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Veterinary Corner


Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM

Dr. Kim Brokaw and her horse Bart

"Hey Doc. Shmoo-moo is running at Charles Town tonight if you wanted to come watch." While I was on-call and unable to go, that was still probably one of the best phone calls I had received. Only a few months earlier I had been telling Shmoo’s owner that I wasn’t sure if he was going to survive his injuries, much less race again.

The first time I met Shmoo’s owner, she called in a panic as the horse had stepped on a downed fence board. Unfortunately the nails had been pointing up and had penetrated his foot. The nails were still imbedded in his hoof with the fence board attached. Shmoo was unable to walk and was trying to hop about his paddock with the fence board trailing behind him.

I arrived at the farm and found the situation to be exactly as described; a somewhat unusual occurrence in that the majority of owners tend to exaggerate the extent of their horse’s injury. I took a couple x-rays and then started to remove the board and nails. The removal proved to be a fair amount harder than I had anticipated, but eventually I was successful at removing the nails from Shmoo’s foot.

One nail had gone about an inch and a half into Shmoo’s heel and I was very concerned that it had penetrated the deep digital flexor tendon and possibly entered the navicular bursa. Infection of the flexor tendon or the navicular bursa is often fatal, even with the best of care. Shmoo’s owner was informed of the gravity of his injuries and offered referral to an equine hospital as I cut into his hoof and opened up the hole. I lavaged the puncture with copious amounts of fluids and antiseptics and administered antibiotics and a tetanus shot. Shmoo’s owner was also given various antibiotics to administer. After arriving back at the clinic, I developed the x-rays and confirmed that the deep digital flexor tendon had been punctured. Luckily it looked as though the nail stopped a few millimeters away from the navicular bursa. Ideally, a horse with this kind of an injury should go to a referral hospital, such as the Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, for intensive IV antibiotics and surgical drainage. Unfortunately, care at a referral hospital can get quite costly. Also, it can be difficult to transport an injured, lame, horse to a referral hospital.

Initially treatment went well but about a week and half into treatment, Shmoo was even lamer that he had been before. His owner couldn’t meet me at the farm as she had to work but informed me that I could treat him without her presence. Usually I refuse to treat horses without their owner, but as he was so quiet and cooperative, I made an exception.

When I arrived at the farm, I found Shmoo hanging his head out the stall door and watching me as I unloaded various supplies from my truck. His owner had left a chain shank and given permission "to beat him like a red-headed step child" should he not behave. (Although I don’t think she ever raised her voice at Shmoo, much less hit him.) Luckily, he was a gentleman. He walked quietly out of his stall and allowed me to cross-tie him in the aisle. I sedated him and began working on his foot. Again the puncture wound was opened up and I performed a regional limb perfusion with more antibiotics. I left additional antibiotics for Shmoo to receive. I returned the next day and repeated the limb perfusion. His owner called with updates as Shmoo continued to heal until it seemed that he had fully recovered and went back into training. Many months later, Shmoo was ready to make his debut back on the track. While Shmoo didn’t win his race, I was delighted to hear that he was back out running.

About a year later, I was called out to see Shmoo-moo. His owner was no longer racing him but rather was using him as a trail horse and wanted to get him vaccinated. He had been moved to a new barn. Across the stall were numerous signs warning that the horse would bite and rear and no one was to handle him by themselves. As I took note of the signs, I remembered working on Shmoo by myself the previous year and wondering how long it would have taken for someone to find my body had he decided to act up while I was treating him without assistance. However, as I went in the stall, he pricked his ears forward and looked at me as though he remembered me fondly (I had bribed him with treats). I patted him on the nose, gave him his shots, and like in all my previous encounters with Shmoo, he behaved like a perfect gentleman.

A couple years have gone by and other than the annual vaccines I haven’t seen Shmoo. Recently, I got a couple of phone calls, first from the owner giving permission to release information about him, and then from the manager of a boarding facility. Shmoo was to be arriving at his place and apparently the owner had given extensive warnings about his behavior. I was asked to confirm his vaccination status as well as comment on how dangerous the horse was to handle. My advice was, pat him on the nose, give him a treat, and see how it goes. Shmoo-moo had always been nothing but a delight for me to work on.

Dr. Brokaw practices her love of caring for animals at Walkersville Veterinary Clinic

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw