On a separate thread a young woman is asking what to do about a horse who has cut its leg by becoming entangled with wire fencing. The risks of such cuts, whether created by barbed wire or even regular farmer's wire are significant. This story is true, but the names have been changed. The wire was not even barbed wire - it was ordinary electric fencing. The risks are not the cuts and the lifelong scars but infection.
I wrote the article a few years ago, but the message remains as strong now.
A horse is in trouble.
As I leaned over the stable door I realised very quickly that Tina was in trouble. She looked up at me and made no move to come forwards. She knew I am the bikkie man but the enthusiasm for life seemed to have disappeared from her. Her ears were back, her flanks were heaving and she was tucked up. I opened the stable door and moved towards her,. She was very nervous and as I put my hand up to stroke her she flinched. I touched her neck gently and I could almost feel her pain.
It is not nice to see a heavyweight Shire in pain because in such circumstances they can be unpredictable. When you get close to an animal weighing over 700 kilos say 1500lbs you are reliant on her being gentle towards you.. I ran my hands through her coat and the hair came out almost in handfuls, she was moulting heavily.
I look down at her hind feet where the fence wire had wrapped around her pasterns. On one of hind legs the hair had been cut back roughly, the other heel also needed trimming. I could see streaks of what looked lie crystallized treacle dripping down the feather along with dribbles of bright red blood. For much of the time she was standing on three legs holding the fourth up off the ground so that no weight was bearing down on it. Her shoes had now been removed but she was obviously still in
I had no faith whatsoever in the vet who was supposedly tending to her. The woman was one of those thin women who weighed out everything she ate. Supposedly she was a long distance endurance rider who owned an Arab. A big Shire mare like Tina was simply not her type of horse. She had attended my own horse once and she had been reluctant to inject anti biotic for a cut but eventually I persuaded her to do so. For Tina she had come to the conclusion that the swelling was to do with infection from Thrush. Personally I could not see how such a grossly swollen leg was the result of thrush especially when I knew that Tina had been caught up in electric fence rope - a 3/8ths inch wire cable threaded with a metal thread.
I decided I would interfere - this horse was in trouble. She needed to be seen by another vet. I knew Tina’s present owner, indeed, I knew Tina’s previous owner. It was partly to do with me that the horse was kept on our yard together with her mate another Shire, although a gelding. The son was on the yard doing some chores for the owner so I called him over and told him that I was going to groom Tina to get some of the moulting hair off her back. She would be itching like mad. I gently led her out from the stable and tied her to the hitching ring and then got to work. She stood meekly whilst I worked away and filled a bucket with her hair. Finally I got to the feathers. The two front legs were OK the white feathers were merely entangled and dirty. The two hind legs were a different matter The feathers had been hacked at with scissors but a lot of hair remained. Hair on a horse is a sensitive matter. Some owners trim it back constantly others allow it to grow naturally. This girl needed that hair cut away so that the wound could be seen. I filled a bucket with anti septic fluid and cleaned all of feather that I could reach.
I combed out some of the congealed lumps that had formed. I trimmed the hair around the coronet and the hoof. I got a better view of the ˝ inch wide scab which had formed almost all the way round the hoof. The scab was crystalline in same places and weeping in others.
It looked ugly - obscene almost.
The tail was getting in the way so I chopped about six inches off. Tail hair would brush against the wound and introduce dirt and farmyard germs where it was least welcome. First I did one leg then I did the other. All the time I was kneeling on the floor with an inch or two of those big draught horse feet. If she started or moved I might be crushed but Tara knew I was trying to help her.
When I had finished much of the dribble had been removed and one could see the wounds better. But this horse was not a happy horse - she was in deep trouble. She was dependent upon those two hind legs to propel her forwards and each had to carry a quarter share of the weight of the animal. If infection got into those wounds then they would eat away at the flesh. One foot anyway was already bent out of position and a strain was being exerted on the ligament. He left hind foot hung down when she lifted the leg. Unless the damage was repaired, she would be prone to stumbling. If she did go down onto the ground then she would never get up again. She would be cast and how does one lift 3/4s of a ton of horse with out a sling and a tractor especially as there was no room in the stable for that tractor. We would never get her up on her feet again and then there would be the question of what additional damage might we do in trying to raise her.
I led her back into the stable and went looking for someone who might know what had happened. Eventually I found out that she had been left caught in the electrified wire long enough to fill a wheel barrow full of her own dung. No one had seen her caught up out there in that big field It was no one’s job to check up on each of the horses that grazed in it. Tina had probably rolled - because of the spring moult and she had caught both of her hind feet in the cable. She had struggled to free herself and in doing so the cable had become caught up around both hind feet As she struggled to free her self so the cable had cut into her flesh.
Some how she had managed to stand. Just how no one really knows. There she had stood like that waiting to be rescued perhaps for twelve hours or more. Eventually a farmer who was coming to harrow the field had discovered and freed her.
The wounds had been hidden by the feather no one had looked deep enough to see the extent of the cuts. The feather should have been cut off and the hair shaved back to the skin. She should have been injected with anti inflammatory and anti biotic drugs. The wound should have been washed on a daily basis. Instead the vet had blamed Thrush. On the following day I was moaned at by the owner for cutting off six inches of her tail. In the meantime the wound was supporating and unbeknown to me the first stage of a gangrene infection was beginning to take hold.
At long last a new day had come and Tina was off to meet with a different surgeon who might just save her. She did not know it of course. To her it was just like any other day. A 16 hand, 15 year old Shire mare is not the easiest of horse to boss around. And if the horse happened to be one dosed with pain killer the problem was acute. The previous day the principle of the veterinary practice had come along and inspected her wounds. He said that probably what was needed was for the right hind leg to be plastered up and held in position for at least a week The question was whether the surgeon felt that the work might result in the foot and ligament going back into position. The infected flesh surrounding the damaged legs would probably die off and be replaced but the joint had to go back into position.
This horse was a big girl and her weight of well over 700 kilos had to be supported by four load bearing structures namely her legs and feet. If one foot could not bear the load then the prognosis for her was poor. The skills needed to make an honest assessment were at the surgery so Tina had to be transported for 50 miles.
I gave her a quick groom and whispered in her ear that she was to be good. She look down at me.
'OK but be careful I am in enough pain already'.
The family stood around us. Mum and all the kids, were at the yard and Dad was on his way to perform the job of driving.
I buttered Tina up but she was not to be fooled. She had already realised that this fuss was about her and not her owners. When it came to putting her into the box then she flatly refused. Now getting a normal horse into a trailer can be tricky but getting Tina to walk up a ramp on two dodgy hind feet was something different.
“I am not going in that tin can” she said.
When you deal with an ordinary horse then a bit of brute force can work wonders but nothing like that will work with a Shire. If a heavy draught horse does not want to do something then one had got one’s work cut out trying to persuade her otherwise. I tugged on the lead rope, I tapped her rump. I tried bribing her with carrots. In the end it was all hands on deck with the boys pushing her bum that got her to walk into the trailer. All I had to do was get out of the way at the last minute.
We arrived at the veterinary yard without incident. The staff came out to meet her. There were used to fancy competition horses and the visit of a full Shire was a rare occurrence. Such horses are always nearly always pets. A Shire is a horse bred to pull a heavy wagon or a plough or a tree and they are not usually used to ride. They are immensely strong. You ask a Shire on the occasions when you would tell a Thorobred. Tina had an excellent temperament and she tried to mix in the with the crowd but if she did not want to do something then she would not do it and no one could make her. She knew that.
The big problem was with her two hind feet where she had been caught up in electric fencing cable. The cable had become wrapped around both her hind legs and in trying to escape she had cable burned both of her legs. The wound inflicted had almost gone down to the bone. In the old days such wounds brought with it gangrene and she would have died of infection. Nowadays anti-biotics and anti inflammatory drugs give her a chance. Initially she had been under the care of another vet who had misdiagnosed the problem That is a long story. The time wasted waiting for a cure to Thrush had merely added to the problem, Now the real problem had been diagnosed and the question was could she take and benefit from the regular treatment.
The first thing to do was to trim away all the remaining hair around the wound and then to clean it up. The dead flesh had to be cut away. Tina took one look at the crown of people surrounding her and wondered whether she was in the right place.
Undoubtedly she could smell death. Horses have an acute sense of smell. Coming close to her with a needle would have caused her to panic But the staff were very good. The wounds were leaned up and eventually the worst wound was inspected more closely through ultrasound. The big question was whether the ligament had been damaged. Luckily it did not appear so. The flesh wounds with careful treatment might heal. The ligament would not.. Tina would then represent so much dog food. Without four good strong feet there can be no viable horse.
The owner had a marvellous way of wrapping bandages round a wound. The two boys were regular riders of this gentle giant. But neither father nor sons knew much about horses. I was there to help and to as the questions. Over the course of an hour the condition of the horse and the possible treatments were discussed.
Finally I put the surgeon vet on the spot - did he think he could save her. ‘Yes’; he said.
I repeated my question - was he reasonably confident that she could work again.
‘I think so’ he replied.
I turned to the owner of the practice and asked -
’There is no insurance - how much?’
A sum was mentioned and the owner nodded. ‘OK’ he said.
It looked as though she would live. Smiles erupted all round.
This gentle giant was going to make it. We hoped.
Sadly, it was not to be.
They nursed the mare for weeks.
Father came every day to bandage the wound which never healed.
The wound started to swell again and it began to smell.
Finally the vet said: “be merciful”.
The wound was undoubtedly painful and the gangrene infection, once it had reached a certain stage was irreversible. A final decision had to be made by the owner and it was. The end for Tina was nigh.
The following day, the horse was put down. There was an awful thud as she hit the ground.
A beautiful, strong, gentle mare was now a dead carcass.
Arrangements had been made to bury her in the big field with a view of the hill.
Most of the yard attended what became an emotional ceremony.
Together we said a few words and a few of us shed a few tears.
We were all sorry to see her disappear under the earth.
But that’s life …….and death.