Foal with Tendon Laxity (and orphaned) My story
I hope my story sheds some light and provides a little insight for anyone else that might be encountering this issue. Sorry for the essay, but I wanted to be detailed!
Filly was born with severe tendon laxity on his front fetlocks, as well as hyperextension in her knees. She really looked like a mess at birth, had trouble standing and a lot of issue walking. She quickly developed sores on her fetlocks and mare&foal had to be kept stall bound.
The original owners were advised by their local vet to splint her legs because the laxity was so bad. They splinted her, and spent a lot of time doing physio on her legs, rebandaging multiple times a day. After 3 weeks, there was ZERO improvement. On top of that, filly had developed pressure sores from the splints, despite rewrapping multiple times a day. Filly was also getting sores from lying down too much.
The original owners decided they should put her down because she wasn't getting better and they were worried about her being in too much pain, quality of life etc.
I dairy farm and quite often come across calves with minor issues similar to this that get better within a few weeks, and thought that maybe there was something more that could be done with Filly. I offered to take her to my farm where there is access to more tools and manpower.
At 3 weeks old, Filly was removed from her dam and moved to a dairy calf barn. At this point, my main concern was not her tendon laxity, but dealing with her sores. She was put in a 3ft x 6ft pen bedded with about 18” deep of shavings. This made is very comfortable for her and prevented any more abrasions from occurring. The same day she was moved, this smart little cookie learned to drink milk from a pail. She was fed Cows milk mixed with dextrose to bring the sugar content up. Her splints were removed and not put back on.
For the next 5 weeks, I spent 3 – 5 times a day cleaning and re-wrapping her wounds – which turned out to be even worse than I thought because there was a lot of dead tissues that eventually began sloughing off. For the first bit, I used an Epsom salt paste to draw out any bacteria, and then switched to using buck-wheat honey. The honey kept the wounds soft so prevent cracking, yet still have the same drawing effect as the Epsom salts.
Bucket feeding meant I had a really good idea of how much milk she was intaking. She was typically drinking 9 – 12 litres per day, while also nibbling at some foal starter grain.
After 2 weeks she was moved to a larged pen – 6ft x 6ft. As she was standing a moving around more often. Another 2 weeks after than she was in a 12ft x 6ft pen.
It wasn’t until she was 2 months old did we REALLY notice she was improving. She was still walking on her fetlocks, but when you worked her legs, they didn’t feel like spaghetti anymore. I will note that her hyperextended knee issue went away within the first week. All this time, doing absolutely nothing to her legs other than treat her wounds. I consulted some other vets from out of province on the issue and they advised to do nothing and just be patient. So that is what we did.
At 2.5 months she could stand and walk without her fetlocks touching the ground. At that point we moved her outside to a sheltered pen (still bedded about 18” deep with straw and shavings) where she could visit with the other horses. Another 2 weeks later, and she was fully upright. At 3.5 months we started letting her out for short turnouts with the other horses.
So it took us 3 months!! Lots of work and gradually larger pens.
If you take anything away from this:
- DEEP bedded pens
- Small turnouts, gradually made bigger
- NO splints
I’ll note, that for an ‘orphan’ foal, the fact that we NEVER bottle fed her and never played with her, has prevented her from becoming a monster. She is a well behaved little horse who halters, leads and picks up her feet at almost 4 months old.
I’ll also note that she was weaned off milk at 3 months as her grain, water and hay intake was sufficient. Also, she is already bigger than the other foals at the original owners farm. Must be something ‘bout that cows milk 😉