Sunday, November 22, 2009


Of all horses that I deal with I would have to say that stallions come with the most baggage. I think this stems from many things. First of all they are ruled by testosterone; probably more so than any male of another species that I deal with on a regular basis. Rearing, striking, kicking, biting, fighting, aggressiveness, and all kind of unpredictable behavior around other horses, as well as people would be all in a days work for the average stallion. Also, they are amazing athletes. Power and agility combine in a body that can weigh well over a thousand pounds performing the previously mentioned antics. Add to that the financial aspect of them generally being the most valuable animal in the herd and every interaction with a stallion becomes exciting. I have two stallion stories that occurred during approximately parallel time periods with similar conditions.
The first stallion came to me with this written on the book "old cut on leg". We will call this stallion Bob since that is a very masculine name. Bob was not your typical stallion in that he was not led off the trailer on a halter. He was let out of the trailer and then put into the cattle handling facilities for his tranquilizers. Then he was released to lay down and take a nap so that I could examine the wound. Bob was a very successful rodeo horse...not the kind that the cowboys ride, but the kind that they get bucked off. Bob had gotten in a fight with another stallion about 10 days prior. The problem was that there was a fence in between them and he got his leg stuck through the rails of the fence and was torn up pretty bad.
Once he was sleeping peacefully my first thought was, "This doesn't look good". But, as has happened more than once in my career as a veterinarian I was wrong. My second thought was, "This looks awful". After exploring the wound more closely my third thought was "This horse is going to be euthanized". The reason for such a bright outlook was the fact that the wounds went down to the bone and the pastern joint was sub-luxated (2/3 of the way dislocated) and open to the clean fresh air. The clean fresh air was a joke. The wound was very dirty and infected and any infection in joints in horses is very, very bad. Time is your worst enemy and this horse was 10 days past a good chance. That is how I met Bob.

Fred will be the made up name of stallion number two. Opposite of Bob he was a very well trained and well mannered stallion, highly valued by his owners to produce similar well mannered foals, carrying his good bloodlines and performance ability. Unknown to us was the initiating cause for his run in with the fence. Unfortunately for him he picked a windbreak fence made of corrugated tin to kick his back leg through. Sharp metal edges and a horse's leg doesn't require much imagination. He had three large lacerations over the fetlock joint, cannon bone, and the hock. If you thought he got lucky and the cut were superficial not involving any of the thought wrong. Both the fetlock and hock were open and draining joint fluid. If you didn't get the memo before, joint infections in horses are bad to the point of being career and sometimes life ending.

Both owners decided to treat the stallions as best as they could. After consultation with surgical specialists for Bob the recommendation was made to see if we could get the infection to clear up, then reevaluate to see if surgery was even an option. The plan for Fred was to try and keep an infection from starting to see if we could save the function of the limb enough for breeding purposes.

After several weeks of antibiotics both stallions were checked again and you will never guess...they both looked awful. Not hardly improved. Radiographs of Bob showed severe arthritis and the limb was still huge and infected. Fred had one ray of hope in that the bacteria that had infected his joints were for a lack of a better term "wimpy" and susceptible to almost all antibiotics. Unfortunately he was still severely lame, barely touching his toe on the ground and both joints still draining fluid.

Let pass another couple of months on antibiotics and finally some progress was made. Both stallions were improving. Starting to use the leg some and wounds actually looking like they were healing. Go another two months down the road and both owners report marked improvements although Bob's leg is still quite swollen and Fred is just starting to really put weight on the leg.

Neither owner held out great hopes for breeding season but turned the stallions out with a pasture of mares and waited on luck or fate or whatever you believe in.

At the end of the summer, Bob's owner reported that the leg is still swollen (arthritis caused the joint to be about three times the size as normal) and slightly lame but that he bred the few mares that he was with just fine.

Fred's owner was much more concerned. Checking him all throughout the summer he said that he was moving around the pasture just fine, but that he never saw him breed a single mare. Fred's owner had me come out at the end of the season to ultrasound all of the mares including the nine that were Fred's responsibility. All I can say is that someone must be living right because every single mare was pregnant and Fred looked great.

These two horses illustrate one of the main reasons why I like fixing animals and hate trying to fix my car. Animals, regardless of what we try and do to them and for them can sometimes do amazing things to fix themselves. My car does not ever fix itself.