Horses


I have always loved horses, so it was only natural that M became passionate about horses a few years ago.  Not long after, so did R.  Interestingly, although R is not biologically related, her birthmother also happens to love horses, and has owned a couple over time.  Nature or nurture?  Only God knows for sure.

Nonetheless, we decided it might benefit the younger kiddos to have their own equine to play with, albeit one that was a bit safer, and less potentially deadly like the larger horses. When an acquaintance’s children outgrew their miniature horse, we decided to buy him.

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Clyde, aptly named due to the fact he was raised on a Clydesdale farm, was such a character!  He was a 6 year old registered mini gelding, already fully trained to pull a cart and be ridden.  We also didn’t have to stress too much about introducing him to our little herd, since he already knew his way around big horses.

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A and N played with Clyde a little every now and then, but R absolutely loved him!  She often begged me to show her how to do things, and over the months, became quite good at picking up his feet, cleaning his hooves, and with a bit of help from big sis, they would braid his hair, and generally play with him.  And, of course, she would ride!  She rode every chance she got.  Sometimes she rode bareback, other times she liked to saddle up and join us on the trail.

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JR actually took a liking to driving Clyde, so he would occasionally have me harness and hitch up and tag along on a ride through neighborhood streets.

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Unfortunately, as the months passed, JR’s interest waned a bit, while R’s interest soared.  However, as she became a better rider, she also grew….FAST!  We had expected Clyde to suite her for at least a couple of years, but she hit a growth spurt over the summer, and it was clear that Clyde was being outgrown all too quickly.

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We debated hanging on to him and training him to be a work horse for the kiddos, but R’s passion was riding, and she really had little interest in driving.  The boys didn’t have much interest either.  So, rather than let such a great, kid-safe horse sit around and go to waste, we decided to pass him on the next lucky children.  He’ll be missed, but we had a lot of fun with him while it lasted!

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A couple of years ago, I stumbled on an idea that was so brilliant, it was almost unbelievable.  Here at Red Gate Farm, we try to house and manage our animals as naturally as possible.  That includes our horses.  As is the case with most horse owners, we had the idea in our heads that the most “natural” way to manage our horses was by keeping them out on our beautiful pastures, and rotating the pastures regularly to simulate the way wild herds move.  We were so excited to finally have such a beautiful pasture to keep our horses.

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Within months of weaning them onto the pasture, the problems started.  Fevers, abscesses, sole bruises, laminitis, hoof rings, thrush, and more.  Within a year, my work horses were lame more than they were sound.  We consulted with vets, farriers, draft experts, and draft owners.  I read books, researched, and could not figure out the problem.  At the experts’ advice, we fed expensive supplements and high-quality hay when not on pasture.  We finally resorted to shoeing, just to keep the boys working–we are a horse-powered farm after all.  Mind you, I have owned and/or trained horses for almost 20 years, with a few years off here or there.  In those 20 years, I have housed horses in stalls, dry paddocks, stalls with runs, and almost every option available.  I had never had a single issue of unexplained lameness, never an abscess, and never had to shoe a horse.  For a while, I suspected it was an issue limited to draft genetics, but then, one day, our new mustang came up lame as well.  She was as sound as any mustang I’d ever worked with, so this truly baffled me.  Then, it occurred to me.  In my previous years of owning horses, I had always lived in the desert, on sandy soils, or in the Rocky Mountain areas–none of which had lush, green grass.  Usually, the horses lived in stalls or dirt paddocks, and the few times they had access to fresh pasture, it was thin, short, weedy, overgrazed, low-sugar, rough forages, common to many boarding stables around the country.  I realized the biggest change in our horse management was the new, rich pasture.  Furthermore, it occurred to us that the few places in our nation that do NOT have herds of wild horses include the central midwestern region or states with lush forages.  Even the herds that live along the east coast live on sandy beaches and islands.  We were convinced this was the culprit.  We didn’t want to stall the horses, and I didn’t have a dirt paddock large enough to keep several horses.  Thus, we quickly threw together an electric wire paddock on a portion of our gravel driveway to buy us some time.  The photo shows the horses sporting their ridiculously pricey fly sheets, as one of the downsides of confining was that they could no longer escape the vicious and persistent horse flies here.

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Meanwhile, I continued researching the best option for permanent housing.  I stumbled upon a great study of wild horse herds, and the research resulted in a domestic-horse management concept called ” Paddock Paradise.”  Essentially, it was designed by farrier and wild-horse expert Jamie Jackson to simulate the diet, eating habits, herd dynamics, and movements of the wild horses.  First, the horses are removed from free-choice pasture, and put on a diet of low-sugar, high-roughage hay.  Ideally, the sugar content is less than 10%.  Then, rather than stalls, runs, or small paddocks, the horses are given a track to live on.  Similar to a racetrack, the track is designed in such a way as to encourage movement and stimulation of the horse.  Many build the track around the perimeter of their pasture, while some zig-zag  or meander the track through their terrain.  Most tracks are some form of continuous loop, but others dead end into a wide area and force the horses to turn around.  Either way can work.  Most of the track is narrow–about 10-15 foot wide.  It may get a bit narrower in some areas, and wider in others, but for the most part, that standard width encourages forward movement.

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Our little herd traveling from their water station to one of the hay stations.  This section of track is 15 feet wide–our standard for most of the track.

Then, “stations” are set up along the track.  There is a water station, a hay station, a mineral station, and in the case of long tracks, there may be several of each.  You can also get creative.  There can be “stations” for rolling and lounging, obstacles, water crossings, different surfaces along the track, and more.  The imagination is the limit, but the idea is to keep the horses moving to meet their needs–just like horses in the wild.

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By using a high electric line, it still allows the horses to graze a little, but not enough to cause health troubles. One extra benefit….a nicely grazed strip means I never have to trim around my fence posts!

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One of our”obstacle” sections, where the horses learn to pick up their feet to cross over the logs along this stretch of track.

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This area of track can be closed off to double as a round pen where I can train as desired. Otherwise it stays open with the track passing through, and the horses selected it as their favorite rest and rolling area. Notice there is no manure in this area, even though they have had access to it for over a year (we have NEVER cleaned the manure in that year!).

In our case, we eliminated the expensive supplements, switched to the low-sugar hay, eliminated the sugary grains (oats only for the working horses), and moved the horses into the track.  The mysterious fevers and sudden bouts of lameness stopped immediately.  Within 2 months, the hooves began looking different, and within 4 months, we were able to remove their shoes for standard farm work.  With regular trims, the hoof flares began disappearing, the cracks began growing out, and the thrush and white line issues became almost non-existent.  After a year, the only issue we really dealt with was occasional sole tenderness when we worked the horses on sharp gravel, which made sense considering most of their track was our wet clay soils (too much moisture results in softer soles and hooves).

Other benefits we have seen include a change in herd dynamics.  The “herd” traveled together along the track, established a predictable routine, designated bathroom areas (known as “stud piles” in the wild) for manuring, and our horse who NEVER laid down previously began laying down to rest on occasion.

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Moving as a herd along the track.

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In the lower left corner, you can see one of the herd’s designated “stud piles” for manuring. This photo was taken over a year after putting the horses in this track, and we have NEVER cleaned the manure. Notice, however, that there is no manure anywhere else in the photo. The horses can be seen resting in the shade of the trees at the far end.

I had several concerns when we first opted to try it out.  I was very concerned about one of our horses, Bud, losing condition.  He was atypical of most drafts, in that he was a “high-maintenance” horse or “hard-keeper.”  He required almost twice the grain and hay of the other drafts, and it seemed I was always fighting to get him to gain weight.  When our work season really got busy, we had to increase his feed further, and he still looked a bit thin with ribs showing within a couple months.  I wasn’t confident this new system would work well for him.  Boy, was I wrong!  As it turned out, I was always battling adding a fat layer to him.  The increased movement caused him to muscle up, and improved his metabolism.  That’s about the only way I can explain it.  He has looked awesome every since, despite the fact his work load has more than doubled from that first year!

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Physical condition is excellent to due to the increased movement.  This mustang is a bit on the pudgy side, in fact, but her muscle development has given her a much broader body type compared to most domesticated mustangs.

Our first big “test” of the conditioning came the following spring.  Every spring, we take the horses to an annual “plow day,” where teamsters from several states come together to enjoy plowing fields with their teams of horses.  The downside of spring plowing is the plowing is one of the toughest jobs you can ask a horse to do physically, and this particular event tends to be right at the end of winter, when the horses are in their worst “winter” condition–otherwise known as fat and out of shape!  That spring, however, was different for us.  Due to personal circumstances, we had been unable to work the team at all for over 2 months.  As usual, we saw teams needing breaks after just 1/2 hour, and stopping completely after about 2-3 hours of plowing.  With just quick pauses to catch their breath, however, our team was still going strong after 4 hours, and hadn’t even broken a sweat!  And for those who are familiar with horse-plowing, my team was pulling a 14-inch sulky plow, dropped about 8 inches in!  I truly was surprised and even amazed at their condition.

GPS tracking studies have shown that horses living on tracks situated along the perimeter of averaged sized pastures (roughly 1-5 acres), can move significantly more than when housed on pasture.  Of course, the longer the track, the more that can increase.  Although horses can still be turned out into the pasture for periodic grazing, the time should be limited to no more than 30 minute periods of time, unless your pasture is very sparse or weedy.  Lush pastures should be limited to about 15 minutes.

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A sketch of our current Paddock Paradise track, which is situated along the perimeter of our 6 acre pasture. Since we no longer use the pasture for significant horse grazing, it is now used to produce small amounts of hay and to graze our grass-fed cattle and pasture-based poultry.

A few other benefits of track housing is that horses do not get bored, and thus do not develop boredom-related behavioral issues such as cribbing, pawing, pacing, and general crankiness.  I do not have to “lunge” or “get the spunk out” of my horses before riding, as they are already exercised and ready to go, both mentally and physically.

So, with all the good that comes from a system like this, could there be a negative side to it?  The answer is “Yes,” though I have only found one downside.  When horses are allowed to live in a herd setting, with increased movement and natural environments, injuries are bound to happen.  Scrapes, dings, nicks, lumps, bumps, bite marks, and chewed-on hair have become quite normal for our horses.  Think of it like children….you can keep them confined all day and protect them from injury, or you can let them out to play at the risk of scraped knees and elbows.  Same principle applies here.  It isn’t terribly unsightly, but it is a fact that might not go over well in a show-barn.  However, in our case, the mental and physical benefits we have observed in our horses make every little scar totally worthwhile.

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Some lumps, bumps, and dings one of our team showed up to breakfast with one morning.

Now that we have used our Paddock Paradise for over a year, we hope to never have to return to any other way of managing horses!  I cannot express to you all the incredible benefits we have seen.  Our Amish friends, whose livelihood depends on their horses, have watched as our horses have changed over time, and they are even considering trying it now.  If you have your own property, I highly encourage you to consider using this system.  If, however, you are stuck at a boarding stable, I encourage you to talk to the stable manager.  Show them this post.  I also wrote an article about it that was published in “Rural Heritage” magazine.  Boarding stables around the world have found success with this system.  It just works.  We purchased an “easy-keeping” little mini horse at one point who formerly ate about 1/8 flake of hay a day while house in a dray paddock, and was still roly-poly fat!  We put him on track, and despite having free-choice access to hay 24/7, he lost the weight and muscled up, thanks to the increased movement!  If you have easy-keeping ponies, hard-keeper horses, geriatric horses, rescues needing rehab, you name it…..you may have to modify slightly to begin with, but ultimately, I’d be willing to bet they would thrive on this system!  There are just too many personal testimonies out there to suggest otherwise.

We are actually in the process of building our 2nd Paddock Paradise now.  We are moving the track to our back acreage, so we can increase the length and the things they are exposed to.  Our new track will be longer, have water crossings, steep hills, long stretches for galloping, more hard surfaces (and less clay), and more!  We hope to move the horses in before the end of the year.  It requires a good bit of land clearing, which is taking time, but we are making progress.  There you have it!

Winter of 2014/2015 proved to be a challenging one for us.  It was a rough winter to begin with–bitter cold, with little snow.  We had to cancel several of our scheduled carriage ride events due to the bitter, frostbite-inducing chill, which was a little hit from a financial standpoint.  The ground was often iced over, preventing conductivity of our electric fences and risking bad slip/falls for the horses on our pasture slopes.  As a result, we spent much of our time hibernating from the chill, trying to homeschool and get some indoor projects completed.

One day, we finally got a bit of snow, and it was warm enough (finally in the double digits!), so the kids decided to go sled.  Somehow, while inspecting the kids’ sledding attire–coat, check! gloves, check!  hat, check!–I missed the fact that R was wearing tennis shoes with no socks, rather than socks and snow boots.  I decided to take the opportunity to work the horses.

I had just gotten finished plowing snow and unharnessing the horses, when I heard a blood-curdling scream from R.  About that time, I heard N say, “Her foot looks like Nick’s knee!” (referring to Nick’s injury, posted here).  S and I came running at the same time, and by the time we arrived to the sledding area, R was already up and walking, well, limping, toward the house.  A quick inspection proved that this was definitely worthy an E.R. visit.

Many hours later, we returned home, not much worse off than before.  It was determined that, in some freak way, while sledding, R had collided with a post, which wouldn’t have been all bad except that her body had slid forward, and the wooden corner of the sled had somehow wedged its way up inside her tennis shoe.  The edge, blunt as it was, somehow managed to literally filet the top of her foot off by several inches.  Thankfully, all parts were still there, and there was no ligament or tendon damage.  The doc cleaned it up, sutured the skin back together, and she was ordered to stay of her feet for a couple of days.  By the time the sutures came out the following week, the scar was the only sign of the trauma of that day.

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Remember I said it was an icy winter?  Well, one day a month or so prior, we had an issue with the truck and trailer sliding down an icy hill and jackknifing.  The horses were used to pull it out of it’s quandary, which was a pretty impressive feat, by the way!  It was a Chevy 2500 pickup, in a very tight space, on ice, and the horses with their studded traction shoes, pulled that thing right out!

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The incident, however, resulted in our forecart (the red work cart we hitch to the horses) having to be shoved over the nearby hill to get the truck free.  We didn’t get much of a break, when, a few weeks later, the weather finally improved enough to work the horses again.   First, I needed to get my forecart out of it’s quandary.  What happened next is a really long story, containing a few not-so-great decisions on our part, and involved chaining the rear of the forecart (the exposed area) to the horses and having the horses pull it up the hill.  Theoretically, the idea should have worked, but the worst decision was turning the brake off, which in turn allowed the wheels to turn freely.  This creates an unstable mass (in S’s engineering terminology!).  When you combine an unstable mass with a certain horse we had at the time who had a lot of “GO!” and very little “WHOA!”……..well, we set ourselves up for trouble!  I, as the driver, was safely positioned uphill.  S, on the other hand, was safely out of the way until the horse sped up, the forecart became unstable and flipped quickly through the air, and S found himself trapped in a corner.  He attempted to go the only open direction he had—straight up!  This act (and a whole lot of God’s protection!) probably saved his life, but nonetheless, the roughly 500-lb forecart caught him mid-jump, scooped him up, flipped over with him and on him several times, and then dragged him up a hill.  Mind you this all took mere seconds before I got the team stopped, but when it was over, we were all shaken.  I had seen it all happen out of the corner of my eye, and feared my husband was dead.  I had no choice but to stop the horses, who were slightly spooked at this point, before they bolted and created havoc on who-knows-what-and-whom.  Once they stopped, I looked over toward S, and he gave our long-time sign of a raised hand to signal he was still alive and at least partly functioning.  This gave me the time I needed to get the horses untangled and secured, while yelling instructions to the children on how to help their father.  As soon as I could, I ran to S and my medical training kicked into high gear.  I checked him over, looking for major breaks and areas of pain.  He seemed beat up, but mostly OK, except for a very-rapidly-swelling foot and some blood coming out of his ear (not really a good thing).  We assumed he might have head trauma and the foot was severely damaged, based on the fact that something had sliced through both his boot AND his sock, though interestingly the foot itself wasn’t cut.  I ran back over, got the horses put away, called my mother-in-law to come babysit, and loaded S for the E.R.  We live in one of those remote areas where sometimes it’s a better option to drive to the E.R. than to wait for the ambulance!  Poor S was wincing in pain at every bump, railroad track, and turn we made.  He hung in there, and we finally arrived.  I ran in to tell the E.R. staff about his situation, and surprisingly, it was as if they were expecting him!  A whole trauma team ran outside with a gurney, got him onto the gurney, rushed him into the trauma room, and within an hour, he had x-rays, a CT scan, and was examined by the attending doc, a plastic surgeon, an orthopedist, and I forget who else.  By God’s amazing blessing, and an awesome E.R. staff, just 4 hours later, S hobbled out of the E.R., and headed home.  Turns out his ear lobe had been sliced, but his brain was fine.  His foot had some soft-tissue damage, but not a single break.  His torso was covered in scrapes and bruises from the gravel driveway, but nothing there was broken.  In fact, the only major damage was 3 fractures to his facial bones.  He was put on crutches and told to wear a boot for a few weeks to give his foot time to heal, as the crush was pretty significant.  In fact, he still suffers numbness from nerve damage almost 18 months later.

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I learned later how God had set everything into motion to take care of S, though.  As it turned out, just before our arrival, the E.R. had been notified of a severe car accident involving some major trauma.  There was some confusion, and they didn’t know details, but all the doctors and trauma team were ready to go, and the trauma room had been prepped.  When we arrived, they thought he was the car accident victim at first, hence the speedy intake.  Don’t worry, though, we didn’t endanger anyone else, as we found out later that in all the confusion, the other victim had been taken to a different hospital and our hospital had been mistakenly notified.   It all worked out for the best, just as our Lord promises!

Once again, I’ve broken my own record for time away.  Once again, I miss it, and figured I should check in.  So much has been happening around the farm, I don’t even know where to begin.  It seems to me some fun photos would be a good place to start.  We are still suffering through bitter cold and counting the days until spring.  It was a dry winter until February hit, and we finally got snow.  And the snow just keeps coming every couple of days.  An inch here, 6 inches there.  That might not mean much to you, but for me, it means I get to use the horse-drawn snow plow we bought last fall!  Enjoy!!

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I posted previously about one of our horses, Nick, being injured.  He was at the vet for 2 weeks, but started going a little insane being cooped up.  He blew his second set of sutures, the splint rubbed parts of leg raw, and he became extremely, dangerously protective of his wound.  The vet really couldn’t do much else, so he made some recommendations, and Nick came home to continue basic treatment, as we had more experience dealing with big horses and could work with him as needed to do what needed to be done.  After Nick had a follow-up check 3 weeks later, the vet told us that the injury was not healing properly, and we had to choose between 3 options:  euthanize him, turn him out to pasture with the other horses and let nature take its course, or spend another several thousand dollars to run all sorts of tests and treatments to get him healed–still with no guarantee of him being able to work again.  As it was, we had been hosing and treating him twice a day, hand-walking and letting him graze 2-3 times a day, in addition to spending non-treatment time with him.  Because he wouldn’t leave his wound alone, we tried making a “bib” to prevent him from biting it, but he used the bib to scratch it open.  The vet had tried wrapping it, but he chewed the wrap off.  We researched a neck cradle, but no material was safe for a draft horse of his size and strength.  When we tried to get creative, he would simply bang his knee against the stall walls to scratch it, which kept making the wound worse.  The final straw was when it was finally looking like the granulation tissue was filling in, and he did something during the night that caused the entire thing to split wide open, even ripping into fresh, previously uninjured tissue.  Here’s a photo of the wound when he came home from the vet, after blowing the second set of sutures:

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Here’s what the wound looked like 3 weeks later, after his chewing, pawing, banging, and finally ripping it open:

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The simple fact was, despite our hard work and best efforts, he wasn’t improving.  It looked awful, and a lingering infection just would not clear up.  After much prayer and discussion, we decided for option #4.  One of S’s cousins, who lives in FL, has a passion for rehabilitating sick or injured horses.  It’s just what she loves to do.  She had offered to take him on.  We contacted him, and gave her an idea of what our vet had recommended for further treatment options.  We sent photos to her vet, an equine specialist in an area known for its large numbers of high value performance horses, and her vet spoke with our vet to get his opinion.  Finally, the decision was made that Nick would head to FL.  I quickly got his papers in order, and left early one morning.  For the sake of Nick’s wound, we decided to layover one night, about half way through the trip.  The next day, I dropped him off in FL, drove back to meet my mom in GA, and the third day, drove back home.  Talk about a quick trip!  I have no doubt, though, that Nick is in the best place he could be, if not with us.  He will be well loved, well cared for, and given the best vet care possible.  We miss him terribly already, but I admit, our stress level has been reduced substantially.  They are keeping us updated, and her vet is using several methods our vet never considered–such as oxygen therapy and potentially even maggot therapy.  Yes, I said maggot–as in fly larvae.  I am very interested to see how it all works out.

While all this was going on, it was decided we could not run the farm as efficiently with only Bud working single.  He was doing great with the re-training process, but we realized we could really use another horse to fill the void left by Nick.  Not to mention, Bud was going to be lost without a companion.  So, after some searching, we found a replacement.  Meet “Bill.”

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Bill is an 11 year old Belgian gelding.  He has spent most of his life doing farm work, though he was a bit out of shape when we found him.  He is not Nick at all, but he is a good boy, and he is filling Nick’s spot sufficiently.  Bud was thrilled to have a friend again, and they quickly adjusted to working as a team.  Bill’s only real downside is that his previous owner apparently used a much stronger hand than I do, so I’ve had my work cut out teaching him to be softer on the bit.  He is improving with every drive, though, and we are enjoying him more and more as the weeks go by.  In fact, we recently decided he was doing well enough, that we entered our first parade!  Both boys did awesome!

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In addition, we have been busy filling wagon-ride commitments we made prior to Nick’s injury, which we couldn’t have done without Bill.  Our wagon ride business really seems to be taking off, and we get requests with increasing frequency.  We are now looking for a vis-a-vis carriage so we can branch out into offering a horse-drawn carriage for weddings and other special occasions.  In addition, we decided we should venture further into the horse-powered farm work, both to keep the boys busy, and in shape, and to let them earn their keep more.  We purchased a good forecart so we can now grade (without me eating dust!) and pull our gas-powered mower deck to mow the grass.

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 It also has a plow attachment so we can move dirt/gravel around and plow snow this winter.  As if that wasn’t enough, we also got skis for our wagon, so when it is crisp and snowy out, we can replace the wagon tires with the skis, and go for our first sleigh ride!  As usual, time will tell how this all plays out, but winter could be interesting this year!

Our poor boy, Nick, is in prison.  Actually, it’s a very fancy, well-built, draft-horse-proof, extra sterile stall, complete with rubber mats, center drain, fan, auto-waterer…..and floor to ceiling welded wire gate, which makes it look like a prison cell.

Nick's prison cell…I mean, specialized hospital stall.

Nick’s prison cell…I mean, specialized hospital stall.

After Nick’s severe leg injury early last week, he became our focus for the next 7 days.  We arranged for him to be able to nuzzle with his buddy, Bud, over the stall wall at night.  In the day, when we forced Bud outside to graze, we checked Nick’s swelling, felt his lower leg to make sure blood was flowing sufficiently through the bandages, walked him twice a day, medicated him twice a day, visited him multiple times a day to keep him from being lonely, turned on his fan when it was too warm in there (a 2000 lb horse can produce a LOT of body heat in a confined space!), cleaned his stall several times a day to reduce chance of infection, and pampered him as much as we possibly could.  Every two days, we changed the bandage.  Things seemed to be healing nicely.  We took pictures of the injury with each bandage change, and we e-mailed photos to the vet mid-week so he could check things over.  Nick ‘s swelling gradually subsided, his walking improved, and the injury seemed to be on the road to recovery.  

WARNING:  GRAPHIC and disgusting photos below!  

Seriously….only scroll down if you desire to see the INSIDE of a live horse’s leg.  

OK, don’t say I didn’t warn you…..

Day 2, post-injury

Day 2, post-injury

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Day 4….lookin’ good; sutures holding up well, and swelling going down

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Day 5….a little weepy and top suture ruptured, but nothing major. Walking improved significantly.

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Day 6….bandage slipped, and top of drain disappeared. Not sure if it slipped inside or got bitten off. I see some yellow, but there is no sign of swelling, off smells, and amount of seepage about the same.

We made it through the first week fairly unscathed, and things were looking good.  The sutured laceration seemed to be healing nicely.  We had high hopes for an easy, if somewhat lengthy recovery.  After the Sunday night check, we carefully re-bandaged the same way as usual–carefully wiping away excess moisture, coating the wound with antibiotic cream, then layering with sterile gauze, gauze rolls, cotton, more gauze, vet wrap, and some tape to hold it up–just as the vet had shown us.  Everything seemed fine Monday, his daily walk was the first without me having to help him step properly with a foot rope.  I made note that the turkeys in my barn (in a neighboring stall) were smelling a little funky, but didn’t have time to deal with it right then.  Tuesday morning, the turkey stall smell really caught my attention when I entered the barn.  The kids and I tended to the horses, then turned our attention to cleaning and rebedding the turkeys and baby chicks.  I didn’t see anything unusual, but boy, did the barn smell ripe!  That afternoon, we loaded Nick into the trailer to head to the vet and get his drain removed and sutures checked.  When we arrived, I was surprised to find he smelled just like the turkeys that morning.  I brushed it off.  Never once did it occur to me that the smell was not turkey, but infected flesh!

After the last bandage change, you can imagine the shock S and I felt when the vet took off the wrap to expose the wound, and we saw something TOTALLY opposite what we expected!  Infection had set in, and blown over half the sutures out. A vet told us this is a common thing that happens about a week into a severe injury like this. It didn’t really make us feel better. In fact, I think we were fighting back tears the whole time. I didn’t get a photo of that day, but suffice it to say, there was lots of goo, pus, bloody fluid, and stink!  We discussed our options with the vet, and the decision was made to hit the infection intensively.  Nick would stay at the clinic in a hospital stall, where the vet and techs could tend him multiple times per day.  The plan involved complete stall rest, as the wound could not be re-wrapped and supported to allow him to walk.  It had to be able to breathe and drain.  The drain and remaining sutures would be left a few days longer, to attempt to hold any healed tissue together.  Antibiotics would be injected directly into the wound every day.  Because of his new-found fear of needles and the increased tenderness of the wound, this involved daily sedation to get the job done.  The vet would clean the wound several times a day, while the techs kept his stall cleaned out.  In addition to the direct antibiotics, they were also going to hit him with systemic antibiotics, both injected and oral to circulate through his system.  We hoped 3-4 days of this intensive treatment would show improvement.   The next day, AFTER the wound was cleaned up, this is what it looked like: 

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Day 10…the white squiggly line is the rubber drain tube.

Today, the news wasn’t much better, much to our dismay.  The vet said he’s had a low-grade fever all week, and just can’t shake it.  The antibiotics are keeping it under control, but it just won’t go away.  This means there is definitely a festering infection going on.  He wound up pulling the drain and remaining sutures on Day 11, as he felt they weren’t doing any good anyway, and may possibly contribute to irritation and infection.  Otherwise, the heavy antibiotics and multiple-times a day treatments are the only thing that can be done.  Since the wound can’t be sutured to heal from the outside, in, the vet is attempting to help the wound heal from the inside, out by treating the wound in such a way as to encourage granulation tissue to form.  So, now Nick is imprisoned for at least another 4 days or so.  The vet doesn’t want him to leave (nor do we) until the fever is gone and stays gone for several days.  He also has to be finished with all injectables, as his new hypersensitivity to needles, combined with his massive size, means there is no possible way we can inject anything at home.  Everything will have to be oral or topical.  At that point, he will re-suture the wound, and we will start all over with bandages and home treatments.  The good news is that the vet is very hopeful, and still feels Nick will make a good recovery.  He told us today that the mystery infection/fever could possibly be internal–such as in the joint capsule, where it can’t be seen.  That may mean arthritis will set in later, and only time will tell how severe.  The other good news is that, since Nick seems to be walking almost normally again, we can be relatively assured that there is no permanent tendon, ligament, or nerve damage in the leg.  That is a huge relief!  

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Yes, it’s ugly. It’s wide open, and opens deep into the abyss with each step he takes or movement he makes. The light pink color, however, is granulation tissue–a good sign.

So, that’s our life right now.  Poor Nick is bored out of his mind, hardly eating what’s offered, and seems totally confused.  Bud, here on the home front, is equally confused, and stands in Nick’s stall at the slightest opportunity, with his head hanging down, and almost seeming depressed.  He seems to be accepting that Nick isn’t here, but definitely seems lost without him.  He has stopped nickering for him, and his spunk is not quite what it was.  I surely wish I could explain to them what’s going on, and that this is only temporary–Lord willing.  

I do have to admit that real-to-life financial thoughts hit me on occasion.  Since the horses were a substantial part of our farm income, and we have lost that for now, I confess, I am NOT looking forward to the upcoming vet bill.  We have already paid for the first treatment, and that was painful enough.  I fear it will be no comparison to the next one, though.  As long as we have been involved in animals, S and I have always had a pre-agreed upon $$ amount we could spend on emergency vet care to heal an animal.  We have always believed that we are called to be stewards of ALL our blessings–children, each other, animals, possessions, AND finances.  This is the first time we have encountered a situation where an animal was more than just a pet, but a valuable asset, a way of life, power for our little farm, and an income source.  We aren’t really sure how to put a cap on that.  

 We are praying, though, a LOT.  We are praying that the finances can handle it, that Nick can heal quickly and get back home to Bud, that all our emotions hold through this ordeal, and that everything will just be OK soon.  In fact, I have never really prayed over an animal the way we are praying for Nick.  I feel so helpless, it’s really all we can do.  Nick is an amazing horse, and we have committed to do what we can for him, as long as God gives us peace with continuing this direction.  If you have a moment, perhaps you could say a little prayer for him as well?  I hate seeing my big boys going through all this, and long to see them romping and rearing and galloping through our pasture once again!  I won’t even yell at them next time I see them biting each other mane hairs off, or pawing at the stall wall!

Yesterday was a big day.  It was time to unwrap Nick’s leg and do some tending to it.  He was a good boy, considering.  I think he was having flashbacks to everything the vet did, but he relaxed a bit after a while.  It is clearly very sore, and he would prefer we not touch it.

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So far, the incision is looking good.  The swelling has started, but isn’t too bad, and there is no heat, which is a very good thing.  After all of his recent stumbling on that hoof, I was very concerned we would find some busted sutures, but there were none and all looked good.  We hosed, doctored, and re-wrapped it for another day or two.

Poor Nick has had enough of stall life.  He lives in the stall, and during the night time hours, we allow his brother, Bud, to have access to the alleyway in front of the stall (the size of a stall itself) and the paddock directly behind the barn.  Most of the time when we check on them, either Nick is hanging his head out of the stall window to see Bud, or, more often, Bud has his head hanging through INTO Nick’s stall.  Other times, Bud is in the alley stall with his head hanging over the stall railing.  The miss each other very much.

Nick is doing well on his daily walks to the back grazing paddock.  He still stumbles, but it is becoming less frequent, leaving me hopeful that it is caused by soreness rather than nerve damage.  I won’t know for a while yet, though.

Speaking of Nick, it’s time to go tend to him.  I’ll keep you posted.

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