If misfortunes come in threes, I’m done for this year.
First, my Walking Horse got caught on my fence, and suffered some scratches that required oral antibiotics, pain shots and daily water therapy for a week. Then my dog died. The third misfortune is the foundering of my paint pony, Jazzy.
Foundering is a very serious problem for horses. It results from a chemical and/or metabolic imbalance in the horse’s body that restricts blood flow to the feet. This can cause the lamina (the white line that attaches the outer hoof wall to the inner hoof capsule) to detach itself from the hoof wall. In severe cases, the coffin bone rotates and starts pushing through the foot.
My vet, Dr. Jason Coe of the Animal Clinic in Oneonta, told me last summer I needed to get some weight off her. How do you put a horse on a diet? I wasn’t feeding much grain, but my horses stay outside day and night, with access to their stalls in case of inclement weather. On his annual farm call in July, he was more specific. He told me to stall her at night, because that’s when the grass has the highest sugar content.
I tried that for a couple of days, then noticed she was walking stiff-legged. Dr. Coe said she was about to founder due to her weight, and instructed me to keep her stalled 24/7 for a week, give her a gram of bute (Phenylbutazone, for pain and inflammation) twice a day, and feed her a small amount of hay. My two horse stalls have no doors, and open into a 22x20-foot covered area that’s enclosed on two sides and has a gate at one end. So it wasn’t as if she were cooped up in a stall.
After a week, I opened the gate to her enclosure and she bolted out. Next morning, she was in her rubber-matted stall waiting for me. That’s not unusual at feeding time. She was there that night when I went to put her up, though, and I noticed she seemed stiff again. This really worried me. “I can’t lose another animal,” I wailed to my other barn and pasture critters, who looked at me blankly. Coe said to put her up for two more weeks and continue the bute.
She lost about 75 pounds, but she got so bored, she started cribbing (chewing on any wood within reach). Within a couple of days, she had almost chewed her way out of her compound. The farrier took off her shoes and trimmed her hooves. With Coe’s permission, I turned her out in my arena that day to relieve her boredom. It has only a small amount of grass. When I walked her back to her enclosure four hours later, she could barely walk.
That’s normal after a hoof trimming, Coe said. He assured me it would get better. That night, I got a bad scare. I texted Coe at 7:09: “She’s down. Can you come or send someone NOW????” My phone rang before I could pocket it. “I’ll come if you want me to,” he said, “but there isn’t much I can do.” He told me to double the bute dose that night and the next day, make some Styrofoam “shoes” to cushion her feet, and keep him posted. He also recommended putting coarse masonry sand five inches deep in the covered area outside her stall.
Dr. Coe called the next morning to check on her. I called him about a week later to come out and x-ray her front feet. Her coffin bones have rotated about 16 degrees. That’s bad. She has a 50-50 chance of pulling through this. If she doesn’t, she’ll have to be euthanized.
I added the sand, and she seems more comfortable. She stands up a little more. Dr. Coe said that’s good news. Any improvements will come in small increments. It’s going to be a long haul, and even if she recovers, she’ll never be a trail horse again.
I can live with that. But it’s killing me to see her in pain.