Heigh-Ho…it’s been four weeks since The Wonder Horse has seen his good buddy The Amazing Doctor P, and I guess he’s missing him pretty bad, because he’s cooked up a fresh excuse to have the vet out to the barn. While I like The Amazing Doctor P, I am not missing his company so much that I feel a pressing need to ring him up and invite him out for a visit. Instead, I am getting the crash course in Horses 202: Mystery Injuries And How To Manage Them.
That’s a more advanced course than Horses 101: Losing Sleep And Spending Money.
It’s not like I wasn’t aware of the potential for things like this. When I decided to buy The Wonder Horse, I started it out like any good academic would: I Bought A Book. It’s a pretty good book, too. It’s got sections on How To Make Sure That Horse Is Your Horse (markings, whorls, and other identification), Where Horses Live (all about barns, paddocks, and stall options including bedding), What Horses Eat (what, how, and when to feed, supplements, hard keepers), All About Hooves, All About Tack, Grooming, Trailers, and Training.
But – by a huge margin – the longest section of the Horse Book is the section on Health and First Aid.
When I read my Horse Book prior to assuming ownership of The Wonder Horse, I read it cover to cover…except for the section on Health and First Aid, because that section was so huge as to be terrifying. I decided to consult it as needed.
And, naturally, there’s a reason it’s the biggest section in the book. Because it’s needed. Like, constantly. I am arriving at the conclusion that horse ownership is mainly a string of vet visits interspersed by short periods of soundness. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but at the moment, it doesn’t feel much like one. It’s not like Huey is a special case, either – the Horse Star has gone into retrograde or something, because every time I turn around I’m talking to another horse owner who is dealing with hock problems or arthritis or some weird rash or muscle spasms in the back or strange spots on the nose or weird sores that are probably reactions to insect bites to cuts, lacerations, and other significant boo-boos. I read a great quote: “If you don’t have any problems, buy yourself a horse. If you then still don’t have enough problems, get some more horses.”
Let’s just say that there’s a substantial charge for the farm call (on top of whatever else the vet does) and if the vet sees more than one animal, the charge gets split up. And today, when I realized that Significant Potential For A Farm Call exists (again) I was pretty sure I’d be able to just stand in the middle of the barn and yell “Who wants to share a vet visit?” and get at least one taker. It’s been that kind of summer.
So, you may be asking, what’s up with The Wonder Horse?
And, I am saying, I’m not sure. That’s why this course is called Mystery Injuries And How To Manage Them.
I don’t know what happened. What I do know is that we had a rollicking great lesson on Wednesday, a good ride on Thursday, another pretty good ride on Saturday, right up to the point where he shied away from something and hopped sideways three steps at the canter, and after that, his trot felt…a little…off. Hard to put my finger on exactly what. I’ve had that feeling before, last March when I was bringing him back into work and learning that I really can’t ride him unless he’s wearing supportive shoes, because otherwise, his suspensory ligament gets a bit testy. Old injury, you know. And if you’re over the age of 40 and have had any semblance of an active life, you do know. It’s the same thing that when the weather changes, you remember the time you wiped out on the slopes/fell on the climbing wall/sprained your ankle rollerblading/tore your meniscus on the basketball court/threw your back out on a golf swing/broke your hand playing baseball/etc. Not a fresh injury, but an undeniable reminder of an old one. The Wonder Horse has more than a couple of those, thanks to his former career as a Professional Athlete. Anyway, my cue that something undesirable was going on was that his trot felt…a little…off. Not in any way I could describe. I groomed him down and took him for a little grass, but I had to bring him in because the ground was absolutely swarming with yellow jackets. I’m allergic as hell to them, and the last thing I want to see is Huey get stung, either, so back to his dry lot he went.
But, thanks to that experience and the natural, ongoing state of paranoia in which I exist full-time since I acquired a horse, I am Ultra Sensitive to these things.
Which meant that I spent Saturday night hoping and praying that I’d been mistaken, and went out on Sunday and babied him with warm wraps on his legs and warmed him up at a walk thoroughly before I asked for a trot…and as soon as I realized that, no, I had not been mistaken, the trot is definitely…a little…off, I hopped off him and turned him out into the round pen so I could actually watch him trot. I didn’t see anything weirdo, so I just put him back in his turnout, put the wind up my trainer, and waited to get her to take a look at him. In the meantime, I checked out his Bum Leg and didn’t see or feel anything wonky.
Poor Huey thought he’d done something wrong, I guess because I stopped riding him right away. So I had to fluff up his feelings a little bit on the way to the turnout too.
Another night of bad sleep scattered with nightmares about the horse’s legs, and I headed off to the barn again. This time, I popped him into the ties and decided to get a baseline “feel” for his Good Leg so that I could more easily identify problems with his Bum Leg.
Or, I should say, his Other Bum Leg.
Because it took about 2 seconds with my hands on the Leg Formerly Known As Good to discover a puffy warm swelling right up under his knee, a little to the side and back.
Ah. Mystery Number One: Why Is My Horse Off At The Trot? SOLVED.
Answer: Because he has a warm puffy swelling near his knee, that’s why.
Of course, that just opens the door right up to Mystery Number Two: Why Does My Horse Have A Warm Puffy Swelling Under His Knee?
It being Chore Time at the barn, and everyone being in that same Run Of Bad Luck boat, there were plenty of people on hand to speculate. I had him trot out for my trainer, who said he looked fine (and he did). The lighting afforded by being outside in the full sun instead of in the barn aisle revealed that the warm puffy swelling has a tiny little dot on the skin or hair too.
Mystery Number Three: Does The Dot On The Spot Have Anything To Do With This?
I don’t know. Is this a nasty bee sting? There were a bazillion bees on the day that the trouble seemed to develop, and he did spook a bit at the canter, which isn’t really like him. Is that because he got stung?
I don’t know. Did the spook injure him somehow? Did he twist something or strain it? I don’t know.
I don’t know. Was the spook unrelated, and what really happened is that he found a particularly pointy rock and slept on it, or rolled on it, and gave himself a hematoma? I don’t know.
All I have are guesses. That, and the guidance of my trainer, who let me know that the vet would just say to treat it with cold for three days and then heat for another three and give him some bute, and if that doesn’t do the trick, call him out again.
This has the Ring of Truth to me, especially given my own predilection for getting strange injuries. I’m all there with the cold packs and later the heat packs.
Fortunately, there was some bute on hand, and I had my Very First chance to use some of the nifty stuff that’s in Huey’s First Aid Kit – stuff that the people at the tack shop assured me I would definitely want to have on hand…and by golly, they were right. I’m having a love-fest right now with Coldflex wraps. I don’ t know what the heck this stuff is. I just know it’s awesome. It’s sort of like vetrap – and for those of you who aren’t blessed with horses, but who have had to get blood tests done, that stretch bandage thing that wraps around your arm to hold the cotton wad on is basically vetrap – only it’s thick and squooshily and it sucks heat out of whatever it’s next to and moves it away. It’s like an ice pack that doesn’t leak, and holds itself on, and isn’t so cold you can only wear it for 20 minutes.
By golly, I’m going to get one of these things for me. Make it a lot easier to deal with the next time I sprain something or break a bone in my hand or foot.
So, The Wonder Horse is parked in his stall, where he can’t hurt himself any further (one hopes), wearing a cool wrap. I’ve got to go down in an hour and replace this with a poultice. One of the fun things about horse medicine is how very ancient a lot of the diseases and treatments sound (and probably are). Poultices is the least of it. Wind Puffs. Mud Fever. Rain Rot. Tick Paralysis. Strangles. Choke. Sweet Itch. Poll Evil. I ask you…what century are we in? (Yes, I’m sure most of these have some more formal name, but as far as I can tell, these are the names people have used for millenia, probably, and still going strong.)
Gosh, I hope this is just a lab for Horses 202 and that there isn’t going to be a pop quiz.