's usefulness depends upon his delicacy of touch, as, for example, animals used solely for hacking or hunting, his future usefulness in that special sphere of work will be done away with.

Percival himself, always a strong advocate for the operation, fully recognises this. 'Does the neurotomized horse maintain the same step as before?' he asks. 'To this important question,' he replies, 'I unhesitatingly answer no; he does not. There can be no doubt but that the horse feels the ground upon which he is treading, and that he regulates his action in consonance with such feeling, so as to render his step the least jarring and fatiguing to himself, and therefore the easiest and pleasantest to his rider.... Such impressions' - those of touch - 'being in the neurotomized subject, so far as regards the feeling of the foot, altogether wanting, a bold, fearless projection of the limb in action will be the consequence, followed by a putting down of the hoof flat upon the ground, as though it were a block, creating a sensation alike unpleasant both to horse and rider.'

Emphatic as Percival is upon this point, there are, nevertheless, others who maintain with equal stoutness that the unnerved animal is positively as safe, if not safer, than the animal who has not been so treated.

'That the tactile sense in the horse's foot is useful, it would be idle to deny; but that it is absolutely essential, even to safe progression, no one who has paid attention to the results of plantar neurectomy will maintain. On several occasions for years I have hunted, hacked, and driven horses which have been deprived of sensation in their fore-feet, and never had an accident with them. Their action has not been impaired by the operation; on the contrary, it has been vastly improved compared with what it had been previous to it. And my opinion has not been single in this respect, as many competent horsemen can give like evidence after long and severe trials of neurotomized horses. The opponents of neurotomy were, probably, not aware that there is in progression a muscular as well as a tactile sense.'

This latter contention is supported by numerous cases, reported at the time when the operation of neurectomy was at the heyday of its popularity. Two I select from writings of a later period:

Recorded Cases. - 1. 'Two of the finest among the many fine horses in the Second Life Guards were so lame from navicular disease, when I joined the regiment, that they were unsafe and unsightly to ride, and were therefore entered on the list to be cast off and sold. One was so crippled that it could scarcely be moved out of its stable. Peeling sorry at having to get rid of such good horses, and anxious to give another blow to the mistaken theory that unnerved animals were unsafe, I obtained the consent of my commanding officer, who patronizes practical conclusions, to perform neurotomy. This was carried out on both horses about eighteen months ago. Within a fortnight they were at their duty, absolutely free from lameness, and with first-rate action, and one of them, from being troublesome and unsteady in the ranks - probably from the pain in its feet - had become quite steady and tractable. Instead of being lame, blundering, and unsafe, both were sound, free in movement, and secure, and, the pain being abolished, they looked improved in condition.

'During the month of July the regiment attended the summer drills at Aldershot, and five days every week for a month these horses carried a weight of about 22 stones each over the roughest and most dangerous ground, nearly always at a fast pace, and for four, five, or six hours each day; and yet they never fell or blundered, and the troopers who rode them had unbounded confidence in their sure-footedness. They returned to Windsor, at the end of the month's severe test, as sound in their paces as when they left, and certainly now offer no indication whatever that they are less safe to ride than any other horse in the regiment. The effects of the relief from pain are also most marked, not only in the altered gait out of doors, but also in the stable.'[A]

[Footnote A: Veterinary Journal, vol. ix., p. 178 (George Fleming, F.B.C.V.S.).]

2. 'Some years ago I operated upon a valuable hunter, the property of a gentleman in Kildare, the animal having shown unmistakable symptoms of navicular disease for some months previously, and which had been unsuccessfully combated by the milder forms of treatment for the disease without any benefit. Although the horse went sound, the owner feared to ride him, and sent him to be sold in Dublin, where he was disposed of for a small price, and I then lost sight of him. The following Punchestown Races, to my surprise, amongst a group of horses walking round the paddock previous to saddling for an important race, I recognised my old patient, bandaged, clothed, and trained, ready to take his part in the cross-country contest, and surrounded by a host of admirers willing to back him at any price.

'Having satisfied myself that it was no other than the same animal, my first impulse was at once to find out the jockey who was to ride him, and warn him of his danger by telling him his mount was devoid of feeling in both fore-feet; but the saddling-bell had already rung, and in a few moments more the jockey emerged from the weighing-room and the next view of the horse was his tearing up the course in the preliminary, and "pulling double." I was sorry for the jockey if he felt as I did at that moment, for if he did I fear he and his horse would have parted company at the first fence, as I was certain there would be a smash before the end of the long and difficult three miles of the Kildare Hunt Cup course. It was not until I saw him again in the front rank passing the stand, in the first round, that I breathed freely, and even then I felt very guilty, and, had he come to grief badly, I don't think I should ever have operated on another horse except in such a way as would have left unmistakable traces after it.

'"The old horse wins!" screamed a thousand voices as the competitors safely cleared the last bank (now taken away for a gorse fence) the last time round, and from that moment the operation went up in my estimation a hundredfold, and I almost lost all interest in the finish (and it was a close one, with my patient a good third), resolving I would operate for the future on every animal, young and old, which showed symptoms of navicular disease.

'Neither owner nor jockey knew the horse had been operated on, and he was soon after, on the strength of his performance, sold for a good price to come to England. It is idle to think that all cases are as successful as this was, as experience soon told me; but I consider that, in careful hands, the advantages well outweigh the disadvantages of the operation, and I have selected this instance merely as a practical example.'[A]

[Footnote A: Veterinary Journal, vol. iii., p. 254 (W. Pallin, M.B.C.V.S.).]

It is solely with the object of ventilating both sides of the question that we quote the last two cases. In our opinion, the colours in which the results of the operation are there painted are far too rosy. The practitioner who has before him the task of satisfying a client as to what will or what will not be the results of an operation he has suggested will do well to weigh each side of the argument carefully, and endeavour in his explanation to strike the happy mean.

We hold, further, that the animal who has previously been accustomed to fast work, and to work entailing a large call upon the sense of touch when passing over rough and uneven ground, will be far more likely, in his neurectomized condition, to give satisfaction to his owner if put to a slower and a more suitable means of earning his living.