Reschooling the Thoroughbred

Chapter 11: the long, dark journey to the center of his sole

It doesn't matter if you are responsible for an animal or a human. When someone you love and care about is sick or injured it can be a very trying experience to help the loved one through it especially when you are the one administering much of the medication and also shouldering the expense. A bone infection is a serious matter. Luckily, I had the benefit of a vet with a wealth of experience. Dr. Jeannie Waldron knew exactly what to do and explained it to me carefully after viewing Xcel's x-rays.

First we would use an oral antibiotic. If that didn't resolve the problem she would have to open up the bottom of his foot and treat it with antibiotics directly. We began with a potent drug called Baytril that I was to administer by dose syringe. It actually took two doses to give the 70cc amount. I had to be careful that Xcel did not spit it out as it was very expensive. This continued for about six weeks as subsequent x-rays failed to show improvement in the infection.

Finally, in early August, with no improvement in Xcel's infection, Jeannie surgically removed part of his sole, opening up an area about 1 1/2 inches across. This was done in coordination with my farrier who then applied a shoe with a hospital plate. I was to open this plate every few days so I could apply medication to the sole and to check the healing process. Of course, Xcel was put on stall rest.

After three weeks, pleased with his progress, Jeannie said I could transition him to turn out, which I did with the help of an IV tranquilizer and his best buddy, Rocket. Having had so many horses for so many years I had become fairly adept at giving IV injections. It certainly saves one from having a vet out any time a horse needs IV medication and it can help in an emergency.

Being late summer, the horses were turned out at night. Xcel and Rocket were out in a paddock close to the barn/house. One morning I came out of my house to bring the horses in and found Xcel nearly three-legged lame in his "good" foot—his right front. I was horrified when I saw why—a rusted and bent piece of thick wire was sticking out of the bottom of his foot! At first I couldn't decide what to do. I had put his halter on so I could take a look at his foot, but I needed to get some help and didn't want to let go of him and let him walk around with the wire still in his foot. He was in great distress and would not hold still.

Since he had obviously been in that state for some time I finally decided to leave him loose while I called the vet as I knew he would only panic if I tried to tie him. But Jeannie was out of town and could not be reached. So I called my barn help, Maleina, who lived just minutes away and asked her to come immediately. I filled a syringe with a few cc's of tranquilizer and though I had never even tried to hit a vein one handed before, I had to give it a try. Xcel was so upset he wouldn't stand still, and I was sure he was making the injury worse. So I held Xcel's lead rope with my left hand and did what I had seen Jeannie do on so many occasions. I pressed my right knuckle into his jugular groove while holding the syringe and was able to hit the vein and get the tranquilizer into him. Maleina arrived a short while later and held Xcel while I called another vet who lived nearby.

I didn't know if I should try to pull the wire out of his foot or not. It was not bleeding. I didn't know how deep the wire was, but Xcel was in a great deal of pain hopping around on his other foot which was covered by the hospital plate.  The vet I called said to pull the wire out and use a syringe to squirt iodine into the resulting hole. The wire had gone into the side of his frog near his heel. I grabbed a pair of pliers and summoned up some courage. I didn't know how hard to pull, but I knew I only wanted to pull once. I also knew it was going to hurt Xcel—probably a lot. I finally gave it a hard, firm tug straight out. Xcel reared in response, but the wire came out. I held on tight to his foot so he wouldn't put it down in the dirt. I could see that the wire had gone into his foot about an inch. I was able to squirt some iodine into the wound and cover the hoof with a bandage before leading Xcel and his buddy back to the barn.

Dr. Waldron's associate came later to look at Xcel's injury. He recommended I keep the wound clean and bandaged and that I give Xcel an oral antibiotic. I was much more worried than he seemed to be. Jeannie was home the next day, and she was more concerned than anyone when she saw the injury. She cut a larger opening in his frog to help it drain, then cleaned the wound. She explained that with this type of injury, infection is the main problem. The foot must be immobilized with a splint because every movement of the hoof could spread infection. Immobilize his foot? Put a splint on Xcel's leg because of a hole in his foot? That was the last thing I wanted to hear. He had been through so much all summer. This couldn't possibly be necessary I thought.

Jeannie explained, "I've treated this type of injury several times over the years. The horses I put in the brace lived, those I didn't, did not."
"Show me how I put it on Jeannie."

The aluminum Kinsey brace fits just below the knee and immobilizes the hoof by keeping the toe pointed down. Xcel would once again be on stall rest and more oral antibiotics. He would be fitted with a hospital pad under his shoe, something a little different than the hospital plate on his left foot which had proved to be slippery for him. He would have to wear the brace constantly except once a day when I was to remove it, open the pad, and clean and medicate the wound. To keep every bit of dirt out, I was to wrap duct tape around the shoe and pad.

I was stunned. It was so hard for me to believe that this little wound could actually threaten Xcel's life. On top of all that had come before it was overwhelming. While she was there, Jeannie also checked his left foot and was pleased with its healing. Once back in his stall, Xcel was his normal perky, silly self. Thinking of the possibility of losing this beautiful, dynamic and extraordinary horse drove me into a kind of scared determination. All I could think of was, "Not on my watch!"