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We Are Flying Solo

Showing posts with label injury. Show all posts
Showing posts with label injury. Show all posts

October 5, 2019

Wound Wars: The Battle Of Proud Flesh

Proud flesh:  the nemesis of wound care.  When you have any open wound that can't be stitched (which seems to define nearly all horse wounds), you have to wait for them to fill in on their own with granulation tissue.  However, this tissue has a serious overachievement problem & inevitably multiplies into a cauliflower-esque explosion of cell growth that protrudes well above the skin surface.  It then blocks the migration of healthy skin cells that would otherwise move in to close the wound.

It is particularly problematic in areas of poor blood supply & high motion, like the lower legs.  Where 100% of my horses' wounds were.  Of course.

If the wound in located somewhere you can apply a pressure bandage, like a standing wrap, you can prevent proud flesh.  When those cells can't push outward, they seem to just give up & pout, giving the good cells room to do their magic.  This was awesome for 25% of our wounds, specifically, Solo's skinned cannon bone.
You can see by mid-Sept the bone is once more covered by a sub-layer & as of this weekend, new skin has covered more than 50% of the original area.  I'm keeping a non-stick pad coated with Dr. Bob's Magic Red Sauce + standing wrap on this until it's filled in more, as one less place I have to fight the evils of proud flesh.

Solo's hock has been the primary battleground.  High motion, impossible to pressure wrap, with a horizontal cut destined to pull apart - it was inevitable, really.  The Magic Red Sauce (I don't know all the ingredients in this concoction) is supposed to help both retard proud flesh & encourage epithelial cell growth, but its magic definitely has limits.

I was scrubbing madly with my dilute betadine, but it wasn't enough, so mid-Sept, I called Dr. Bob.  He knows I do surgery on endangered species (& they live), so he gave me permission to get aggressive.  Really aggressive.  I dunked the knife & scissors on my multi-tool in the beta-water & charged back into battle.
 
The one good thing about proud flesh is that it doesn't contain any nerves, just a zillion blood vessels.  So it will make an unholy mess when you hack (very carefully) away at it but your horse won't feel a thing.  This wasn't a super fun addition to the twice-a-day cleanings & it made them even longer, but Solo dozed patiently while I chopped off endless tiny tissue nodules, just trying to keep it roughly even with the skin surface.
Front
Looking good today (white is Corona)
Lateral side
Today's view, still a little proud flesh, but the skin will soon swallow it
After scrubbing, I would alternate between polysporin & Magic Red Sauce.  I am happy to say that after several weeks of battle, not only is the proud flesh on pouty retreat, but the front hole has finally closed, meaning no more diaper wrapping & ending the 2-roll-a-day vetwrap suffering!  There is still some fill in that hock, so it gets hosed daily, but has drastically reduced with today's cooler weather.

Echo's return to work was delayed by the fact that it took me an hour to do Solo's bandage when I got home from work, after which it was basically dark.  He is now back under saddle, though, for the past 10 days.  He is almost completely healed.  The friction burns on his chest have vanished under his new winter parka-in-progress, you can't even tell they were there.
Top is Sept 3, bottom is Sept 27
Proud flesh did rear its ugly head on his knee, so it also got the knife & is now gasping its very last, tiny breaths.  A few more Red Sauce treatments & it too will vanish.  The cut on the outside of his cannon is a small scab hidden in fur.

My knife hasn't been needed in several days.  Both boys are sound & happy.  So much so that my next story for you involves a lesson (OMG, a lesson!!?!) in which Baby Monster is making some very exciting progress.
Coming soon...

September 19, 2019

Tricks of the Equine First Aid Trade

Since I am currently using nearly all of the equine nursing tricks I've developed over the years, I wanted to share a few products I've adapted from the human world.  In many cases, this is much cheaper than buying "horse" labeled products, as we all know that's an automatic 300% markup. 

Horses & humans may both be mammals, but are NOT interchangeable, so product transference should always be done with caution.  I check with my vet before I try anything new.  And Dr. Bob himself has suggested several of them!

In my wound care kit right now:
  • Generic wound wash from CVS -- a mix of antiseptic & lidocaine, this stuff has become the first thing I grab for cuts & scrapes.  Dr. Bob first mentioned something like this when Solo got staples in his head last year, as the lidocaine reduces itching so they don't rub on everything.  I squirt on a clean cloth to apply & a bottle lasts me a long time (uh, usually).
  • Non-stick wound pads (biggest size available) -- fabulous for things on legs that get wrapped.  In the last post, you can see one sticking out of the wrap around Solo's cannon scrape.  I've found that if you leave a little sticking out above the vetwrap, it helps prevent the pad from sliding out the bottom.  They absorb without peeling off healing tissue when you change bandages.
  • Nitrile gloves (altho medium is of course too small for my giant man-hands) -- not sterile, but cleaner than my fingers & saves me from having to wipe 5 different kinds of goop off my hands.  I also like that the blue is easier for me to see when I drop it or it blows out of a trash bucket.
  • Polysporin -- a long time ago, a dr. told me that 10% of people develop allergic responses to Neosporin, so polysporin was a safer choice.  I don't know if this is applicable to horses or not, but I've used the poly ever since on full-thickness cuts & it works well.
  • Colored duct tape -- I always tape wraps/standing bandages that are worn unattended.  I try to get tape that is a different color than my standing wraps so I can easily see from a distance if it's still there, but I had blue left over from something else, so oops.  
  • Gorilla tape -- I usually only use this for hoof wrapping, for which it is a godsend, but I was about to run out of duct tape, so have also used it on standings.  It has not left a residue or caused any damage to my standing wraps.
The discolored gladware with 3 little syringes is my wound lavage kit.  NCSU vet school taught me this method when I had to clean out Solo's healing head-holes.  Add a little Betadine to water, so it's a diluted mixture, about the colour of weak tea or lighter.  Use the syringes to flush out the wound.  Syringes allow you to control direction & pressure of stream pretty well.  Because Betadine is cytotoxic, you never want to use it full strength on an open wound & even dilute, use only when needed to prevent infection/flush out debris.  It will stain whatever container you put it in, so pick something you don't plan to eat out of later.

Finally, the big fat syringe is just a dosing syringe with the tip cut off, making it easier to give dissolved stuff like SMZs without losing 1/3 of your dose stuck in the plastic tip.

What about you?  Do you have favorite products you've adapted to equine use?

September 9, 2019

A Healing Update - It's Never Simple

The first week post-carnage went fairly smoothly.  The Horse Gods saw this & felt it necessary to remind me that this is an unacceptable premise.  As if I need reminding.

Both horses were wrapped for the first week & I was pleased with their progress.  Then Friday morning, I came out to feed breakfast & Solo was suddenly non-weight bearing on that hind leg.

He is a seriously stoic horse, so my panic level shot to maximum while I coaxed & pleaded him in hobbling hops back to the shed.  I took his temperature (normal), pulse (slightly elevated at 44 bpm, but not extreme), & unwrapped his bandages to check for any signs of infection.  Nothing appeared to be any worse than it had been 12 hours before.  Solo was eating & drinking & pooping with a happy face, he just did not want to move that leg.
Doing fine the first week
I called the vet & parked the hose over Solo's hock.  There was still a fair amount of swelling around the hock, but it's a pretty ugly wound, so that's not unexpected.  Dr. Bob talked me off the ledge (he's getting way too much practice at this).  He agreed infection was unlikely & thought Solo had probably just tweaked one of the many bruised tendons/ligaments sometime during the night.  He increased his SMZ dose to be cautious & if we didn't see improvement by Monday, we might try a heftier antibiotic.

I hadn't thought of that possibility, but I now think he is probably right.  Solo could have slipped or torqued it getting up.  I'm glad to say that he is improving -- he's walking, albeit slowly, as well as standing on it, including resting on that leg, which alleviates many of my concerns about the joint.  I also think, based on how he moves, all that delicate healing skin on a high motion area is pulling, especially as it dries & gets tighter, which probably doesn't feel great & he's protecting it.  I know he didn't run around, Solo is a careful guy.

The cuts are healing very well.  Everything is closed except for a small hole at the front, which is good for drainage (only a small amount now).  We're sticking with the SMZs - after Solo had TWO resistant bacteria show up while he was at the vet school in 2017, I am uber-conservative with antibiotic use in all circumstances.  Well, plus, I'm a biologist & I know better.  Only when prescribed, only when truly necessary, & the lowest level possible, as appropriate to the situation.
Front view, this morning, before hosing - WEIGHTBEARING!
Side view this morning (day 9), base layer is closed
It will take a while for the cannon bone scrape to fill in completely, but it has clean margins & it doesn't worry me.  I will keep wrapping until the hock is closed & dry since flies are still out in force.  Why not, I've already purchased my body weight in Co-Flex/VetWrap since one bandage job takes a whole roll.
This is what is under the standing wrap
Echo is doing just fine.  Well, aside from making me crazy by trying to stick his nose into every. single. damn. thing while I'm tending to Solo.  Children.

He's been wrap-free & bute-free since Friday & his last dose of SMZs is today.  The cut on the outside of his leg is pretty much closed & his chest is all healthy skin again except one stripe which will soon be done.  Nothing on his chest actually cut the skin, these were friction burns & they were not sore after the first day or two.
3 days ago; today it's now all healthy, normal skin
3 days ago, that one stripe is still healing
The scary-looking hole behind his knee filled in very quickly.  I'll have to stay on top of proud flesh since I can't pressure-wrap the area, but it's not painful at all.  No swelling & he should be back in work this week.  I just keep Dr. Bob's Magic Red Sauce on it & slather Corona & Swat on the rest to keep the bugs out. 
2 days ago, drying out & filling in
Thanks to everyone for your well-wishes, as always, they mean a lot!  I know horses are experts at mangling themselves no matter what, but I'm going to be angry at myself for a long time for missing that jumper wire.  I did a lot of modifications to the fence when I moved in & thought I had removed all of those, but I was wrong.  However small the odds that the horses would hit the fence at that corner, out of all the corners -- it happened.  Shame on me, but it won't fool me twice.   

I'm cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind us.  Thanks to Erica for helping me finish the last of the fence repairs yesterday!

Cross all the things for us & hopefully the next update will have NO ooze or vet calls. 

Hey, let me have my dream.

September 2, 2019

Emergency Vet -- A Two-Fer

I was working outside on Saturday when I heard the fence wires suddenly start jangling in a bad way.  I had just put the horses in a small side paddock to munch on some fresh grass while I worked on their fields.  I whipped my head around to see Echo flailing about as the top wire dropped (it has breakaway points for this reason) & both horses took off to the other end of the paddock.

Since I only saw the end of the action, I'm not sure exactly what happened, but my educated guess is that Solo kicked out at Echo while he was up against the fence.  Solo got a hind leg over the top wire & Echo somehow got one front leg over it.

As soon as I caught them, I saw that I needed an immediate Dr. Bob inspection (of COURSE, it's a weekend, that's how horses do).  I was cautiously optimistic there wasn't anything catastrophic, as both were trotting & walking around in proper mechanical order (albeit full of adrenaline), but with ugly things - & these were definitely ugly - around joints, I am always very cautious.

To make it more fun, I don't know if you've ever tried to do first aid on two horses while trying to keep a phone in the good reception spot so the vet could call you back.  Well, it's impossible.  A HUGE thanks to Trainer Neighbour who came over & helped me juggle all the things until the vet arrived!

Both horses were really damn lucky.  Warning:  photos follow. 

Echo put a gnarly hole behind his left knee, but it is in a "safe" valley between vital structures.  We can't wrap it due to location, but it is already filling in rapidly.
Right after it happened Sat
He has a full thickness cut on the outside of his cannon, but it is just skin, I will wrap until it closes just to keep it clean as well as to reduce swelling there & below the knee.  Some wire chafes on the tops of both forelegs look bad, but no cuts there.  Thanks to youth, he's not even stiff.
Keeping Corona & Swat in business
I am so very grateful it is not Sacred Leg which doesn't like touching, otherwise I would be far more miserable.

Solo's right hind got the worst of it.  He exposed a chunk of cannon bone above the fetlock, which looks dramatic, but those usually heal up pretty well.
I really never wanted to see my horse's bones...
The front of his hock suffered two full thickness slices while pulling the wire down, but all the tendons are ok, just bruised.  I don't have fresh pics of those, we were too busy tending. 
Side view ~14 hrs later (Sun am)
A blood vessel got nicked & ruptured when I initially hosed it, so I was reminded yet again that horses have a lot of blood.  I think I could have done a transfusion when I rinsed out the initial bandages (below) in the bathtub yesterday.

This morning, those cuts were already nearly closed & all the tissue looks healthy so far.  My main job is to keep everything clean to prevent infection & try to keep the bugs off where I can't wrap.  Both will get a full course of SMZs along with bute for swelling.  Dr. Bob had me put some of the green Epsom salt gel in Solo's hock bandage, to try to draw out fluid into the diaper wrapped around it.  I've never used that on a wound before, just feet -- I'm pretty impressed!
Front view Sun am, healing up
What Went Wrong & What Went Right?

It was mostly a freak accident in just the wrong place.  My property came with hi-tensile wire fencing, which my neighbour built very well.  I have lined much of it with a strand of HorseGuard tape, but this section was not lined.  I'm glad it wasn't, because I think added tape might have made things worse in this case.

The wire itself is heavy-gauge & as I have learned during a couple other times Solo has bounced off the fence, this is an important safety feature which helps it roll off before cutting.  Unfortunately, just about anything will cut when you put an entire horse's weight on it.  I have seen horrific injuries from wood, electrobraid, PVC, mesh, thin tape -- horses are just way too good at carnage.

One of the multiple breakaway points did give when it was supposed to, which created the slack needed for the horses to get out & undoubtedly prevented much worse injury.  However, one point that should have released didn't & I found afterwards that there was an old jumper wire hidden in a bush that I had missed which prevented that release.  That's on me, as I'm sure that led to Solo's hock cuts.  I cut that off & reinspected all the other connections so it will never happen again.
It finally stopped bleeding, still tweaking my bandage setup
Despite the emergency bill & the stress of double first aid, I'm very grateful that things weren't worse.  No one needed stitches or sedation.  Both horses are sound, will heal fully, & are experienced at letting me clean & poke & wrap sore parts without kicking my head off.  After I do my penance of a couple weeks of nursing, everyone should be well on their way. 

Go hug your horses & check your fences.  Don't forget to look under the bushes.

January 13, 2019

Bridging The Space Between Us

Echo & I had physical & mental assignments to tackle.  Both would take time, but that was a resource I had available, particularly that first winter, when you don't feel like you're missing out if you can't ride in the cold/dark/wind. 

Welcome Home To Prison

As mentioned, Echo had some sesamoiditis in one ankle.  This was a new one for me.  You can google it, but as I quickly learned after diving into vet textbooks & scientific literature, there are many uncertainties around this condition.  In brief, it's an inflammation within the bone itself which creates mysterious channels (unknown exactly how they form), usually related to excessive concussion (so not uncommon in racehorses).  The sesamoid bones are strange free-floating bones at the back of the fetlock (under the yellow bulge in the graphic), wrapped in the suspensory branches where they split to go around the ankle.  As such, they have a poor blood supply & are among the slowest in the body to heal.

Of course. 

It's often separated into two grades of severity, based on whether or not there is associated soft tissue involvement (i.e. suspensory branch desmitis).  The prognosis is better if it is caught early & there is no ligament damage.  Echo had a clean ultrasound of the suspensory ligament in that leg, so the prescription was rest.  And no more racing.

Love his white dot
I was ok with both.  I needed to put several hundred pounds on him, so it's not like we were going anywhere in a hurry anyway.  I conferred with Dr. Bob:  his radiograph showed the bone channels were more pronounced than originally thought & he had a little chunk of cartilage floating around.  He's a lucky horse:  he was raced by his breeder & retired just in time.  From what I saw on the rad, his next race could have ended with a sesamoid fracture across that weakened channel & his story would be very different.

Fortunately for us both, the cartilage would be re-absorbed by the body, causing no concern, & soft tissues still all looked good, so Dr. Bob agreed we still had a good prognosis.  And it was already becoming apparent to me, even in the first few weeks, that this horse was going to be well worth some effort.

Echo had developed some minor fill & warmth in the ankle around these stressed structures, so Dr. Bob prescribed 6-8 weeks of small pen rest with wrapping as needed.  He injected it to help bring down the inflammation, preventing joint damage.  He wanted to take the most conservative approach to ensure we protected those critical tissues & I was grateful for it.  We also had the advantage of a young horse body which was still developing & still had all those healing powers my own body has long since forgotten.

The cutest prisoner
Inmate Development & Rehab Programs

While I didn't love pen-cleaning or trying to figure out how to prevent a bored young horse from eating plywood (tip: you can't), or the inherent anxiety that comes with waiting for anything to heal, this time did turn into an opportunity.  Echo had enough space to not feel trapped (approximately 3x the length of that picture...the space in the picture...not the actual picture...you get it), but not enough to say, elude me across 2-3 acres.  We had nothing to juggle on the schedule but "eat & relax," & this intelligent kid needed something to engage him.  I began what I call Operation Farm-Breaking.

A racehorse knows how to lead, how to be groomed, how to be tacked up.  He's used to baths & farriers & (often) clippers & loud equipment.  He's not Farm Broke.  A Farm Broke horse gets blanketed at liberty in the dark after the headlamp-wearing owner trips over the fence wire.  He is approached & haltered in a large field by a woman wearing 7 different colours & a noisy, hooded rain jacket.  His rump is used for draping said noisy jackets or jangly girths, which often slide off & land under his feet.  His owner drops ropes, tosses brushes, splashes water, drags weird-shaped objects, & moves things without permission.

This monster may approach at any time & will definitely trip on something
I started small miniscule:  the lead-rope-touching skittishness.  After making sure he would let me touch every part of his body with my hands (he did), I began by draping the rope over his neck, about midway & sliding it back towards his withers, just until he started to get uncomfortable.  I'd pause for just a moment there, pet & praise (he didn't yet understand how to eat treats, also common with OTTBs), then move it back up to the "safe" zone as a release.  Rinse & repeat ad nauseum for a few minutes every time I caught him.  Eventually, I could swing the end of the rope all the way back to his butt (this is one of the many reasons I only buy 10' leads, plenty to work with). 

This was also the base of my pledge to him on which I was to build everything else:  I will never unfairly hurt you & I will never ask you to do something you can't do.

Over the following days & weeks, we learned plenty, using the same gradual approach, including:
  • Blankets cause no actual physical harm, despite sliding across your rump like a two-dimensional cougar.  Same goes for rain jackets, plastic bags, & other loud crinkly things.  You don't have to love it, you just have to accept it.
  • Headlamp-wearing human is not a disembodied orb seeking to extract your soul; in fact, she often produces delicious morsels
  • Small objects presented under nose by owner's hand are actually delicious morsels for nomming.  Except apples, we still don't understand apples.
  • No human parts go in your mouth unless the human puts them there herself.  This includes clothing.  Owner may dress like a homeless person, but the clothes are not actually disposable.
  • Strange human presents no real threat & does speak rudimentary Horse.  Should always be investigated for morsels & can generally be counted on to provide some form of entertainment.
April: Learning is exhausting. Also, he is not a graceful sleeper.
Along with this went Bodywork By Me.  I had wanted Dr. Bob to do a chiro adjustment with spring shots in February, but he recommended waiting until fall:  Echo's body was so tight that any adjustments would probably just get pulled right back out until we retrained that muscle memory.  I re-toned my forearms with liberal application of massage to all those tight tissues & slathered SoreNoMore on that pulled butt.  Producing many sighs, drooping ears, lip licking, & reinforcing that most of the time, contact with Weird Human is a good thing.

Awakenings

As days became weeks became months, I began to see the returns on my investment.  Echo's initial guardedness melted away into an enormous, gregarious personality who wanted his nose in the middle of everything.  I didn't have to walk up to him in the pasture because he came to me as soon as he spotted me (which Solo has rarely done, he maintains that the world should proceed on his terms).  Each barrier we conquered made the next one easier as I gained his trust.

July 2018:  I can haz morsel?
His body made progress too.  That ankle was cool & quiet & we graduated back to normal turnout.  Butt muscle healed uneventfully.  The feet, well, I think that will have to be a whole 'nother post.  But they were stuttering forwards (and backwards...and forwards...and backwards) too.   His rangy frame began to fill out, drifting from "whippet-shaped" to "horse-shaped."  I'm not sure if it's because he's dark brown, but he has more substance to him than first appears.  He has nice big cannon bones & roomy joints & his head is FULL full-sized.  It was very obvious that there was going to be plenty more "filling out" in our future, but at least I could brush him without feeling like I was going break the edge off some sticky-out-y part! 

Feb vs Sept:  please don't ever make me add up that feed bill
My favourite part, though, & the most rewarding by far, was the change in his expression & overall demeanor.  As I've said before, he was always friendly, always curious, but you could feel a reserve there, as if he was withholding judgement pending further review.  I felt like he was filing away experiences in labeled boxes or making a pro & con list on me:  "Hmmm, the blanket thing ended up fine & I got lots of morsels, file that under 'pro!'  But she occasionally has sparks on her fingers (winter static is begrudged), NOT COOL, that is a 'con!'"

After nearly 13 years with emotionally intuitive Solo, I am sensitive to (or try to be) the nuances of horses' personalities & reactions.  No, they aren't human (thank goodness), but they absolutely have both emotions, intuition, & intent, along with the ability to read that of other animals -- a necessary skill for a prey animal living in a herd.  Pondering how to reach across Echo's moat of reserve & knock on the door meant also examining myself & the signals I was sending.  The more I observed him, it felt like he was waiting.  But for what?

Cautious reservation
I realized I was withholding too.  In my fear of "something bad" happening, in my compensatory attempt to protect my battered self from more disappointment, more sadness, I was keeping my own heart at a distance & trying not to get too attached to this fragile animal, just in case it didn't work out.  I enjoyed Echo, I was kind to him, but in a rather businesslike manner.  And I think this very intelligent, very sensitive horse, who was already responding to my purposeful changes in projected mental energy in groundwork, also picked up on that distance. 

He was waiting for me.

With a deep & shaky breath, I leaned my shoulder to the heavy lid of the box around my heart.  I haven't gotten it all the way open, I don't think that setting exists anymore.  After all, Solo is already in the box, so I can't let him escape.  But as Johnathan Safran Foer sagely wrote, "You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness."  With some metaphorical & actual fresh air & sunlight, I am making some tentative forays into the edges of hope & trust.   

As I do so, Echo is lowering the drawbridge & opening the door to reveal a cool, confident exuberance paired with a desire to please & venturesome spirit that I can't wait to keep exploring.  And it's written all over his face.

The world?  Bring it.
     

January 3, 2019

Buy A Horse, Lose Your Mind

I got ahead of myself a bit, but I've had "young horse ponderings" on my mind a lot.  I will backtrack now, though, because I can't leave out the past 11 months of madness.

I certainly can't skip the story of how Echo hurt himself after less than 24 hours of being owned by me.  Actually, it was more like 16 hours.  You can't make these things up.

Benchmark had told me that this was one extremely body-tight baby.  I expected a certain amount of knotted-up muscles - even though Echo only shambled though four races in his short career, he still went through training & gate-breaking. 
What do I do with this?
What I saw as soon as he walked off the trailer was that every muscle in his rail-thin body was strung so taut that it made me sore & a little tired just watching him move.  It's hard to describe, but it was apparent even in the way he held himself that everything was just TIGHT, like all the muscles just contracted at once & then never let go.

But he didn't limp (yet...) & he was still brightly curious about this new world.  And I planned to make exactly zero demands on him in the near future other than that he stuff his (rather large) face & entertain Solo.

Upon arriving home after our walk through the woods, I led Echo into the run-in shed (where Solo had followed us along the fenceline).  I took it slow since I have a collection of possibly scary things just inside the shed including a blue shopping cart for holding brushes & flapping black tarp over hay.  He couldn't have cared less.

I have my central paddocks & run-in set up so I can divide each horse into their own space when I want to, so I put Echo in one half while Solo craned across the tape from his side.  The divider in the shed isn't hot, it's just a visual barrier.

Who're you??
What have you done, mom??
The rest of the tape is hot though.  I left it on because Echo needed to learn that tape should be respected & he had already lived in electric fencing for the ten days he was at Benchmark's farm.  Enter young horse curiosity. 
More sniffing of the new not-orange interloper
Right after I took the above picture, Echo decided to see if this new fence was interesting.  So he sniffed it & put his nose on it.  As it zapped him, he jumped back & sideways.

And then he took a few hobbling steps on 3 legs, with one hind leg barely touching the ground.

And I melted into a puddle, wailing faintly, on the ground right there & ceased to exist.

At least, that's what it felt like.  After inspecting now-even-more-pathetic baby, I surmised that said ridiculously tight muscles, when introduced to sudden contraction & loading, had more than they could take.  As soon as I placed my hand on his hamstring, he winced & I could feel the rippling spasms of a muscle flipping out.  Echo said he would like me not to touch that please.  I appreciated that he said it very politely.

What IS this place?
I didn't see any issues anywhere else, so I decided to apply a tincture of SoreNoMore & rest & leave it be.  This horse had just gone from a racetrack in Florida to a snowy farm in Delaware to a paddock in North Carolina in less than two weeks.  He'd gotten on a trailer around 3 am the day before & spent the night surrounded by horses he'd never met.  That's a lot for anyone.

In addition, even though he was polite & friendly, he was rather stand-offish about his space, which would continue for the first week or so.  He seemed concerned that I was going to try to trap him in the shed, so he would make a quick exit if I came in.  He was very sensitive to any ropes & skittered off like a deer if they even hinted at touching him, especially any farther back then about mid-neck.

I was caught a little off-guard by this.  Encore had been an in-your-lap Labrador from day 1.  With Echo, I had to leave a halter on him in turnout, which I hate (yes, it was a breakaway, but still).  But while he'd let me come up & pet him out in the open, he'd scoot away backwards if I tried to put a halter or rope over his head.  Once I had one on him though, he was perfectly fine to lead & cross-tie.
Eating his first snack with grave suspicion about the new human
I persisted in tiny increments.  I wasn't asking for any work, not even real groundwork.  But it was January/Februrary - I needed to put blankets on this skinny thing (which he thought were terrifyingly loud & offensively touched him ALL OVER, the horror), I needed to check his feet, apply more layers of SoreNoMore.  And I wanted to teach him that I brought good feelings, warmth, comfort, &  food.  Lots & lots of food. 

I also wanted to teach him that I respected his needs & that his space was indeed safe & he was guaranteed to get it back after he tolerated my brief ministrations.

Part of that Look I saw in the first pictures became even clearer that first week:  this was a very intelligent & very sensitive horse.  He watched every move I made & responded to shifts so small that I hadn't been previously aware I was making them. 

We had a lot of work ahead of us.  Not least of which included the manifestation of four equally functional legs.
Echo:  I don't know what we're looking at, but I'm looking at it

July 23, 2017

Not The Solo Update I Wanted To Post

Solo has been fighting for his life over the past five weeks at the NC State University Large Animal Hospital.

After all this time since the last post (if there is anyone still out there reading, bless you), I wanted to tell you about how he recovered from his tendon bows & went back to frolicking with joy with his big-little "brother" in the fields.  Because he did.

Feeling good yesterday in the "horse-pital" paddock
But in mid-June, following a horrific series of emergency vet calls & midnight vigils, I had to take him in to hospital in Raleigh for an emergency admission.  When it began on a Thursday evening, we thought it was an allergic reaction, but the next Tuesday, we discovered he has an extremely rare infection of one salivary gland.

As in, this is only the 2nd case they have seen on the Soft Tissue service in 15 years.

We will never know the exact cause, it can be anything that irritates the opening of the gland under the tongue, a grass seed, a piece of food, a...?  Like any injury in the mouth, once there is an opening, all the bacteria which normally live in your gut & the soil & the world, get into spaces they are not supposed to be.  The result was large, infected abscesses that are still draining through two surgical incisions under his jaw.

To say it has been a difficult road would be a gross understatement.  Two weeks ago, we were having the conversation about euthanasia, twice.  Solo, however, has remained true to his nature:  his heart defies the limitations suggested by his body.  I drove to Raleigh twice expecting to have to say goodbye to my best friend, but Solo shocked us all & said no, he was far from done.

I do have photos of the progression of the drain tracts, infection, & incredible healing, but they are extremely graphic, so I will not post them directly without a warning (I could link them, but the site I used to use for that no longer offers that service).  I drove home many times after helping with treatments, covered in blood, pus, necrotic tissue, & steeped in reeking anaerobic bacteria. 

Packed main drainage incision last weekend, looking really good
Today, I watched my horse hang out in a paddock, graze on clover, talk to his horsey neighbours, & enjoy a good roll.  It was a gift beyond measure that brought the good kind of tears to my eyes as I smelled his warm fur in a hug.  Even more so because there have been far too many of the other kind of tears in the past month.

He is very close to being able to come home:  as soon as the drainage tract no longer requires packing, I can take over his care.  He is feeling like himself again, fat, sassy, no pain meds for the past week, & eating & pooping & drinking well.

The most difficult part is the currently impossible financial situation, made even more complex because this entire thing has been once of uncertainly & creeping increments.  With no case history in the scientific literature, we had no way of predicting how things would go.  With stutters & complications, there have not been any big "opportunities" to have any kind of budget plan (if that is even possible with horse anything).  And now, we are beyond invested, better beyond expectation, & cannot risk attempts at short cuts. 

I haven't figured that part out yet.  I am enormously grateful to kind contributions made by our wonderful friend, Erica, & my mom.  Huge thanks to my neighbour, who has been sheltering Encore during all of this.  Whenever I get half a chance to breathe between this & the busiest time of year at work, I will have to look into options, as I've already put my own medical care & everything else short of electricity & fuel on hold.

I get the best people
There aren't words to encompass my gratitude towards the incredible team who worked alongside us with compassion, insight, phenomenal communication, respect, & sheer brilliance:
  • Drs. Timo Prange & Callie Fogle
  • Drs. Alex Fowler, Laura Marley, Kelly Shaw & Arlie Manship
  • Solo's Interns - George, Megan, & Emily (& now Leland) 
As well as all the techs & hospital staff going out of their way to give Solo baths, scratches, treats, hold his food when it hurt too much to eat off the ground, take him for walks, & so much more...

This is not something that I would do for any horse, nor has it been embarked upon lightly.  But I have never in my many years among horses &  people, experienced a relationship like this one.  Solo is 21, but looks half that; he remains strong, healthy, & even his student interns have noted his determination & enthusiasm for living.

If Solo had told me he was done fighting, I would have let him go, that was a promise I made to him long ago.  And a responsibility of care that I have carried out for other beloved friends when it was time.  But he didn't.  And he has always been there for me, even through the darkest time of my life that defied expression.  He quite literally saved my life.

So as long as there is breath in me, I will be there for him.  And I will do everything I can to return the favour.  

September 14, 2016

Solo Struggles: The Tendons That Bow

Yes, you read that correctly.   No, the plural is not just a literary reference.

I haven't been able to write about it because in all honesty,  I haven't been able to think about it.  But as Solo & I try to take care of each other, he reminds me that we don't have to be alone.  So I wanted to try & share for the many of you who have been part of our journey.

On August 5th (it still feels like yesterday), I walked out to replenish fly spray layers during my lunch break.  It was a horrifically muggy Friday that was about to worsen by orders of magnitude.  My eyes snapped to Solo's forelegs as  he was standing slightly out in front, unusual for him.  And a pit opened in my stomach when I saw his right front pastern was swollen & there, in mid-cannon, was the smallest bulge of a textbook bow.
This one's sore, mom... (post-first-aid, obviously)
Knowing he was fine at breakfast, it had to be fresh, but it was also the same leg he previously had a low bow on a year ago.  I scrambled ice, hose, standing wraps still scattered from Hell Storm 2016 & got vet on phone.

Day 2, post-hose tendon bow
Long story & 3 emergency calls later, Dr. Bob confirmed my observations when he came out for fall shots 4 days later.  Three months confinement to small pen, six weeks with wraps.  Not the suspensory, which was good, but another insult to the compromised deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) in that leg.

Except a week later, the amazing Erica was visiting to help with care & repairs, when we discovered during a wrap change that the left front had succumbed to a matching support bow.  I am so grateful that she was here for support, as that crushing discovery alone would have been that much worse.

Turbulent Tending

The first few weeks have been full of stressful worry for my shining buddy.  He developed running diarrhea from the anxiety of not being able to follow Encore down the fenceline.  Trying to keep heat & moisture out of tendons during the hottest month in the literal modern record of the planet, with humidity you could drink, was exhausting in itself.

I can report that Solo has begun to stabilize.  We have returned to normal poo (always a cause for equine celebration).  It is 30 degrees cooler outside & swelling has been absent under wraps.  There is hardly any heat at all when the wraps are changed.  No limping, which is critical in such big animals.  And we're down to 1 gram of bute a day just to keep any swelling from temptation.

Prison breaks both our hearts, as I watch the horse who discovered pure joy in a galloping leap, gaze over his fence with longing you can touch.  But he has achieved two jailbreaks, one this week, & after ascertaining no harm done, I took solace from the renewing spark in his eye.  He will never return to a riding career, but all I need to know is that he is comfortable & happy.

Solo gave me an entire world, a sphere of irreplaceable gifts in moments & adventure.  I still need him here to light the path ahead though.

Because he literally walks on water... Photo by Brant Gamma