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Horse Trauma Safety Net...Got Yours?

Published: 3/1/2011
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By Maddy Butcher Gray

It’s been six years since I had to make an emergency vet call. In hindsight, I suppose we were due.
Horse owners everywhere take measures to stay safe, healthy, and self-reliant. There is a certain pride in this aspect of horsemanship, of handling things without calling in the professionals.
We try to maintain our barnyard and work with our horses so things like this don’t happen. They’re scary, stressful, and expensive.

But sh*t happens.

My horse, Brooke, hurt both front legs in an early morning, fluke accident. The wounds were at and below her knees and sizeable. One was a V-shaped gash of three inches or so. The other was smaller but deeper.
At first, I thought I could manage the care on my own. I cleaned them with betadine and warm water, bandaged them, and wrapped the legs with gauze and vetrap.
A rescued quarterhorse, Brooke is a smart, pragmatic girl. She seemed to know I was trying to help and she let me tend to her with little fuss.
But I was worried. I took a lot of pictures, sent them to two friends more knowledgeable than me, Michelle Melaragno and Dr. Rebecca Gimenez, instructors in large animal emergency rescue.
They both responded: “Call a vet!”
I called Dr. Jeff Fay at Annabessacook Veterinary Clinic in Monmouth. He arrived soon thereafter.

Dr. Fay commended me for the initial care, but said that if these lacerations were left to heal on their own, the recovery would have been much longer and less certain.
He sedated her with Dormosedan, then applied and injected Lidocaine, a local anesthetic. With Brooke now blissfully oblivious, Fay was able to clip away hair, scrub the wounds and lift the triangular flap of flesh to clean thoroughly underneath it. He dosed her again with Dormosedan and Lidocaine when she took issue with his actions.
I could never have cleaned the wounds as well, especially without sedation!
Next, Fay stapled the triangular flap back in place. He pulled some flesh together with hand sutures and left a small opening at the bottom for possible drainage. I counted 20 staples and five sutures.
Upon examining the other smaller, deeper cut, he noted partial ligament damage. He closed that wound with about eight staples.
We agreed that since she was walking so well, x-rays weren’t necessary at this point. If the healing failed to progress at an expected rate, or, if there was excessive swelling and drainage, he said, we might suspect bone bruising or other damage.

Let’s wait and see, he told me.
I was immensely pleased with his efficiency and expertise.

We bandaged her with Telfa pads, cotton, and vetrap and left her to her hay. Later I checked the bandages and put a blanket on the poor girl. She was shivering as the sedation wore off, a common reaction.

Three days later, Brooke is doing well. She stands calmly for bandage changes. She's a wonderful patient and seems to know how to take care of herself. She moves slowly and carefully around the enclosure. She is still the Alpha mare, but she manages it with less physicality. Head turns and lip curls keep the others in line.
We face a long recovery with diligent hygiene and doses of bute and antibiotic. There may be bumps in the road, but I’m sure I took the right turn when I called for help, despite the pain in my checkbook.

It brings to mind some issues we all should tackle BEFORE the crisis arrives:
  • Do you have a Safety Net? Optimally, this Safety Net includes: the aforementioned first aid kit, a reasonable knowledge of wound care,a predetermined budget for emergency care. (This visit costs $475. My last emergency call in 2005 cost $1,700 – Ouch!), contact numbers of friends and emergency vet at the ready.
It wasn't fun. But I’m thankful:
  •   for having horse friends to give their opinion and offer help
  • for having a kind and able vet at the ready
  • for the chance to learn and improve my horse care
  • for the injuries not being worse!

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3/2/2011 Judi Medlin
We had such an emergency last spring, somehow my mare's but was sliced open - a 10" gash 4" deep. Same advice, call a vet! Even tho she broke her stitches twice, there is just a small scar barely noticeable. Aluminum bandage spray is a wonderful thing!!!
3/2/2011 denise.
my goodness that looked awful.what happened?I hope she is doing well. even in the safest & most well kept enviroments they still seem 2 find a way 2 get hurt occassionally.I have 2 b constantly on guard 4 any dangers because I have a completely blind mare.I never stop worrying.But u r right.A good first aid kit & emergency #s r essential.A knowledge of first aid is great-but if u dont know what 2 do,friends who do can b just as good.
3/2/2011 Skippa
Why in gods name would one look at those legs and the thought even cross their mind not to call a vet ASAP!
3/2/2011 Sam
I've had horses with worse cuts and they healed up just fine on their own. It depends on the horse, the environment, and the owner.
3/3/2011 Vince Mahany
Maddy, Again thank you for being there for Brooke. You have done wonders with her. She is a very, very special lady. We would have loved to bring Brooke home, however for once, we we smart enough know that she required needed much more skill and nurturing than we could provide. Best to you. Vince
3/18/2011 Julie Kenney
Poor Brooke and poor Maddy! As diligent and compassionate horse owners, we try so very hard to be ready for any emergency, but they always creep up on us anyway. Being prepared and being ready to handle it "right now" is a different story. It sounds like Brooke is on the road to recovery and I pray that all goes smoothly with fast healing for everyone's sake.

"Want to end up with a million bucks in the horse business? Start out with five million." - Anonymous