A few years ago, when my father was still alive, I lived just down the road from him. My children could walk to my parent’s house without me worrying all that much. I boarded my horses behind his house and went every day to care for them. This was in Wyoming where the grass is sparse on the wettest days. In the place of grass the pastures are filled with sand, sage, and if you were really unlucky, prairie dogs. Along with the prairie dogs come the prairie dog holes. I always worried that my horses would break a leg in one of these little holes in the earth, but I didn’t know that the feeder that my dad had helped me build up was much more of a danger.
I was worried about the sand in these pastures causing sand colic, so I had asked my dad to help me build a feeder for them. His answer was a pickup truck box from the junk yard. The one we chose had no sharp edges; all the corners were rounded so I thought it was safe. We had an unusually warm day that February. We had just finished with a massive snow storm and the warm weather created mud. Everything was wet and my horses could often be seen sliding in the mud as they walked near the fence line.
One morning when I came to feed, I noticed my filly standing off by herself. She was standing at an awkward angle, and I watched her for some time before I went to investigate. This two year old filly, Hope, whose sire had been named trouble, had a gash running the length of her upper foreleg. A chunk of muscle was ripped away and there was a triangular flap of skin hanging down exposing a large gash in her leg. I immediately called my vet and was instructed to take her in immediately.
She could barely walk, but we were able to coax her to the trailer. When we arrived at the vet’s office, Miranda sucked in her breath as she assessed the wound. The raw flesh was covered in bits of hay and dirt so the first thing she did after Hope was sedated was to flush the wound with saline water over and over until the flesh was pink, clean, and free of most of the debris. She then used a blunt tool to remove the bits of hay that were not washed away with the solution.
Then, Miranda pulled the triangular flap of skin up to assess the options. She explained that it would have been better if she could have put in multiple sutures, but since the wound was so swollen she would only be able to put in one or two. She also said that they would most likely tear out but as long as they held for a day or two the flesh would regenerate it-self. I was sick with worry as the vet diligently worked to stitch up my horse; in the end, she was only able to put in one stitch. She lathered on antibiotic cream and wrapped the wound carefully.
We left the vet’s office with a massive bill and instructions to care for this wound. We had to daily clean and redress the wound. The drainage was enough that the first two days we had to change it twice a day, because when it became saturated, it slipped down her leg leaving the wound unprotected. The suture came out after the first day but when we called Miranda assured us it would be okay. The hay barn was almost empty so we were able to set her up an indoor stall to protect the wound from the rain and mud. We had to give antibiotics and other medicine daily and did so by adding it to her grain.
When the proud flesh started to develop, we visited the vet again. I was surprised to find that my first instinct was right. The vet shaved away the extra flesh and stopped the flow of blood with a powder that clotted the blood and inhibited the proud flesh from growing. That is exactly what I thought I should do, but I was not confident enough at the time to trust my instinct. I was afraid I would ruin this horse.
It took months for this wound to heal. I put off training my filly because I didn’t want to re-injure her and she sits in my pasture still today a green broke (if you can even call her that) mare because other horses training has always seemed more important.
We searched the whole pasture and found no sign of where she was hurt. After a while, I accepted the story my dad kept suggesting: that she had caught it on the barbed wire fence somehow. I knew then that that did not make sense, but when we could find no other cause, I finally gave in.
Later that spring, we were finally able to build fence at my new house and we moved the horses and the feeder my dad had set up for us. I loved that all of my horses fit so well around it and that it kept them from ingesting the sand.
After another spring thaw, my gelding Pepper, brother to Hope, came up with a smaller version of Hope’s wound. A small triangular flap of skin was torn away from his leg. There was no muscle tissue damaged and there was no way suture it as the flap didn’t touch the skin it had been torn away from because of the swelling. I repeated the motions of cleaning and bandaging the wound as we had done repeatedly with hope, minus the stitches. I made sure the flap of skin was placed as close to where it should have been before it was torn away and bandaged, changing the bandage every day.
This time, I knew what it had to have been. I didn't check fences or anything else; Instead, I went straight to the pickup box feeder and began to inspect the edges. It was the only thing that was the same in the two pastures. I felt every corner for sharp edges, checked for broken places that were not there before. I paused to yell at my dog who was under the feeder chasing a rabbit barking loudly as she did so and I saw it! There was a sharp edge way beneath the feeder with hair from pepper’s leg on it. I knelt and my heart sank, this “safe” feeder my dad had created for me out of recycled junk was not so safe. In the mud the horses had to have slid at such an odd angle to have been cut by this jagged edge in the wheel well. I never dreamed that the wheel wells being open would have posed a threat to my beloved companions.
Immediately we fixed the issue by putting a solid barrier around the box but to this day it makes me choke up to know that I could have prevented both of these injuries by looking a little closer in the beginning. I am lucky that my horses did not break their legs from this. To this day I cannot imagine how they got their leg under such a low surface.
This has been quite a few years ago and both horses have healed. They have almost matching scars but neither is lame. Hope’s scar is little bigger and uglier than Pepper’s. Pepper has become a 4h horse for my daughter. She is teaching him English dressage, and he loves it. Hope still waits to become what she was meant to be.
When I look back, I know it was just an honest mistake. Every day people ignore or overlook dangers to their horses that are right in front of them, but I also know that I should have done more, I should have looked closer. I named my filly Hope because she was born without spots and I hoped someday she would give me the bay paint filly I have always dreamed of. I have given up on that now; instead, I just hope that someday she will be the horse I have always known she could be.