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35 days of horse repair

35 days of horse repair

Early last month, Mikki posted about Romeo’s leg injury. It was a surprise that we discovered a little later than we should have. Infections are much harder to treat than fresh wounds. In fact, we ended up treating that infected wound for 35 days. Of course, it was smack in the middle of winter, mild though it was.

Camo Horse Wrap
Stylish camo horse wrap

Romeo learned to dread coming to the barn about as much as we did but the bandages had to be changed twice a day at times and the wound cleaned and treated and then re-wrapped to keep the dirt out (we used blue camo horse wrap, like the one in the picture). The antibiotic pills weren’t pleasant, even when we crushed them into something yummy like molasses or apple mush or a sweet oatmeal cake. It didn’t take long for him to be on to us. But considering the pain and unpleasantness of it all, he took it well. We usually cross tied him in the barn. He mostly stood quietly. Having two of us work on him was key. One of us talked to him and rubbed his neck, delivering a needed distraction. He never kicked or bit, though he did try to walk away at times.

Today, Romeo is still not very interesting in coming to the barn, despite the treatment being over. But he walks and runs well and the wound has healed nicely.

Moral of the story? Check your horses every day! Any kind of stiffness or limping needs immediate attention. And if your horse has any kind of open wound injury, expect to treat it several times a day and don’t skimp on cleaning, even though they hate that part. Also, seek medical attention immediately if you have any concerns. Develop a relationship with your horse vet because these things almost always seem to happen late at night on a Friday or Saturday when it’s hard to reach a vet until Monday. We have our vets cell phone number just in case.

Camo horse wrap picture from The Haughty Horse.

Horses Like Honey-Nut Cheerios

Horses Like Honey-Nut Cheerios

You’re probably wondering why we’re feeding a horse Honey-Nut Cheerios.  Well, it’s to mask the taste of the bute.  And why are we giving someone bute?  Well, let me just tell you.

Monday night, we got home from Chattanooga late, as often happens when we go to the “big city.”  And guess what?  It was snowing.  It was supposed to be well below freezing that night, and not get above freezing the next day.  You know what that means, right?  That’s right, a sick or injured horse.  Since we have four, plus a mule, someone would surely oblige us.  Sure enough, when we let the horses in, Romeo was limping.  It was dark, late, and he was covered in mud.  But, he was just as enthusiastic about his food as ever, so we decided it might as well wait till morning.  Shame on us, I know, but there truly wasn’t a darn thing we could have done.

Tuesday morning, we let everyone else out and got him out into the sunshine where we could see.  Poor thing was still limping, occasionally holding up that leg, and the muscle in his flank was twitching – he was definitely hurting and we needed to find out why.  I did mention he was covered in mud?  No problem, we could hose it off.  Did I mention it dipped below freezing and wouldn’t get above freezing until sometime on Wednesday?  So no hose.  Luckily, we have a de-icer in their water trough, so we filled a bucket and I started dumping water on his right rear leg.  It wasn’t long before we uncovered the problem – a hole in his leg, just below the hock.  At this point we decided that both Romeo and I would be happier if the water we were using to clean him off was more than just above freezing, so Bill went to the house to fill the bucket with warm water.  I got out the Dawn and cleaned off all the mud I could.  There was a fairly deep hole about the size of a quarter.  (I would post a picture, but sadly, my co-author is a tad squeamish.)  It was oozing pus and smelled kinda bad.  (I do hope Bill isn’t reading this.)

At this point, I would recommend horse owners to call the vet.  A wound like that requires a very good cleaning and antibiotics ASAP, not to mention pain meds.  So keep that vet on speed dial.  I am very fortunate to have spent the last three years working for a vet, so while I am far from qualified to diagnose and treat serious injuries, I felt that I could probably handle this one.  I took pictures (the ones you won’t be seeing) and headed over to the office.  I described his symptoms and showed around the pictures, and the consensus among professional staff was a burst abscess.  He probably got stuck with something several days beforehand, and it got infected.  Because of the mud plastering his leg, we didn’t know anything about it until he started limping and by that time, the infected, closed wound had burst.  Poor Romeo!

His treatment plan:

Antibiotics.  Ten days’ worth.  We got a powder that we can mix into his feed.  No problem, he likes it fine.

Clean and Wrap.  We (well, I) scrubbed the wound with surgical scrub, applied drawing salve to the wound and wrapped it well with cotton and vetwrap. We’ll leave that on for three days total, then start using Wonder Dust plus wrap until it’s good and closed up.  No problem, he is so tough!  He dances a little bit but mostly lets me do whatever.  As you can see, pictures of the wrapped leg are okay.

Tetanus shot.  No problem – again, he is one tough horse. (Bill couldn’t watch though.)

ButeBute.  I got tablets to crush and mix into his feed like the antibiotic.  The first day, no problem.  I didn’t have any oats, so I used – you guessed it – Honey-Nut Cheerios.  I added a bunch of molasses and some chunks of apple, and it smelled pretty darn good.  I put a little Strategy in for good measure, and he ate it up!  Yay!  The next morning, same thing (he was supposed to get it twice a day for two days, then once a day for three).  After that, he was onto me.  He picks at it but never really finishes it off.  Luckily, he’s feeling much better, so if he doesn’t get it all down, that’s okay.  He’s still getting all the antibiotic, and that’s the important one.

Stall rest.  Boy, does he hate that.  He just can’t be out sloshing around in that gross mud, though.  Sorry!  I think we’ll put him out tomorrow (Friday).  It’s been dry for a few days and tomorrow is supposed to be warm and sunny.  And the hose is working again, so we will be able to clean it well. Oh, and it looks A LOT better now.

Romeo On Stall Rest
Romeo on stall rest with handsome purple wrap.

So that’s what’s going on at our barn.  Lessons learned: Horses always get hurt at the least convenient times.  Mud sucks.  Cold weather sucks.  And horses like Honey-Nut Cheerios – at least before you put yucky medicine in them.

The case of the missing horse hide

The case of the missing horse hide

Romeo's forehead injury
It looks worse here than it does in person. It’s not a deep wound.

When you become a horse owner, you quickly learn that one of the hats you’ll be wearing is that of a detective. How did my horse get out of his stall? Where is my horse’s fly mask? How did my horse end up in the next stall over with another horse? And sometimes, where did that gash come from? All of our horses at one point or another came back to the barn with some kind of wound that left us wondering how it happened. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why it’s a good idea to see them at least once a day, at feeding time or bringing them into the barn for the night. Even so, this morning while heading to Romeo’s stall to let him out of the barn for the day, I gasped enough to make him jump. The poor thing is missing a pretty big piece of skin on his forehead and also under his chin. First thing is first – treating the wound. It wasn’t bleeding much but it was dirty, probably from rolling or maybe just from dust. So we gently placed a halter on him and brought him out to the center aisle of the barn where we have cross ties. If you don’t have these in your barn, I strongly suggest adding them. Crossties are simple two long ties (straps or rope) with quick-release latches that meet the horse in the middle in a way that keeps the horse from being able to move from side to side or even back to front very much. More about that in another post. So we cross-tied Romeo and Mikki cleaned the wound with some antibacterial scrub. Romeo was a trooper, though he clearly didn’t care for it much. It probably stung. Then she dressed it with ichthammol, a thick antiseptic salve that does a good job of treating and protecting light wounds from getting dirty and infected. You really need to have a small tub of it around at all times. A few “good boy” treats and off he went to find new trouble.

So next up comes the detective work. As responsible horse owners, we must try to figure out what caused this problem. I realize horses seem to spend their lives trying to find new ways to kill themselves; they’re mischievous, it’s true. But we have to keep trying to avert disasters of all sizes. So we run down a list of suspects:

  • Something in his stall. Nails, gate bungs, etc.
  • Barbed wire fence. We still have some that needs replacing.
  • Pine trees. A large one has fallen in the pasture and needs removing.
  • Horse fight. Not likely, given the length and shape.
  • Old barn or fence. Sometimes used as a scratching post.

So we start in the barn. Romeo’s stall has a large gate so we checked for sharp bungs or edges and found none. I remembered taking photos of Romeo the day before and discovered this very same wound on him then, though for some reason it didn’t stand out then. So it may not have happened in his stall which leaves 7 acres or so of partially wooded property to review.

I’ll make a long story short by saying that we haven’t yet found out what caused the wound but some quick checking didn’t reveal any standouts. My guess is that he really wanted a piece of grass that was hard to get to and scraped his head on some old barbed wire (which we really have to replace with something more horse-friendly) or around a fallen pine tree that came down in a recent storm. But the fact remains that the case is still open and our detective skills, better with time and experience, are called upon often to solve horse mysteries like this.

What kind of mysteries do you have to solve that require your horse detective hat?

Why we needed an emergency runaway kit yesterday

Why we needed an emergency runaway kit yesterday

As I mentioned earlier, “Cash” is in our barn to test him out with our resident horses. Mikki works during the day so we decided to keep Cash in the barn until she got home so we could watch him together. I felt bad for him being cooped up in the barn all day so I put his halter on and took him for a walk this morning. As with the previous day, he was curious but well behaved. He ate some green grass while I washed him and dressed a wound with ichthymol. No problems. He was happy to go back into the barn but didn’t want anything to do with Moonshine, who was making quite a racket.

Our farrier came by to check out Cash’s feet and even though one foot has a slight clubbing, it didn’t look bad to him. He wasn’t concerned as long as the horse didn’t exhibit problems walking on it. Next I had the bright idea to put Moonshine in her stall so Cash and Valentine could socialize and establish order. This went pretty well. Valentine isn’t aggressive at all and seemed curious but not pushy. Next to our barn is what I call “the peninsula”. It’s an area that juts out towards the small road by our house where the horses like to stand and watch cars drive by and cows across the way. Cash headed to the peninsula and from the other side of the barn I saw Valentine slowly walking that way. Now the peninsula can be a trap and for this reason we should probably fence it off. There are two ways in and out – one high and one low – but it still feels like a corner. I didn’t see what happened next but I heard a loud crack and the sound of tin crinkling, followed by shod hooves cantering down the road. Cash had escaped. I knew enough to quickly grab a bucket with some feed and a halter with lead rope, as I hurried after him. A quick glance at the fence explained the noise. Cash had somehow broken the top two fence boards at the end of the peninsula, both of which were reinforced because Valentine like to eat grass over the fence in that spot. Did he run right through it? Did he try to jump the fence? Why? I have no clue. Cash ran down the road where I walked him earlier that morning, promptly turned (thankfully…the highway was less than a quarter of a mile in that direction) and headed towards me. I shook the bucket and offered it to him but he wasn’t interested. He ran right past me towards the barn. The gate was open so I hoped he would run into the barn but instead he ran up the road, past our farm. The road was fenced on both sides for quite a ways so I gently called him as I hurried in that direction. He walked past a few houses, avoiding the curious neighbors that happened to be outside. The end of this road is private and I had never been very far down it. I was about to get the whole tour. Cash made his way to the end of the road and headed for a garden. I caught up to him and ever so gently tried to send the lead rope around his neck but he knew I was chasing him and avoided me at all costs. The elderly couple who lived there came out to see what the ruckus was and I apologized for the intrusion. They didn’t seem to mind and even tried to help me wrangle him. Realizing the road was somewhat blocked, Cash headed into the woods and we both ventured further and further from home. Mikki wasn’t answering her cell phone so I called Shari for help. She sent Mikki home (they work together) but Mikki forgot her cell phone so she had trouble finding me. Heck, I didn’t even know where I was at this point! Cash navigated through a junk yard full of rusty old cars, sharp scrap metal and broken glass. I, in my shorts and boots, followed him. Shari recommended I not chase him but instead wait for Mikki to show up. Sometimes women have better luck catching horses. So I trailed him at a distance so I knew where he was while I waited for Mikki to find us.

Cash headed down a trail, even further from home. He eventually found a creek, which he crossed to try and reach the pasture on the other side. Fortunately and unfortunately there was a fence on the other side. At least he couldn’t go any further that way but the fence was barbed wire and he seemed to be trying to push through it or jump is. I saw this horse run up and down steep embankments, though thick brush and over small trees and all the while I’m thinking he’s going to get hurt. Once he got close enough to me so I was able to pet him and try to calm him down but when I tried to slowly move towards his head he bolted again.

What seemed like an hour later, Mikki finally found us. She had to ask several neighbors to use their phones and apparently the very rough geographic indicators (south of the old barn at the bottom of the hill from the junkyard), as well as some audio cues (think marco-polo) but eventually there were two of us. At this point, Cash was close to being tangle in old barbed wire. I have heard the stories and seen pictures of horses that got themselves caught in barbed wire and it isn’t pretty. That and Cash had wedged himself between the barbed wire fence and some trees at the top of a narrow and steep embankment. What the heck?! I stayed a distance away and Mikki trudged through the muddy creek to reach him. As she approached, Cash tried to jump the barbed-wire fence but couldn’t. Mikki spoke softly to him, climbed up to where he was and was able to halter him.

Here’s a short video from my cell phone so you get a feel for how he was stuck. The video is of terrible quality and you can barely see him but you’ll get the point. In the video, he’s rubbing on the barbed wire fence, trying to run through it and jump over it. Scary! You’ll hear me say “don’t do it buddy!”. I didn’t know what to say.

Once the halter was on him, he seemed perfectly normal again. It was a challenge (and probably pretty dangerous) getting him down off of the ledge, through the thick brush and trees and old barbed wire, through the junk yard again and then a two mile walk home but the entire way he behaved as though nothing happened.

Back at home after almost 4 hours in the hot sun, we were all tired, hot, thirsty, cut up and bruised. Mikki washed his old and new wounds, dressed them and put Cash into the barn. Valentine and Moonshine looked at him as if to say “what the heck happened to you?”

Cash fence crashing injuries

Here’s what the fence looked like:

Cash broken fence

I put up new slats with screws and doubled up the top one, making it as high as possible. It’s a miracle he didn’t impale himself on the sharp pieces of broken wood. I’m starting to think we need to consider one of the electro-braid fencing alternatives. While it might not have stopped him, the braided rope wouldn’t impale him.

At night we put Cash into the round pen and let Valentine loose. Moonshine has been curtailed in the barn ever since. Valentine, ever the curious one, slowly and gently went to investigate the new horse in the round pen but Cash wasn’t in to socializing.

It’s been almost 24 hours since this ordeal and things have settled down quite a bit. Valentine routinely spends time near the round pen. He pretty much goes between the barn and the round pen now. Cash doesn’t appear to mind and gets quite close to him. When Valentine followed me to the barn, Cash got pretty excited, as if he wanted to go too. Otherwise he occasionally nibbles the grass or stands in the shade. Earlier this afternoon I washed his wounds, dressed them and took him for a walk around the back part of the pasture, which he hasn’t ever been through until now. I wanted him to know his options so he could “escape” back there if he felt threatened by one of our horses. I hate this part – introducing new horses to the herd. It’s so stressful for everyone.

The plan is to let the horses get acquainted through the bars of the round pen for a while. Then maybe we’ll introduce Cash to the pasture again with Valentine loose. Later we’ll let Moonshine out there while he’s in the round pen. Some internet research also revealed the suggestion that we take all the rear shoes off of the horses. They all need new shoes anyway.

A runaway horse kit?

Oh, so back to the point of this post (and I know it’s an extra-long one). As I was chasing this horse yesterday, I realized I was missing a few things that would be been handy. But I didn’t have time to round things up because I needed to make sure I knew which way the horse was headed at all times. This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered runaway horses, either. Once we accidentally left our gate open and once we tried to help Shari catch one of her loose horses. Maybe it’s a good idea to have a backpack we could quickly grab. In it could be:

1) Halter and lead rope (we should have one in each vehicle, too)
2) Map – this seems stupid but I could have used one yesterday
3) Flashlight – could be dark outside
4) Bottled water – you might be out there a while
5) Horse treats or food in a zip baggie
6) Something to display the horse treats/food/bribe in to the horse
7) Snake bite kit! Don’t think I wasn’t worried about that yesterday. Maybe even a bee sting kit.
8) Basic tools – knife and a small finger saw – the flexible kind you can cut a tree limb with, if need be. I needed this yesterday.
9) Towel
10) Small first aid kit/Something with which to make a tourniquet
11) Flute or piper (pied piper anyone?) – kidding 🙂

And don’t forget your cell phone!!! Though you probably wouldn’t keep it in this backpack.

Got any other ideas for an emergency runaway horse kit or advice for us?

More on Moonshine

More on Moonshine

Bandaged LegWe had the vet out to look at Moonshine yesterday. She had good news for us – she says it looks like just a sprain, and there’s no evidence of serious damage to either her leg or her insides. Both hind legs are swollen, especially the left. We sprayed it down with a cold hose for a while, then Kristina slathered it with Magna-Paste, wrapped it and gave her a shot of Banamine, an anti-inflammatory. (Since she was poking her already, she did her spring vaccinations too. If ya’ll haven’t done that yet, it’s time.) She left more Magna-Paste and dressings with the trainer, with instructions to cold-hose it again in the morning and re-wrap it if it was still swollen. Unfortunately, our planned ride tomorrow will not include Moonshine, because she will need a few days to recover.

Now that the medical side is under control, we have to address the bigger question: is Moonshine safe to ride? Three experienced horse people – Shari, the trainer and our vet – think she may be too dangerous based on this incident. We want to heed their advice, because obviously they’re about a zillion times more knowledgeable than we are. But part of us (is it the emotional part, or the logical part?) thinks that since she has never done anything remotely like this, there must be a logical explanation. We had suggested that perhaps she was stung by something. Bill suggested yesterday that it might have been fire ants. They are very common here, and both her actions and her symptoms both fit that theory – when Bill was stung on the leg by fire ants last summer, his leg swelled up like crazy. Both her back legs are swollen, and she certainly didn’t hit that car with her hind end. But the vet says the swelling is due to muscle strain, not the impact, and the trainer says that even if she had been stung by something, she shouldn’t have gone nuts like she did. He says he’s been riding a horse when it was stung by wasps and it didn’t go crazy. (That horse is tougher than I am – I most certainly did go crazy when I was stung by wasps!)

So what do we do? Moonshine is a total sweetheart on the ground – affectionate, calm, obedient, gentle. Her only problem thus far was that she “crow-hopped” when being ridden, usually at a canter. We were making progress with that – the trainer said that she never did it if he longed her before riding, so we just planned to longe her before every ride, and Bill would learn how to react if she did do anything funny. But now we have a horse that may or may not be unpredictable (like any horse isn’t). Shari has long been of the opinion that we should sell her, but who would buy a 10-year-old horse without an impressive bloodline that few people can ride? We’d have to sell her at auction, most likely, and her future would not be bright. We couldn’t do that. So if we can’t ride her, we’ll have a very expensive pet for the next 20 or so years.

She will be coming home from the trainer the middle of next week. Shari has promised to ride her on our trail rides together, to get a feel for how unpredictable she might really be. I guess we’ll just evaluate her over the next few months and see how she does.

So please keep us and our sweet, nutty Moonshine in your prayers. We’ll all need them while we work through this, hopefully with no further injuries to either horse or riders.

Caring for an Injured Hoof

Caring for an Injured Hoof

As I posted a couple of days ago, Moonshine got an owie. We still don’t know exactly how she did it, but she did a good job of it. We’ve been caring for it for almost a week now, and (knock on wood), it’s going okay. Per our farrier’s instructions, we washed it out, coated it with antibiotic ointment and tried to keep her in her stall for a few days. The last part didn’t go so well – she HATED it and didn’t care who knew. She was inside all day Tuesday and part of the day on Wednesday. We freed her Wednesday afternoon and let her out again on Thursday, since she was caterwauling so loudly and because the pasture seemed just as clean as her stall…maybe cleaner than after she’d been in long enough to refill it with poo. On Thursday afternoon I noted some white goop around the top of the wound and decided maybe she’d better stay in after all. So she was in her stall again on Friday and part of the day on Saturday. By 2:00 p.m. we couldn’t take the ruckus anymore – and were afraid the ASPCA may be called – so we freed her. She shot out of the barn-like a rocket. Poor Valentine, we think she may have given him what-for out on the back 40, for not hanging out at the barn with her.

Cracked hoof

So here’s what we’ve been doing, per advice from the farrier, our vet-assistant friend and a couple of nice people on Horse City: Every morning and evening, we spray out the wound really well with a hose (boy does she love that – especially since it’s icy-cold well water). We douse it with iodine spray and let it air-dry for a few minutes while we walk her around the lawn. As a bonus, she’s getting really good at obeying lead-rope signals because of this walking time! Then I slather on a wonderful substance called ichthamol (or ichthammol) – it looks and smells like tar, just not as thick. Then she’s free to go out to the pasture for the day or into her stall for the evening, as the case may be. We also observe her carefully for any limping (none; she’s not even favoring it, and actually galloped across the pasture today) and feel the area for heat (a sign of infection) and inspect for pus (ditto). The injury itself looks bad because the hoof is actually separated, but the wound seems to be healing nicely.

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