Tuesday, September 18, 2012

High Tensile Wire, We Meet Again

I'm afraid this post is going to be long and dramatic. Today was a very bad day for me and Steen. And since I keep this blog to record everything we go through with our horses, I'm going to go ahead and tell the whole story.

Just to preface this: we are all ok. Steen should recover. He's in a leg wrap for five days and after that it will hopefully just be a few weeks of healing before he's back to normal. I am uninjured. All the other horses are fine.

So, to start at the beginning. Yesterday morning I went out and gave Steen another bath. It was supposed to rain, but it was sunny while I was out there. I hosed him off, put more Thuja-Zinc on his burns, put his sheet back on, and went home.

It did rain later, and it was a cool, damp evening. Brian was kind enough to drive out and take the sheet off because we thought Steen would be more comfortable without it overnight.

This morning I got in the car first thing to head out and put the sheet back on before the sun got too high.

In retrospect, I can see I started making mistakes the moment I reached the barn. My first mistake was I was in a hurry. Work has been stressful, I'm behind on a few projects, and mostly I just wanted to get Steen's sheet on and get back home. I also tried to do too much at once. I wanted to get Bear and Laredo their supplements and get Steen's sheet on and not have to make multiple trips out into the pasture to do so.

So I loaded up with feed trays and a fly sheet, and hiked out to the pasture. Halfway through the first gate, I realized I'd forgotten a halter. I hesitated. Then I thought, "Steen will be fine. He's great with blankets."

I resumed my hike. It had been a cold night, and all the pasture horses were very interested in the sight of the feed pans. I installed myself in the gate to the big pasture to more easily separate our guys from the rest of the herd. Our three made their way up to me. I directed them to their pans, then had to put some serious effort into moving the others off. After a few minutes Steen was done eating, so I went over and slipped the fly sheet over his head. I pulled it down over his back and as I went to fold up the belly flap, a couple of the horses teamed up on Laredo to move him off his feed pan. In my stupidest move yet, I took a step away from Steen to shoo at them. The horses went off, and I headed back to Steen, but before I could reach him he took a step to the side.

This sheet has a belly cover, so a large mesh flap was hanging down by his legs. I saw in a flash what would happen. I was one step too far away to get my hand on Steen's head, and it was too late. The flap flapped, and Steen took another step. The flap flapped more, and Steen took off.

So then I got to stand there and watch my panicked horse gallop around a three acre pasture with a fly sheet dangling off him. The only smart thing I'd done so far that day was set up operations at a gate, so I was able to close the gate with only Laredo with me and Steen in the pasture and thus at least keep Steen from charging out into 13 acres of open space, or getting the whole herd caught up in the stampede.

But still, things went downhill quite quickly. Steen galloped several laps before the straps started to tangle up his legs. He fell two or three times and got back up. Watching him I was 100% certain he would not survive.

Finally he got so bound up that he could not longer run. He came to a stop far down in the corner of the lot, and I hurried over to him. I thought I would have a mess on my hands, but it was worse than I expected. Somehow Steen had gotten his right hind leg through the wire fence, and one wire was looped around his leg. The leg was trapped in both the sheet straps and the wire.

Oh, and the fence was live. So every few seconds a shock ran through the fence and into Steen, causing him to heave against the wire and rip up the skin of his leg. He was shaking with pain and fear, and while I was able to get him to take a partial step back to reduce the amount of force on the wire, as soon as another shock came he lurched forward again.

It only took me a few seconds to realize I could do nothing. I had no halter, not even a rope, and certainly not anything really useful like wire-cutters. There was no way I would be able to get him at all calmed down with the shock going.

So I left him. I had no choice. I am not much of a runner, and by the time I sprinted the 1/8 of a mile back to the barn, I was literally gasping for breath. I dashed through the barn and around to the side where the electric fence is plugged in, and unplugged it. Then I ran to my car and got my cell phone and called both Brian and Cathi. I was as close to being in a genuine panic as I've ever been in my life, and the run had ensured I could hardly breathe. I'm sure I sounded one step away from incoherent. I felt bad for having to freak both of them out, but I also thought I would not be able to get Steen out of the fence alone.

I grabbed a halter and a pair of scissors and sprinted off again. My hope was that I could calm him down enough to get him to stop struggling until help arrived.

I ran back into the pasture. I topped the rise in the second pasture and I could see Steen was still in the same place. And as I approached I was beyond relieved to see he had actually managed to get his leg out of the fence on his own. As I got closer, I could see he was quite cut up and definitely bleeding, but things were not as bad as I had feared. He was still quivering with panic, though, and still couldn't move because of the sheet's strap.

I put his halter on and cut through the sheet straps to free him. I don't actually remember pulling the sheet off of him, but I must have done it. I called Brian and Cathi to let them know it was no longer an emergency. Then I sat there with my horse while we both caught our breath for a few minutes.

I called our vet, Jim. He said he'd get there as soon as he could, and to get a cold hose on the cuts right away.

Meanwhile, I had Laredo, a destroyed fly sheet and two empty feed pans in one pasture, and the rest of the herd on the other side of the fence looking on. I was not going to leave the sheet out there for Laredo to mess with, so I rolled it up and took it with me. The feed pans and closed gate were going to have to wait.

Steen and I began to make our way back up to the barn. He did not want to put much weight on the leg, so the going was slow, but he was as soft on the lead rope as he always is. We got to the barn and I dropped the fly sheet by my tack locker and tried to lead him by. He hesitated. I put the sheet all the way in the locker so he couldn't see it, and took him out to the wash rack.

I'd been hosing him for maybe ten minutes when Cathi arrived, and Brian made it a few minutes later. Cathi called the vet and told him what she had on hand and asked for instructions. We kept the cold hose on for half an hour, scrubbed the leg with surgical scrub, gave some oral Banamine, and flushed the deeper parts of the cut with a saline solution. Then Cathi wrapped the leg and Brian and I took Steen over to the airlock to see if he had any interest in grazing while we waited for Jim. We brought Laredo into the airlock too, and Brian went down to collect the feed pans and open the gate.

Steen spent the next three hours alternating between grazing and dozing. He had at least calmed down a good deal by then, and over that period of time was already showing more willingness to use the leg.

Jim finally arrived, and we unwrapped the leg. After a quick examination Jim said most of the scrapes were superficial. When I told him the whole story he said over and over that he couldn't believe it wasn't worse. So I have that to be grateful for, at least.


He put a few staples in the deepest cut and wrapped the leg. He prescribed antibiotics and more bute and said to leave the leg wrapped for five days. He then said, "I think he'll live."

After we were done, I installed Steen in the little side pen with a five-month-old weanling and a lot of good hay to keep him company. So now he's had matching wire trauma on both hind legs. We can only hope that is the end of it.

Laredo also got some booster shots, since the vet was there anyway...

3 comments:

  1. Oh, Robin! This story turned my stomach. Gosh I hope Steen heals up soon. Don't be too hard on yourself. We have all done--I will use your word here--"stupid" things with our horses. The blessing is some of us live and learn to tell about it. So sorry about the incident. Even the quietest of horses have moments where they feel they need to save themselves from something.

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  2. Oh my gosh. This just takes my breath away! I'm speechless.

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  3. Thank you for the comments! It was a tough day, but also an educational one. I am grateful it wasn't worse. And all the support I've had getting him patched up has been truly touching.

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