+ Surgery images are graphic and may be upsetting to some readers +
In mid October 2017, like every day, we arrived as the sun came up to start our morning chores of caring for our herd of therapy horses. Each horse has a specialized diet of various types of hay, grain and supplements designed specifically to meet their age, activity and digestive requirements, and each stall, turnout, pasture must be cleaned, mucked (de-pooped) and turnouts prepared with the day's hay and water. All in all, a whopping 200+ lbs of manure is picked up by staff and volunteers each day! When April had finished breakfast in her stall and we began to lead her to the turnout where she'd spend her day, we noticed she was off (or not moving like her typical self) on her left hind foot.
We preformed some diagnostics, considered her recent activities, and called in the vet and farrier to help diagnose the problem. Everyone agreed that based on the symptoms, April must have had an abscess. An abscess is a localized accumulation of bacteria and pus that gathers typically within the hoof causing pain and soundness issues. Causes can range from bruising, environmental conditions like wet/dry cycles, penetrating wounds likes sharp rocks, poor shoeing/trimming or poor conformation of the horse. Treatment consisted of various methods that would draw the infection right out of the hoof including soaking the hoof, applying a drawing agent, salve or poultice, keeping the foot clean, anti-inflammatory and/or antibiotic medication, and rest. Most abscesses will rupture in a matter of days or weeks, resulting in immediate relief of pain and any soundness issues. After the rupture, continuing to keep the area clean while the lesion heals would resolve the abscess.
With April, after weeks of treatment, little ruptured and she was still uncomfortable. This was not an abscess we were dealing with. In November, we hauled April to our equine hospital about an hour away to figure out exactly what was troubling her. When a veterinarian performs a lameness examination, he'll often use nerve blocks. Certain areas and nerves are "blocked" so that they become numb to pain, revealing which structures are involved in causing lameness. With a bit of exploring it was determined that April had some debris and damaged cartilage that was causing the infection. (When April was acquired in 2015 superficial damage and scarring from a previous wound was noted on the same hoof/area. Complications due to this previous trauma most likely caused the infection and damage that flared up this past fall).
The only way to remove the debris and heal the area would be through surgery. April ended up staying at the hospital for about a day and a half, and her surgery was successful in removing the debris and damaged cartilage. Back at Ride On St. Louis, April would stay on stall rest for two weeks, which is physically and mentally challenging for any horse, as they are designed to roam and forage. But with a rotating group of her herd members near by and plenty of toys to help keep her occupied, April rested comfortably for 2 weeks as the wound began to heal from the inside out. Every other day for about 6-8 weeks, her bandages were changed and the wound was cleaned to help aid in the healing process and keep any foreign bodies or dirt from reentering the incision/wound. April would also be on anti-biotics and immune support during this time.
In February 2018, after four months of treatment, April's wound is nearly healed and she is feeling like her usual self. She's so thankful to be back galloping with the herd without any pain! After four months off, April has a lot of catching up to do to get herself back into shape. Each therapy horse at Ride On St. Louis participates in professional equine conditioning and exercising to support their overall health, endurance and musculature. Because many of our clients with disabilities have uneven weight distribution, poor posture, low tone,and/or spastic muscle contractions it is imperative that our horses participate in regular conditioning to keep them happy and comfortable and to support their movement, conformation, development, musculoskeletal function, neurological activity and overall health.
We are looking forward to having April's help this spring as she begins to serve her clients again! Many of her clients were unable to continue with us in fall due to April's lesion. Because April has such a unique movement, size and personality for our herd of therapy horses, the other therapy horses at Ride On St. Louis were unsuited to serve her clients safely. In spring we will be welcoming back April's clients so that they can continue to work together towards positive quality of life health changes. Please consider supporting April during this important time through an adoption! She and all of us at Ride On St. Louis would be grateful for your gift to her and the special clients she serves. Learn more at www.rideonstl.org/adopt