As horse owners, we know that one of our horses favorite past times is getting themselves hurt. Hopefully, you won't have to deal with any major injuries. Most bumps and scrapes we can handle at home on our own. Sometimes, for one reason or another though, it becomes a bigger problem than we can deal with at home and a rehab or layup farm is a better option.
My horse Finnigan lives outside in a field with a run in shed. We feed the outside horses with feed bags and check them over at meal times. So the only time Finn goes in the barn is for vet, farrier, or getting tacked up to ride. Standing in a stall has never been part of his routine.
Finn came in one day very lame with a nasty infected puncture wound on the inside of his upper left leg. It was gross and terribly swollen. I take puncture wounds very seriously, and of course, the first order of business was to try to clean the wound. I don't blame him for acting out, because I'm sure it hurt, but despite my best efforts, I couldn't get the wound clean and now I had gotten my already injured horse all worked up.
Initially, I thought that if I could get it cleaned and wrapped that I would have the vet out in the morning, but when I wasn't able to get it cleaned out at all and he wouldn't stand for me to get a good look at it, that plan went out the window.
I had the vet out right away. He tried cleaning his wound without sedation, he did not have any luck either. Luckily once sedated to the point of being wobbly Finn let him clean and wrap the wound. The vet prescribed that Finn stay on stall rest until the wound healed up enough that it didn't need to be wrapped anymore ( in other words he was going to be on stall rest for a while). He needed antibiotics of course, and the wound cleaned and rewrapped daily.
I was so relieved that he was safe and sound that I didn't consider how I would be able to manage his wound on my own with the way he was reacting. I also didn't consider the fact that he hadn't lived in a stall since he was on the track, he is 19 so that was a long time ago!
Needless to say, the rest of that night was alright because he was sedated. It was the next day that all hell broke loose. Finn was not happy in that stall. He was trotting around on three legs in circles, his bandage was down around his knee instead of up over his wound. He hadn't eaten his breakfast because he was so worked up the other horses had been turned out. I tried putting another horse in the stall next to him. That didn't calm him down at all.
He was in pain, out of his element and acting totally neurotic. Stupid me went in the stall with him to try to syringe him his antibiotics, which just led to me getting slammed into the wall and sending all his medicine shooting out into the sawdust instead of his mouth.
I called my vet to explain the situation, that I couldn't take care of him because he was losing it being stuck in the barn. Since turning out wasn't an option with that awful wound, he suggested not to worry, he would get used to being in the stall and calm down.
By day three, he was trying to jump out of the stall window. I shut the window of course, but I couldn't have my hurt horse standing in a dark stall, not getting any medication or wound care. I asked my vet if he would give me something that I could use to sedate him with. He did not feel comfortable with doing that since it obviously was going to be a long process, I had to find another answer.
He was getting lamer and lamer and the wound more infected, so after my vet told me he couldn't help me it was off to University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center.
I remember being nervous about loading him on the trailer to take him, but it was like he was so shocked I let him out of the stall that he didn't know what to do with himself! He loaded on the trailer quietly.
Two Weeks At New Bolton
Actually, I believe it was a little over two weeks that he was hospitalized there. Since they were able to keep him sedated, they were able to do his wound care and medication without a problem.
He had a pressure bandage on his leg to help keep the infection from spreading and he was getting broad-spectrum antibiotics so it was looking much better.
He would still need at least another month of stall rest though, so before I could bring him home they had to wean him off the sedation and see if he would let them handle him safely.
The answer to that question was no. Without the sedation, he was still just as neurotic as he had been at home about standing in the stall.
So Now What?
So basically, he didn't need the high level of care and monitoring( think expensive) he was getting there at New Bolton anymore. So what were my options?
Basically, my choices were to leave him there at New Bolton for the next month ( rack up an even higher bill ), bring him home and take my chances, or send him to a rehabilitation facility.
I had never had to consider a rehab facility for a horse before. Luckily I have always had good vets and had enough experience dealing with the things that horses managed to do to themselves. The problem wasn't that I didn't know how to clean the wound, wrap his leg, or medicate him. The problem was that he was neurotic about being in the stall and needed to be sedated all the time.
I talked to my vet about the possibility of bringing him home and taking care of the sedation myself ( per his instructions of course). He was not comfortable with that. So my decision was made for me. Finn was going to go stay a month at the rehab facility right down the road from New Bolton.
Finn's Month At The Rehab Farm
I wasn't sure what to expect sending my injured baby to a stranger for this kind of care. New Bolton Center, they are world renown, I was more than comfortable with that. It just was too expensive for him to stay another month there, and his vet from New Bolton recommended a place that wasn't far from there and they would even take him there for me. They would also be able to do routine checkups with him to make sure they felt that he was still healing well.
The place he went was immaculately kept. He was groomed twice a day, got all his medication and wound care at a fraction of the price of staying in the hospital. The woman who took care of him even sent me daily text message photos and reports on how he was doing.
Since they were able to keep him sedated they had no trouble handling him, and his wound healed faster than expected. After a month of stall rest, they started to wean him off of sedation and let him out in a round pen for some exercise. So by the time I picked him up to bring him home, he was totally healed, done with stall rest and could go right back to the field with his friends.
So, to make a long story short. It was totally worth it for him to go to the rehabilitation facility, not just for him, but also for me and the others who would have had to deal with him at home acting like a lunatic!
Some Things to Consider
I certainly hope the need never arises for any of you reading this to have a horse get hurt bad enough to require long-term care, but just in case, here are some things to think about when deciding whether or not it is right for you and your horse.
1- Are you able to handle your horse's needs at home? Remember if he is in pain or his routine changes, he may not be his normal self and be harder to deal with than usual. 2-If you think you are able to handle his needs, what happens if you get sick or have to go out of town for some odd reason? Is there someone else that would be willing, and capable of doing it for you? 3-Does the farm your horse lives at have the necessary amenities that he might need as he recovers? For example, if he has to be weaned back to turn out do they have a small area, like a round pen? 4-If your horse's rehab requires a lot of icing, or hand walking, with work and family schedules, do you have the time to do it? Remember your horse's recovery depends on him getting prescribed care, not providing it he may not recover fully. 5-Is your regular vet on board with the idea of you caring for your horse at home? Can they get there quickly in the event of an emergency? If your vet is recommending a rehab facility, as much as you might not want to, you should definitely consider it
So You Do Decide To Use A Rehab Facility
Here are some things to keep in mind if you do decide a rehab facility would best meet the needs of you and your horse.
1- Use one that your vet recommends or that one of your other horse owning friends have had a good experience with.
2-Make sure your vet speaks with the facility so they understand the instructions and something doesn't get missed in translation. If this isn't possible have the vet write it out for you to give them.
3-Make sure you are aware of all the costs involved, payment instructions, etc..
4-Make sure that you are realistic about the timeline your horse's rehab could take, and make sure that your vet and the rehab facility all are on the same page with how to go about things, and how long it might take.
5-Check visitation hours. Some places allow you to drop in whenever you want, others are by appointment only.
6-Find out what their normal protocol is for giving you updates on your horse? Will it be daily? Do they call you? Do you call them? Do they accept text messages from clients? How often should you expect to hear from them? FInding out all of these things beforehand will help keep your mind at ease while your horse is away from you.
Final Thoughts On The Matter
I'm by no means a veterinarian, so I'm not giving you this information as medical advice. Just sharing my personal experience to hopefully help others who might find themselves in this situation.
Be realistic about your ability and skills with medicating and whatever else your horse might need. Your horse may not act like their normal selves when they are in pain or are stuck inside for an extended period of time. If you are up to the task great! If not, there is no shame in opting to let the professionals handle it. We don't want to have a hurt horse and a hurt horse owner!
Communicating well with your vet, and understanding what your horse's needs will be throughout the healing process will help you make the right choice. My fingers are crossed and I'm knocking on wood though, so hopefully, you will never have to!
Disclaimer: Of Horse! and sponsors do not endorse nor validate the accuracy of a blog post. Each article is the opinion of the blogger.