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Pets Large & Small

I Hate My Horse

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw
Walkersville Veterinary Clinic

(10/2012)  Most parents have at some point said they hate their children, and at some point in time almost every horse owner finds themselves saying "I hate my horse." This statement can be uttered for numerous reasons ranging from the unfortunate timing of an injury, which makes a rider miss a competition to the horse kicking the owner.

The first "I hate my horse" story relates to the newspaper editor, Mike (he gave me permission to use his real name). Like usual, I was late in sending him my article for the newspaper. He politely asked me if I needed a topic idea and suggested writing about his horse's recent lameness. Since the only other topic I was contemplating was about a man who told me that his dog was acting like he did when he had gonorrhea (the dog had bladder stones), I decided to write about horses.

I received a panicked phone call from Mike early last week. He informed me that his horse had a hoof abscess and was supposed to compete in four days. My response of "that is unfortunate timing" was not what he wanted to hear. Mike wanted me to come out and fix the horse now so that he could have him ready to compete by weekend. Unfortunately with a hoof abscess, regardless of how it is treated it still takes time to heal.

After I examined Mike's horse, I told him that he was right (experienced event riders like Mike tend to call vets to confirm what they already know), the lameness was in fact caused by an abscess and that he could soak and poultice the hoof, to try and draw it out but it was unlikely to resolve by the weekend. It needed time to come to a head so it could be paired out and drained. I instructed him to continue to soak the foot with epsom salts and betadine and then pack it with epsom salt and betadine. The espon salts acts as drawing agent, drawing out inflammation, while the betadine kills the infection causeing the abscess.

While Mike diligently followed my instructions, he was still unhappy with the rate of resolution of the abscess, (another trait of event riders), so he tried to dig out the abscess to allow it to drain, which would relive the pressure of the abscess which was causing the horse to be lame. When he hit sensitive lamina he was smart enough to stop (yet one more trait of an experienced rider). He called in his farrier to finish digging deeper to open a hole for the abscess to drain fully. While the horse continued to heal, it wasn't fast enough. Mike ended up scratching from the competitions, which threw his finely planned fall competition season to hell. Two days later the horse was sound and ready to ride (another typical outcome for an event rider.)

Throughout the lameness Mike kept repeating the phrase "I hate horses." Now he really doesnít hate horses, itís just a reflection of the fact that no matter how well you plan things, or how good you care for your horse, some things are just outside of you control. It rule number #1 for owning horses Ė horse will go lame at the worst possible time.

It was only a couple weeks ago that I was hating my horses too. I was treating three horses in my barn for various medical problems. The first horse, while not mine, was in my care to treat his hooves. At the time my horses hurt themselves, the guest horse's treatment requirements had decreased to twice daily washing of the hooves and then application of topical antibiotics. My first horse, Ace, injured his eye on a Friday evening. He had a large corneal ulcer that was causing pain. While I was unsure as to how Ace hurt his eye, less than an hour after discovering his eye injury, I watched Billy injure his eye. Billy walked off while I was taking off his saddle and got smacked in the eye with a buckle from his bridle. There was enough force that the buckle created a small ulceration as well as bleeding with fibrin strands in the aqueous chamber. With the second eye injury of the evening, I found myself calling my mother to let her know how much I hated horses (not just my horses but ALL horses).

While irritated by the situation I was grateful that at least they hurt their eyes on the same day so I would only be spending the next three nights with interrupted sleep. It could have been worse. Ace could have hurt his eye Friday, and then Billy could have hurt his on Tuesday with the result being almost a week of little to no sleep. With eye injuries it is best to treat them very aggressively. If treated promptly and frequently, one can expect full resolution with no scarring in just a few days. This meant that I would be treating the eyes every 3-4 hours round the clock for the next three days and nights. I was already feeling a little stressed from treating the guest horse's hooves multiple times per day and the added bonus of two more patients as well as starting an on call weekend was already wearing me down.

Luckily treatments went smoothly Friday night, Saturday, and most of Sunday. About 9pm on Sunday I received a call from a client that her horse was colicing. She was about 45 minutes away from me. I drove to her farm and luckily it was a simple colic that resolved with an injection of anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic and I was rapidly on my way home. I arrived just in time for my horses' midnight treatment with eye ointment. I wandered out into the field with a halter, bag of horse cookies, and eye ointment. The horses, being food motivated, approached me readily. I treated Billy, then put the halter on Ace.

As I was about to treat Ace, Billy and the guest horse spooked and knocked me to the ground. They stepped on my leg in three different places. As I was lying on my back in the middle of the field, unable to make my leg move, I hated my horses (all except Bart who was in the orchard eating apples, and hence not involved in the trampling). As it was a little after midnight, I didn't want to make anyone wake up and help me to the house. I had the momentary thought that a quick nap in the field might give me the energy to stagger back to the house. The nap didn't happen as Ace came up to me. I was worried I'd get stepped on again so I grabbed onto his halter, pulled myself to my feet, finished treating his eye, and hobbled to the house. Five days later my horses' eyes were perfect and they were ready to be ridden. However, my leg was still covered in horse hoof shaped bruises and my knee was still swollen. Sometimes, I hate my horses.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw