Equine abdominal surgery took a dramatic leap forward in the 1970s. At the forefront of that process in Europe was a German equine surgeon, Bernard Huskamp, who died on July 17th 2018, aged 87. He was the son of a veterinary surgeon who in the 1960s had built up a mixed practice in the small town of Gescher, near Münster, specialising in poultry diseases. Bernard took over the practice from his father in 1960, but was increasingly drawn to equine surgery after reading about the success of similar practices in the USA.

In 1967 he built accommodation for over 60 equine patients, with two operating theatres, a laboratory and radiographic facilities. In particular he encouraged the referral of equine abdominal cases from the surrounding area and soon established a reputation for the surgical treatment of equine colic and devised several novel techniques for the correction of various causes of intestinal obstruction. Within an amazingly short time he had established an international reputation and equine colic patients were being referred from Germany, Holland and even further afield. 

Tim Greet writes “I visited Hochmoor in 1982 and in two weeks had my eyes opened in a most dramatic fashion as to how equine abdominal surgery should be carried out. Most importantly, I realised that to achieve good results, surgery should be considered as a first rather than a last resort. I also saw that they used continuous suturing patterns and other techniques, which significantly reduced surgical time. I returned to Newmarket buzzing with ideas and almost overnight we improved the results of abdominal surgery in our practice”.  

David Weaver spent most of 1983-84 as an assistant surgeon in the practice, which then had about 6 veterinarians, alongside very competent lay personnel who were responsible for induction and maintenance of general anaesthesia, and for the repeated haematology, biochemistry and blood gas recording.  One day in May 1984 starting at 6 pm there were six emergency abdominal admissions with four of the horses undergoing surgery that night, while the remaining two cases were treated conservatively. Each year saw about 600 admissions for abdominal problems, with about 60% undergoing exploratory and corrective surgery. Bernhard refined anastomotic techniques for distal ileal bypass surgery, partial caecal amputation and epiploic herniation.  DW’s son Martin later spent a year in the clinic (1990-91) and introduced gamma scintigraphy, which he subsequently also set up in the Cambridge veterinary school with Leo Jeffcott’s encouragement.

Huskamps’s practice became one of the leading exponents of equine surgery in Europe and many talented young surgeons cut their teeth there, most of them moving on to set up their own clinics. He was one of the first surgeons to incorporate a video-camera into the operating light, which allowed him to advise younger colleagues from his desk. Images could also be conveyed to the waiting room for clients waiting anxiously for a prognosis.

Bernard published extensively on abdominal surgery and contributed to the early international colic symposia. He inaugurated a 2-3 day international veterinary conference at the large annual equine industry exhibition in Essen, known as the Equitana, to which he invited speakers from around the world. He spent much time educating referring veterinary surgeons about prompt referral and horse owners about the importance of early contact with veterinary surgeons for horses with colic. Following his retirement, his son Niels Henrik Huskamp, also a veterinary surgeon, took over as director of the clinic, which has continued to expand. 

Bernhard had an excellent eye for modern art and anyone who ever visited his clinic would inevitably spend some time looking at the bronze sculptures he had collected and that were erected around the clinic. He also had a particular interest in planting mature deciduous trees, which required heavy diggers and then post-planting intensive care. These were also scattered around the clinic.

Tim Greet remembers the amazing multimedia piece he installed in his own house, which consisted of a painting of him (by Robin Page, a British artist who died in 2015) dressed as a surgeon removing a lorry via laparotomy, from a wooden horse sculpture lying on its back, partly covered with a green laparotomy drape, on which a number of real enteroliths had been placed!

With the death of Bernard Huskamp, we have lost a pioneer of equine abdominal surgery and someone to whom many us owe a great debt of gratitude.