Not All Fun and Games

A lot of time has passed since I’ve been on here, mostly because I’ve actually been busy at my real job (what? I have a real job?  Who knew?!?).  Katerina is doing well and still looking for a home.  She looks fantastic and has been going fantastically – in addition to her regular volunteer rider I’ve been taking her on some trail rides and had a lesson on her.  She’s one to make you work, but she’s picking things up and getting more confident and balanced.

I’ve been out to the funny farm as frequently as I can get there – often neglecting to bring out extra volunteers simply because I can’t predict my schedule too well.  So I’ve been watching as the new bay horse gets friendly and social, and Leo the Lop puts on weight.  I’ve also been watching as Baldface McGee refuses to get better.

Generally when horses come in they are often footsore.  Some are trimmed a little strangely at the track and so their feet aren’t well balanced.  Others simply have pounded the tar out of themselves and have some bruising under their track shoes and pads.  So it’s fairly normal for them to walk around like the ground is made of chopped glass for a little while. 

Both Baldface and Leo were like that at first.  Except… Leo followed the normal track.  He stopped shifting his weight from side to side after a few weeks.  He began walking more normally after a month.  After two and a half months, he’s pasture sound and gets around great.  He might need shoes or more attentive trimming to go into work, but basically, he’s a sound and happy horse. 

That’s what we expect to happen.  Unfortunately, for Baldface it wasn’t meant to be.  He’d show a very slight improvement, enough that I’d think, “OK, maybe he’ll come around.”  Then he’d go back to how he was.  Then, a few weeks ago, he showed a drastic and very obvious change for the worse in his left front.  Except, being in pain, and sore through his whole body, he wanted nothing to do with being caught, always spinning out of reach anytime you got close to his head.  That day I didn’t want to push the issue too much – trying to catch him meant he would keep moving, and watching him move was painful.

The other day I managed to catch him (after a much shorter game of “I’m going to stay juuuust out of reach” than usual), only to apply fly spray and bug block to his face (that big bald face attracts LOTS of flies) initially, but it was also an opportunity to inspect that foot and see if I could do anything to help him out.  On picking it up, I was treated to a really awful smell.  Not a thrushy smell, but the smell of dead things.  And the smell was coming from a hole about the size of my fingernail, just in front of the tip of his frog and slightly to the side.  Poking around a little, I was unable to see how deep it was, so I brought him in.

Making a really lame horse walk the distance of that field is a sort of heartbreaking thing.  I kept trying to let him pick his pace, but he began hurrying, like he wanted to get it over with.  We soaked his foot, and treated it like we would a blown abscess, but the more I thought about it the more I felt something just wasn’t right.  Not that it was even close to right, given how footsore he has been all along, but I went ahead and called the vet to get some X-Rays.  Talking with other more experienced horse people had me feeling incredibly guilty over having not done it already, and worried very specifically about founder and the possibility that I was seeing the beginning of sole penetration.  The hoof shape had changed drastically – he had developed a very upright, clubby sort of hoof, but now it was looking more flared out and almost long in the toe, and the slope of the hoof wasn’t uniform.

With that in the back of my brain I waited for the vet yesterday, through a couple of storms, while Baldface tried to convince me he was at least feeling a little better.  He was walking much more confidently, andhad me thinking (yes, I’m naive) that maybe everything would be fine, and he had just blown an abscess, and that maybe we could fix him after all.

But, when a vet picks up a foot and goes, “ooooh…” in that tone, you kind of get the idea that maybe things aren’t great.

About an hour later, after some x-rays, we’d discovered evidence that he had foundered in the past – likely while he was still at the track.  He won a race in March, which suggests he was feeling OK then, but the damage and inflammation in his coffin bone, as well as the growth rings and shape of his feet, suggests the event occurred before he even came to us.   In addition, the hole that blew out of his foot does extend more or less to the tip of his coffin bone, so there is every possibility that infection has actually reached the bone. 

Then came the really alarming x-ray, the one that even I said “ohhhhh” when I saw (not being a vet, I had to have some of the other stuff pointed out to me, though I’ve learned what inflammation and some abnormalities look like over the last year).  Without much introduction, here it is:


I hope that’s not hard to see on here.  Anyway, if you follow the curve of the edge of the coffin bone, you’ll notice that there’s a gap in it.  Essentially, it’s like some rat reached into his foot and took a giant bite out of it.   This could be related to a keratoma, a “benign” cancerous sort of growth that occurs in horses’ feet, and can cause deformation of the coffin bone, among other things. 

His other foot has its own set of issues:


It’s immediately obvious that everything in that picture is out of alignment.  And this one shows the same areas of inflammation along the front edge of the coffin bone that were in the other foot.  We didn’t do much further investigation of this hoof, as the more immediate concern was the other, but the end result is the same – some chronic injury and some seriously wacked out feet.

This horse is three years old.  When I went to get him in for x-rays, I was expecting something more immediately “bad”- the kind of thing where it’s really easy to figure out what to do.  What we got is stuff that is somewhat fixable – a keratoma can be removed.  Specialty shoeing can keep him comfortable and perhaps ridable.  But he’s always going to have odd hoof pathology.  He’s always going to take extra care.  There’s a very good chance that he will take serious maintenance to keep fully sound when he’s still by all measures a young horse.

So here’s the issue we face – what on earth do we do with such a three year old?  People come to us wanting sound horses they can compete on.  Even horses we adopt out for $500 (or $1, as has happenned) due to soundness issues attract potential buyers who want to do too much with them.  People used to be interested in Mikey (sesamoid fracture), but they wanted to jump him.  We have people who want to barrel race horses with old fractures, or turn a horse we label trail sound into a show hunter.

In short – who is really going to want this guy?  Who will take a chance on him, and love him, and not care that he will always require very special farrier care that will likely cost a lot of money?  And then how do we justify the expense of that therapy and maintenance while waiting for that person?  While at the same time having to turn other horses away who might be sound and able to go to a new career?  The fact that he probably had a very serious problem while still ON the track is a totally different brain-number that I can’t think about too much right now, or I might melt down.

This horse has stolen my heart a little bit – he’s so quiet, and kind, and didn’t even twitch a muscle wrong during his vet visit yesterday.  Yes, he’s hard to catch, but it’s because he feels miserable.  Once you have him, he seems so surprised and happy to be getting attention that it’s hard not to melt.  Yesterday he fell asleep with his head in the crook of my arm while I combed his forelock. 

And now… what to do?


One response to “Not All Fun and Games

  1. What a tough decision! We’ll be thinking about all of you!

    Ashlea and Splash

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