Tag Archive | old horse

Darwin is Still Hanging On…

So this post is a little different than my typical posts on wine and travel. I’ll warn you now – this post is full of gore and tragedy, so if you have a weak stomach, don’t read on.

Today is April Fool’s Day, which ever since 1992 has been a different type of anniversary for me. On April 1, 1992, my beloved 4 year old quarter horse gelding Biz, tried to run through or jump the electric wire fence in his field – I will never really know what happened. Upon finding him standing in shock in a pool of blood, I stumbled back to the barn to get help. Friends later told me they thought I was playing a practical joke, until they saw that all the blood had drained out of my face. The vet was called, and he received a police escort to the farm when a Sheriff’s Deputy friend heard the call come out over the radio. Friends at the stable tried to stop the bleeding, and one friend held Biz’s head up and out of the way for 6 hours while the vets stitched and stitched to try to close the wounds (a second vet had arrived about an hour later when he finished up another call). Meanwhile, I was also dealing with a sudden onset migraine headache (Dad, I’m still sorry I threw up in your 1968 Cougar). When the vets finally finished up that first night, after 10 pm, Biz had over 1000 stitches in his front legs, and fractures in his knees, over his eye, and across the bridge of his nose. They estimate he had lost about 4 gallons of blood.

Biz was so badly injured that our veterinarian did not think he would live. At the time, the prognosis was that he had a 5 – 10% chance of surviving the accident, and if he did, he only had a 5 – 10% chance of being anything more than a big, expensive, lawn ornament. The only thing going for him was that although he had cut himself so badly he had exposed bone, nerves and did extreme damage to the muscle, he narrowly avoided cutting any of his tendons. For a horse, severing a tendon would have been a death sentence, because it would mean he would lose the use of the leg.

So, being the stubborn, foolish teenager that I was, I decided to give him a chance. For the next 5 months, extensive wound care, hand walking, and trying to keep him from re-injuring himself became my before and after school job. As the damaged tissue died, he smelled like death. As the skin around the wound died, the stitches pulled out, leaving holes in his legs that were 5 inches deep. For the first several days, he couldn’t move his legs forward very well, so he shuffled from side to side. The fracture over his eye caused blood to pool in the white of his eye, and looking at him broke my heart. The risk of infection was ever present, especially since the wounds were so large. I breathed a huge sigh of relief each day that infection didn’t set in. Sometimes, when cleaning the wound, I accidentally touched the exposed nerve bundle, causing him excruciating pain. When he got bored, confined to his stall for days, he tried to knock me over with his head while I knelt next to him.

Amazingly, he never fought against his treatment. He took it all in stride. He was as content as ever, with a hearty appetite and a devious twinkle in his eye. When I took him out for a walk, he wanted so much to run and play. He didn’t act like he was as badly injured as he was. It was a struggle to keep him from tearing the lead rope out of my hands, which would have meant a serious risk of re-injury. Fortunately, he managed to avoid hurting himself again. When spring gave way to summer, the risk of infection came again, in the form of flies who wanted to constantly land on his wounds. Fortunately, Biz dodged that bullet too. Every day, the wounds closed a little bit. Every day, a little more fresh, pink skin closed in around those gaping holes in his legs.

It took more than 5 months for the wounds to finally close. Biz defied the odds, and he can do most things other horses can do, although he isn’t the most coordinated guy. But then again, he never was. The vet recommended I start riding again at a walk, a month after the accident, because he had so much energy it was getting tough to control him from the ground. We slowly worked back up to normal capacity. If you didn’t know Biz before the accident, you might not notice the hitch he has in his stride, because those front legs just don’t move quite right now. He has extensive scarring across his front legs, where no hair grows. If you look carefully, his chest is still marked with 5 thin, hairless scars, one for each of the 5 strands of that electric wire fence. The bridge of his nose has a bump, and his back legs are dotted with scars too.

I would like to say Biz grew smarter and more cautious after that, but he didn’t, and he has continued to have a talent for rare and creative injuries and illnesses. I’ve come to accept that it’s part of what makes Biz, Biz. He is almost 30 now, certainly slowing down. For the most part, his flesh tearing injuries have given way to fungal skin infections and the degenerative processes of age. He only has 3 of his original 12 front teeth.  Arthritis makes it difficult for him to get up after he lays down to roll – but once he’s up, he still sometimes runs and plays like a young man.

At the time, it seemed unreal to believe that there was any way Biz could have made it through. But now, I still think about that day, 25 years ago, and how friends and people who barely knew me pulled together to help a gangly, goofy horse become a miracle.

Biz gets drugs, I get beer…

This morning, Biz and I made the trip up to his vet clinic for his latest surgery.  Biz has EOTRH, a degenerative disease of the teeth that causes them to break down.  His incisors have been getting worse with the progression of his disease, and over the last four years, he has had three of his lower incisors pulled.

Biz looks a bit like a toothless Mr. Ed here!

Biz before his surgery – about a week ago.

With his last set of X-rays, it was clear that his upper incisors had deteriorated significantly over the last year.  We made plans to extract four of his six upper incisors, leaving only his two center top teeth.  I have to admit, I was a bit anxious, as pulling four teeth at the same time is much different than just pulling one.  Plus, the upper incisors are more complicated than the lower ones, because the nerve block is much more dangerous.  The nerve that affects the upper jaw is very close to the optical nerve, so if the nerve block is administered incorrectly the horse could be blinded.

Today’s surgery went well.  Once again, the nerve blocking was the hardest part, as Biz on his best day doesn’t love having his face messed around with.  Getting the nerves blocked on each side involved heavy sedation, one vet holding the needle, two other vets holding his head and me and the vet tech pushing on him to keep him standing straight in the stanchion – plus a blindfold, and a numbing agent under the skin at the location of the nerve block.  Oy!

Once the nerve block was done and had taken effect, the work of removing his teeth began.  The first one ended up being the hardest – he was not happy and kept tossing his head around (you find out how sedated they really are when you start the hard work!).  The first tooth also had the largest ball of cementum – which is where the tooth has tried to repair itself by creating a ball of extra growth to try to shore up the deteriorating root of the tooth.  However, the ball of cementum presses against the gums and the nerves in the mouth and is painful.

The rest of the teeth came out relatively easily – three of the four simply broke off when they applied the forceps, so the vets had to do a bit of digging around in the hole to get the remaining pieces of the root.  Once they thought they got it all, they did a new round of X-rays to make sure, and then packed the holes with Plaster of Paris and antibiotic tablets.  The sutures will hold for a few days, and eventually the plaster plugs will fall out.

 

A very sleepy Biz.

A very sleepy Biz after his surgery

I’ll be doing aftercare for several weeks, flushing his holes with saline solution daily.  I’m grateful that he is a remarkable healer.

Biz is now officially missing more incisors than he has left.  This evening he enjoyed a small meal of super soggy beet pulp and hay, and was pissed that he didn’t get more.  And I’m enjoying a relaxing craft beer.  It’s the little things…

Four to Go on Wednesday

Biz saw the vet for his annual checkup a few weeks ago.  At 28 years old, he is remarkably healthy.  No comparison of horse age to human age is truly accurate, but a 28 year old horse is generally believed to be about the equivalent of an 80 year old human.

His weight is great – his blood work is good.  His eyes are clear and bright with no sign of cataracts.  The only exception to his great health is his teeth.  Followers to this blog will know that Biz has had 3 teeth pulled over the last couple of years – this Wednesday he will have 4 more pulled. His disease, EOTRH, has progressed, and his teeth have deteriorated significantly in the last year.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little worried – he has done really well with the extractions so far, but he has only had 1 pulled at a time previously.  4 is a much bigger deal.  This will be our first round with his upper incisors too – I am not sure if there will be differences with the extractions or in his healing process.

Biz looks a bit like a toothless Mr. Ed here!

Biz looks a bit like a toothless Mr. Ed here!

I wouldn’t be doing this (and the vet wouldn’t be recommending it) if there wasn’t a big chance that Biz is enduring a lot of pain due to these diseased teeth that are hanging on.  As horses are prey animals, they mask their pain – it has got to be pretty bad before a horse will let you know…  We are hoping that this surgery will relieve him of the pain.

I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed that everything goes smoothly, and that he heals quickly.  Please keep us in your thoughts on Wednesday!

I Still Wish it Had Been a Joke…

Another year has passed in which I have been blessed with the companionship of my sweet horse Biz.  I will never forget that I almost didn’t get to spend all these years with him.  He’ll be 28 soon, and proof that miracles do exist.

This story is pretty gory – I’ll warn you now.  If you have a weak stomach, don’t read on.

Today is April Fool’s Day, which ever since 1992 has been a different type of anniversary for me. On April 1, 1992, my beloved 4 year old quarter horse gelding Biz, tried to run through or jump the electric wire fence in his field – I will never really know what happened. Upon finding him standing in shock in a pool of blood, I stumbled back to the barn to get help. Friends later told me they thought I was playing a practical joke, until they saw that all the blood had drained out of my face. The vet was called, and he received a police escort to the farm when a Sheriff’s Deputy friend heard the call come out over the radio.

Friends at the stable tried to stop the bleeding, and one friend held Biz’s head up and out of the way for 6 hours while the vets stitched and stitched to try to close the wounds (a second vet had arrived about an hour later when he finished up another call). Meanwhile, I was also dealing with a sudden onset migraine headache (Dad, I’m still sorry I threw up in your 1968 Cougar). When the vets finally finished up that first night, after 10 pm, Biz had over 1000 stitches in his front legs, and fractures in his knees, over his eye, and across the bridge of his nose. They estimate he had lost about 4 gallons of blood, about 40% of his total blood.

Biz was so badly injured that our veterinarian did not think he would live. At the time, the prognosis was that he had a 5 – 10% chance of surviving the accident, and if he did, he only had a 5 – 10% chance of being anything more than a big, expensive, lawn ornament. The only thing going for him was that although he had cut himself so badly he had exposed bone, nerves and did extreme damage to the muscle, he narrowly avoided hitting an artery, or cutting any of his tendons. For a horse, severing a tendon would have been a death sentence, because it would mean he would lose the use of the leg.

So, being the stubborn, foolish teenager that I was, I decided to give him a chance. For the next 5 months, extensive wound care, hand walking, and trying to keep him from re-injuring himself became my before and after school job. As the damaged tissue died, he smelled like death. As the skin around the wound died, the stitches pulled out, leaving holes in his legs that were 5 inches deep. For the first several days, he couldn’t move his legs forward very well, so he shuffled from side to side.

The fracture over his eye caused blood to pool in the white of his eye, and looking at him broke my heart. The risk of infection was ever present, especially since the wounds were so large. I breathed a huge sigh of relief each day that infection didn’t set in. Sometimes, when cleaning the wound, I accidentally touched the exposed nerve bundle, causing him excruciating pain. I’ll never forget the involuntary jerk of his leg when I accidentally touched the nerve.  When he got bored, confined to his stall for days, he tried to knock me over with his head while I knelt next to him.

Amazingly, he never fought against his treatment. He took it all in stride. He was as content as ever, with a hearty appetite and a devious twinkle in his eye. When I took him out for a walk, he wanted so much to run and play. He didn’t act like he was as badly injured as he was. It was a struggle to keep him from tearing the lead rope out of my hands, which would have meant a serious risk of re-injury.

Fortunately, he managed to avoid hurting himself again. When spring gave way to summer, the risk of infection came again, in the form of flies who wanted to constantly land on his wounds. Fortunately, Biz dodged that bullet too. Every day, the wounds closed a little bit. Every day, a little more fresh, pink skin closed in around those gaping holes in his legs.

It took more than 5 months for the wounds to finally close. Biz defied the odds, and he can do most things other horses can do, although he isn’t the most coordinated guy. But then again, he never was. The vet recommended I start riding again at a walk, a month after the accident, because he had so much energy it was getting tough to control him from the ground. We slowly worked back up to normal capacity.

If you didn’t know Biz before the accident, you might not notice the hitch he has in his stride, because those front legs just don’t move quite right now. He has extensive scarring across his front legs, where no hair grows. If you look carefully, his chest is still marked with 5 thin, hairless scars, one for each of the 5 strands of that electric wire fence. The bridge of his nose has a bump, and his back legs are dotted with scars too.  All these years later, these visual reminders still show.

I would like to say Biz grew smarter and more cautious after that, but he didn’t, and he has continued to have a talent for rare and creative injuries and illnesses. I’ve come to accept that it’s part of what makes Biz, Biz. He is almost 28 now, an impressive lifetime for a horse.  All of my friends’ horses who were near his age have passed away.

He’s still full of life, but thankfully, he’s more mellow now. For the most part, his flesh tearing injuries have given way to fungal skin infections and the degenerative processes of age. Arthritis makes it difficult for him to get up after he lays down to roll – but once he’s up, he still runs and plays like a young man.  He’s losing his teeth, having them pulled one by one as they lose their structure inside his gums.

At the time, it seemed unreal to believe that there was any way Biz could have made it through. But now, I still think about that day, 23 years ago.  I know there are miracles.  I witnessed one.

The Horse Tooth Fairy, Times 3

On Wednesday, Biz and I went for a ride up to the vet clinic to play out a story that is becoming a spring ritual – x-rays and having a tooth pulled.  We are becoming veterans at this.

In case you don’t know the story, Biz has EOTRH, short for Equine Odontoclastic Tooth Resorption and Hypercementosis, a degenerative disease where the teeth gradually break down on the inside.  I give a better description in my post from a few years back.

This year’s surgery was the easiest ever, as my vet found the perfect tool last year for separating the tooth from the gum and the periodontal ligament that holds it in.  We also learned from our experience last year that we shouldn’t close the front of the stanchion while Biz is sedated, so he doesn’t faint and fall down.

The tooth clearly needed to go, as there was a little pocket of infection in the gum below the tooth creating a fissure, and once we got his mouth propped open we could see that the back of the tooth had a black, decayed part.  Once the tooth was out, the vets packed off the hole with an antibiotic capsule, sterile gauze and plaster of Paris.  Apparently some vets are now recommending to just let the wound stay open, but this system has worked for us so far, so we decided to stick with it.

Biz got topped off with a tetanus shot while he was still sleepy, and then we hung out for awhile waiting for him to wake up.  Once he was awake and steady on his feet, he got to come home.  He was on a restricted diet Wednesday night and Thursday because he had an episode of colic last year after he was sedated for his x-rays.  Better safe than sorry.

Once we got home, Biz walked himself around the arena while I watched; him restlessly walking is a symptom of the sedation – on a normal day he would roll, run around maniacally for a few minutes and then stop and look at himself in the mirror (he’s vain…).  During his restless wanderings the other evening, he was probably silently cursing me for not giving him much dinner.  After 24 years together, I know the look.  But it couldn’t be helped.  I love this old boy too much to feed him.

Yesterday I started flushing the wound with salt water and a syringe – preventing infection is the key now.  I’ll be doing that until the wound closes, however long that takes.  He doesn’t mind – it’s our thing…

If only the tooth fairy would drop some cash by to help pay the vet bill.  I know I’m not the only one with a million dollar animal – what’s your story?

Happy Birthday Biz!

27 years ago today the world was blessed with a gangly bay foal, who grew up into a gangly, bay horse.  My Biz.  You have offered me joy, laughter, sadness and tears for more than 24 years.  You have given me enough memories to treasure for a thousand lifetimes.  You have been often foolish, occasionally smart, and usually lucky all these years.  You have comforted me in times of trouble, and I have comforted you.

Although you are now old and going gray, and I know that I can’t possibly wish for another 27 years, I hope I get as many as I can.  Life with you has never been dull, and has taught me an enormous amount about love.  My cup runneth over.

Happy Birthday Biz!

 

Biz and Me, Back in May

Biz and Me, Back in May