Sunday, January 25, 2015

Life Happens (Third catch-up post)

 This is a long post, but mostly pictures (some of which you may want to fast-forward through). 

Happier times:  Pat, on "Rambler" and me, on "Kate,"  at a poker ride in 2011.
The one bit of disappointment that came up during the spring of 2014 was that my good riding buddy Pat and her husband had decided to pull up stakes and move to Arizona to be closer to their kids.  They quietly put their farm on the market, and were surprised that it sold in just over a week!  Suddenly, Pat was in a whirlwind of preparations for a farm auction and a big move!  She had no time to ride. 
Shortly before they were to head south, but when most of the packing was done, I decided to drag her out for a "farewell ride."  Knowing she wouldn't want to lose an entire day, we chose to stay fairly close to home, and ride at the local "Wild Horse Wind Farm."  It wasn't one of my favorite spots, as there are few trees, but Pat had a little xeroxed map from the visitor center, that showed a four-mile loop that was just about right.
I drove, we got the trailer parked, saddled up, and headed out.  The so-called "trail" petered out less than a mile from the start of our ride, but we were in fairly open sagebrush and had the little topo map and the wind turbines to guide our bush-whacking, so we kept moving.
The "trail" we thought we were following started out in the trees, but soon disappeared.
 About 3/4 of the way around the loop, we were skirting a dry creek bed, headed for what was labeled "the old cow camp."  (A long time local later told me it was a moonshiners' camp, hence the name "Whiskey Dick Creek.")  We had spotted the remnants of an old fence line in the brush on the west side of the draw, so we stayed to the east, side-hilling as we scrambled through the brush.  Pat was leading, on her young horse Chief, and as she cleared the last bit of heavy brambles to break into the grassy clearing that was, we assumed, the cow camp, Kate tripped.  As she jumped forward to regain her balance, I could distinctly hear, uphill from us, the sound of old fence wire pulling through the brush.  I don't know how much of that barbed wire raked its way across her left hind hock, but after her third jump, I semi-voluntarily dismounted as she made her way down to the flat.  By the time she reached the clearing, she was free of the barbed wire, but it was obvious from the blood that we were in big trouble.
If you're at all squeamish about blood you might want to skip quickly over the next 3 or 4 pictures.

Waiting in the shadow of a turbine for Pat to return with the trailer.  (That's the soaked "dressing" we tried to fashion from a couple of kerchiefs around her ankle, not hide!)
 We tried fashioning a dressing out of two kerchiefs that Pat happened to have, but the bleeding was too much.  By the time I had it tied together, the fabric was saturated with blood and too slippery to stay in place.  Surprisingly, Kate was not lame.  I could see what turned out to be her extensor tendon loose in the wound, but it is not essential for movement.  We were maybe 300 yards below one of the ridgeline roads that service the wind turbines, so we started walking out, letting Kate set the pace, and rest when she needed to.
Cell service was spotty, but at the top of the hill we were able to get through to 911, as well as home.  We never did see the sheriff's department, but Allan was able to get in touch with folks from the riding club on FaceBook, and we had several offers to help.  Also contacted the on-call vet in town (it was 4th of July weekend!) and arranged to meet her at her clinic.  Pat walked out the two miles to get the trailer (we were afraid her young horse might not like leaving Kate, or that Kate might not like being left).  I stripped off her saddle and Kate, Chief and I waited in the shadow of the turbine--it was in the low 90s.  
Once we got to town, Dr. Samantha Howard cleaned up the wound and wrapped it, and started Kate on antibiotics and pain-killers.  Arrangements were made for a friend to haul Pat and her horse home, and Kate and I hit the road east to Washington State University's Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where Dr. Howard had arranged for a team to meet us (in about three hours--WSU is on the opposite side of the state from us).
Dr. Rund was the resident that met us, with a team of about eight vet students.  It was nearing 9:00 PM on the Sunday of a holiday weekend, but they were ready!  The wound stretched about 80% of the way around her leg--they pulled her hide up like a sagging sock to stitch it together.  But there was only a little spot, maybe the size of a half dollar, that was missing hide, so that was a plus.
That's Kate's extensor tendon sticking out.  It had been since the accident, though it would pull under the hide each time she took a step.  The extensor tendon has a redundant "twin" that can take over the job of pulling the toe up during a step, so they weren't too worried about repairing it--there was a good chance it would reattach with scar tissue.
Because the hock is such a mobile joint, the only hope for the wound to heal was to immobilize the leg.  Her *first* cast was fluorescent orange.
Dr. Rund teaching Kate how to swing the leg to the side, in order to move around, on the way to her stall.
After two weeks, the cast was removed, and the stitches taken out.  At this point, Dr. Rund had finished his residency and moved to a practice in Montana (I think), so Kate's care had been transferred to Dr. Claude Ragle, a surgeon at WSU.  Dr. Ragle assessment when the cast came off: "Looks great!  About as good as it could be!"  However, ten minutes later, after removing the stitches, Kate took one step, and the whole site opened back up like a faulty zipper!
So new stitches went in.  Also, it became clear, from Kate's ability to hyper-extend her leg to the rear, that another tendon had been ruptured, either in the original accident, or (as is known to happen) from the two weeks in the cast.  The "pernius tertious" reaches from the stifle to the middle of the cannon bone, and is part of the mechanism that retracts the whole leg, in a zig-zag scissors action, when the horse moves.  This was a more serious loss that the extensor tendon, as it might limit Kate's ability to walk normally.
This time her cast was red, and the plan was to keep it on three weeks.  This was shortened to two and a half weeks, when the cast shifted and began rubbing/irritating both the inside of her hock and the bottom of her pastern, just above the hoof, where it settled.  Also, when they took it off, they initially only removed half of the stitches.
A week later, the rest of the stitches were removed, the leg was wrapped in a bright yellow dressing, and I brought her home, five weeks after she arrived there!
"Are we there yet?"
"Yes, we're home, Kate."  Both getting into the trailer in Pullman, and getting out at home (where I let her turn around for the first time ever), Kate decided the best way to negotiate the trailer step was to "hop" on her good leg.  She would also do this when she was unsure of how to get her injured leg to do what she wanted it to--particularly for tight turns or changes of elevation (stepping over the threshold of her stall).  Otherwise, on a straight, level path, she moved soundly, if awkwardly.
Miss Saggy Britches
The biggest danger in the early months was infection.  I got pretty good at changing her dressing every 4-6 days.
Good pink granulation tissue, and, so far, no sign of proud flesh.
The rubs on her pastern and heel from the cast.
The first layer is basically a standing wrap of padding and vet wrap, which serves to keep the upper layer from shifting downwards.
Antibiotic ointment and non-stick dressing go under the next layer.
Elasticon adhesive tape over everything.
Including a good overlap of her hoof and gaskin, to *try* to anchor it in place.
Kate got pretty good at the drill.  So did I.
You can see we made use of every imaginable color of vet wrap.  Also some blue duct tape.
By October the wound was looking pretty good.  Unfortunately, on a couple of occasions Kate would get to farting around and reopen it.
She also developed quite a bit of swelling in her fetlock.  Vet assumes that is was primarily due to the lymphatic system shutting down while the leg was immobile in the cast, and to a lesser extent, in the dressings.
By September the wound probably could have gone without any covering, if the flies weren't still in residence.
Kate had been due for a hoof trim the week after the accident.  At WSU they hadn't felt comfortable making her stand on the leg for a trim for the first few weeks.  Finally, Dr. Ragle gave the go ahead for them to at least trim her fronts.  Upon returning home, in September, our barefoot practitioner, Diedra, was able to do the three other feet normally the first trim.  Kate still wasn't able to flex the injured leg very well, so Diedra just trimmed off the toe with a dremel-like tool.  This was helpful, as Kate was still dragging the toe a bit.  The next time, in late October, we tried getting Kate foot up to the hoof stand. 
What finally worked was to put her front feet up the little slope to the tackroom, and Diedra was able to trim out the sole some.
Looking good.
In October, Dr. Hayden gave us the best birthday present ever:  Kate was allowed out of her stall!  She was fairly well behaved on what hand-walks we did before the weather turned ugly.
And she now had a small pen where she could move around some more.  This additional movement started to reduce the swelling in her lower leg.
We decided to try some laser therapy, on the premise that it would help the scar tissue form is a stronger, more linear fashion.  Unfortunately, although Kate learned how to get in the trailer without the hop, the shifting of travel ended up opening up her would again.  No go!
She did get to move to a bigger stall and pen, but you can see the new blood/drainage.
She had also grown some really thick, curly hair on that leg.  In order to better keep track of the swelling, I decided in November to trim down the hair.
My clippers didn't want to cooperate.
So I made do with scissors.  It's a good thing that Kate and I trust each other!
It didn't look near as bad without all that hair! Her range-of-motion is still pretty limited, but slowly improving.
My wound care at this point consists of Desitin diaper rash ointment--basically zinc oxide with added vitamins A and D.  I have also been rubbing her lower leg down with "Sore-No-More"-- a witch hazel and arnica gel.
Due to my own medical issues, it's hard for me to be outside in the wintertime much beyond the time necessary to do chores.  But January has been unseasonably warm here this year, so last week we went for our first hand walk in awhile.
It started off calm enough...
...but as we got further from home...
...Kate felt like...
After a bit, Kate settled down and we had a pleasant, if vigorous, walk.  Same a few days later, without, thankfully, all the "airs-above-the-ground."
I have just this week gained the use of one of my boarders as a pony horse, so after I get to know him a bit better, and Kate builds a little more stamina on our hand-walks, we may start wandering a little farther afield.  Dr. Hayden believes that I may be able to ride her again by this summer.  Considering that this was not a foregone conclusion last summer, we've come a long ways.  It remains to be seen if she will be limited to local trail rides, or if I'll be able to compete her again.  She can step laterally, as required by many obstacles, but still has some trouble with stepping up and down.  Whatever is to come, Kate will always be "home" here with me.

My next, and final, catch-up post will be of some o the other goings-on in the last year.  Then I will try to keep you abreast of Kate's rehab, and the training adventure that Maddie will be embarking on next week.


  1. Wow, what an ordeal! Glad she's healing up and hoping for improvement in her movement - she seemed pretty happy to be getting out and about!

  2. It's good to have you back, Laurie, and you have done a fine job of documenting a "year in the life" that has had some serious challenges amid lots of beautiful stuff too. You and your family (and Kate) have tackled the challenges head on with courage while keeping the big picture (more positives than negatives) always in mind. Bravo to all of you! May the road smooth out as the healing continues!

  3. You and Kate have certainly been through a lot. She seems like a real trooper. I'm glad to hear she is doing so well with her recovery. Hope all continues to go well for her and you too.

  4. Welcome back! I hope the healing continues steadily, and that you will be back on the trails soon!

  5. Even though I knew the story, and the ending, I was still holding my breath as I read through this and looked at the photos again. I've said it before but it bears repeating - she is one very, very fortunate horse to have you as her human and forever home.

  6. Can you remind me where you are located? I feel like I might have driven by your ranch. In fact, I was looking for Kate as we drove around!

  7. Lytha, we're SE of Ellensburg about 20 miles. If you came back from Omak/Chelan via I-90 (past the Gorge amphitheater and through Vantage), you would have been within 9 miles. But you would have had to wander quite a bit to actually find us! Do you do FaceBook? I've pretty much shifted there from the blog...

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