I’ve had exactly one lesson in 2021. It was a great one, but feels like ancient history. Let me set the stage.
It’s a brand new year. We still have feelings of hope and optimism that the shit show that was 2020 is behind us. There hasn’t even been an attack on democracy yet. Times are good.
Austin got some rain, and then some snow. It wasn’t the snow, just the pre-game one. But either way, it left the barn a muddy mess for several days. Now this wouldn’t be a huge problem, but Poet has what my farrier refers to as “shit for feet.” I’ve been instructed to keep him inside when it gets super muddy so his feet don’t get too soft and throw shoes, leaving him barefoot and prone to tearing up/damaging the hoof. So I keep him inside for 3 nights in a row while things dry out, and on the afternoon about an hour before he was due to get turned out for the first time in a bit he made his displeasure fully known by doing many handstands and kicking through his stall wall.
This is not ideal.
I wasn’t there, but I get a call from my trainer that he is really lame and am sent this picture.
Which we then send to the mobile vet that sees him from time to time, and she’s all, Oooo yeah that could be bad. Go to the clinic. So, I meet my trainer at the clinic.
Poet hobbles off the trailer about a 4/5 lame. I imagine every worst case scenario. Cleary he punctured an important ligament, or broke his pastern or or or. They X-ray, which shows no bone damage and reveal that the puncture wound is not deep at all. Massive relief! The vet tells me my horse is dramatic (don’t I know it) and not very tough. He gets bute, wrapped up, and sent home with antibiotics to keep any infection from happening. I’m told if he isn’t a lot better in 4-5 days to call them back.
The next week was a bit of a rollercoaster. On 2 grams of bute he walked happily, felt good about life, and looked no worse for the wear. We think he’s getting better, put him back on turnout, and pull back the bute. Then I get a call from a barn friend, Yeah so your horse is cantering on 3 legs. I didn’t think it was possible for a horse to canter on 3 legs. It’s actually really impressive… but yeah maybe come out.
I go out, and he’s extremely lame again. Weight baring, but only on his toe. I scrub the puncture wound, thinking this is the source of the problem, with betadine and work to open it up more to allow it to drain better. Re-wrapping was difficult, because any sort of pressure on that spot made him act like he was dying. Seriously. He waved his leg in the air like I should amputate it.
But on 2g of bute, he is totally fine walking.
Towards the end of the week, I piggy-back on an existing farm call with the mobile vet and ask her to check him. She re-takes X-rays (which show nothing) and tells us we need to go back to the clinic to get soft tissue looked at. My favorite lameness vet happens to be coming out to the farm the following Monday, so I get on that list to get a full lameness work-up done. But of course, he has to cancel so we end up having to squeeze in an appointment back at the vet clinic that originally saw him (with a different vet that does more lameness work). For those counting, we are at 3 vets.
At the clinic, Poet impresses everyone by “how fast and balanced” he can walk on his LH tippy-toe. My horse is way better at walking in heels than I am. Everything about that makes sense. They do not block him, but ultrasound the entire area and find nothing. Everything looks good on the ultrasound, but the vet admits you can’t see anything and clearly he’s injured. MRI is thrown out, which we all decide is a bad idea right now because a) I don’t have major medical on him and b) it’s too early to jump to the big guns. We make a plan to stall rest him for 30 days and re-evaluate.
So I start what is at this point week 2 of stall rest, just getting him out of his stall every day to hand graze. Hand grazing proves to be more like attempting to fly an angry, bitter, horse-sized ping pong ball of a kite. So I do some reserpine for some better living through chemistry. The reserpine instantly chills him out, but it also upsets his tummy. He almost entirely stops eating his hay, has horrible gas and looks tucked up all the time.
Because I really enjoy paying vet bills, I schedule acupuncture for him to try and help the healing process as well as soothe is upset tummy (since there is nothing I can do about it but wait for the reserpine to wear off). The acupuncturist (vet 4) comes out and is immediately like, His hock is so hot and swollen! He doesn’t want me to touch it! Did anyone block him?
No, no one had blocked him. We were all sticking to the puncture wound area. I immediately burst into tears.
Here is where I will inject the emotional journey that I had been going on for the previous two weeks:
This is all my fault. If I had turned him out one day earlier and just said screw it to the whole shoe issue, he wouldn’t have hurt himself. My horse is in extreme pain, and I’m responsible for it. Everyone tells me not to worry and insinuates it’s no big deal, but how can you watch your horse hobble around on his tip-toe and think it’s not a big deal? No one will believe me that this is serious. He’s broken, it’s bad, and I caused it.
After the acupuncture appointment, I put him back on the list with my favorite lameness vet (Vet 5) to do a full lameness eval. This happens a few days later, with the following results:
- Blocks sound to the hoof, so it’s not the hock
- Hock is still hot and swollen, but that’s from mild cellulitis and swelling moving up from being wrapped
- No use doing ultrasound or more X-rays
- 50/50 chances it’s related to the hoof or DDFT in the hoof
- 30 more days of stall rest and re-evaluate
Now I’m no mathematician, but I don’t love 50/50 odds. DDFT in the hoof is a really big deal. My vet said only 50% of them heal with rest (he must have a thing for 50s). The only way to diagnose it is with an MRI ($$$$) and the only way to treat it is with a powerful laser that can get through the hoof wall. If it’s DDFT, there’s a good chance he won’t come back to full work.
So, I cope by buying things. I start with BoT therapeutic bell boots that he started living in 24/7. I buy stall toys, slow feeder nets, and a (different) longterm sedative. We put him in a mild wedge shoe to relieve pressure off the heel that he still doesn’t want to put full weight on.
As minor, but significant, side effects creep up my anxiety climbs. He gets a bandage bow in his LF from the wrapping (this must be an old injury or something, because I’ve never given any horse a bandage bow in my life but if a wrap is just a smidge too tight that area will pop up overnight on him). I then poultice and sweat that leg and switch to BoT wraps which gets rid of the inflammation in the LF. On the LH, I sweat, magic cushion pack, and wrap the leg every day for a week (minus a weekend that a dear friend helped while I was out of town). I started going to the barn every day, a big change from my 3-4 days a week tops, to care for all of his extra needs during stall rest. My inner monologue changes to this:
Horses! So stressful! Tired! Broken Poet! Fault, mine? Broken, forever? Retired 6 year old? Should I cash out my life savings and buy a farm so he can retire safely for the next 25 years of his unrideable life? Pass me another White Claw please!
Around week 3 he starts walking noticeably better. I send a walking and jogging video to Vet 5, who replies, Better. 2 more weeks!
While I’m waiting for the next re-check, I do a lot of therapy and pouting and forcing my friends to console me. I realize horses are often a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” kind of life, but this felt so awful. The idea he could be permanently ruined because of a decision I made ate me up.
But (good job sticking in so long), the tale is about to turn.
On the 5 week(?) re-check, I finally got good news. Vet 5 said he was healing “exquisitely” and was no longer concerned about the DDFT. His best guess was that it was some kind of bone bruise or “traumatic” impact to the hoof. I was told to start turnout and tack walking, but we were due for the big snow storm so I ended up resting him for a few more weeks while we dealt with more important matters like getting water to the horses when the property lost water for five days.
After the snow thawed, we started some round pen turnout and tack walking. Two weeks after that, we were given the okay to trot straight lines.
And today, I’m doing another week of trot sets before I try cantering the last week in March. He feels really good. I’ve had another acupuncture session and a chiro session to help with any body soreness from all the time sitting in his stall so he’s feeling as good as possible getting back to work. He also managed to gain weight on stall rest, so I’m not mad about that.
Once I knew my horse was going to live to hunter another day, my anxiety went back to its normal, neurotic horse mom level. I mostly don’t blame myself for this injury anymore, but it will make me pause and rethink decisions moving forward.
There are more Po updates to come, but that’s for another day.