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One morning before sunrise when nocturnal darkness had just begun to dissipate the skies, barely enough for the eye to see slightly, but not well, I went out to bring the horses in from night turnout. Figures could be perceived, but details eluded this observer who struggled to identify what she could see. It was the usual routine, the same as every day, but the horses were not at the gate, nor could I see them, nor did they come when called, so I went to the barn, poured the feed into their buckets making as much noise as possible, and returned to the gate. This trick always works, but not that morning. Then, I started to worry, as my horses are usually early or on time, never this late. I called again. One horse came, and not the alpha. Guardedly relieved, I took him to the barn and returned, hastily, to the gate. Still no horse. My heart sank, worst case scenarios racing through my mind, but I put one foot in front of the other and headed to the farthest part of the field. Ranger met me halfway, barely able to move, but standing. 

His right hind leg was severely injured, free of lesions, so I knew it had to be skeletal or muscular, neither a good diagnosis. Tears and panic blurred both my vision and speech, but I managed to communicate to the on call operator that this was an emergency and to please send a vet immediately. Ranger and I stood waiting, his thigh and rump area swollen like a balloon preventing easy movement and probably a great deal of pain. At least he could bear a tiny bit of weight, but I still feared the worst. Would he never make it back to the barn? Had we had our last ride? Could the vet do anything to help? What had happened last night in the field? 

It seemed a very long wait for the vet to arrive, every minute felt like an hour. My horse and I stood, waiting, he grazed a bit, but not much. The vet sent me a text message when he was ten minutes away, and for that, I was grateful. We had not had to wait long. He always sends a text message when he is nearby, but on this day, it made a huge difference. 

The first step upon arrival was to see how the horse could move. Not well at all. We did x rays and an ultrasound, but neither yielded any results because the swelling was so severe. The only thing we could identify was a giant blood clot. The vet decided that since he could bear some weight, we would get him to the barn and put him on stall rest, cold hosing, and bute. I ended up icing his thigh as he would not leave his stall for several days. We would try another ultrasound in a week or so unless things got worse. After a few days, I was able to get him out of his stall for cold hosing. 

Although relieved at that point that my horse likely suffered from a torn muscle, semitendinosus, I still wondered how long the enormous blood clot would take to absorb or if we would need to drain it. At that point, the vet expected that he would need to drain the area and that a lot of fluid would come out. The next ultrasound revealed the huge clot, but nothing else. Ranger was moving much better, so we could begin limited turnout as long as he remained quiet. Many questions remained. Would we ride again? Would he suffer from pain? How well, if at all, would the injury heal? 

More than a month later, we did another ultrasound that was finally readable. The clot remains large, but smaller than before, the bones are sound, and he is still injured. We may tack walk 20 minutes every other day for a month, then add trotting for a month, then add a canter if all goes well.

The healing process will take months, but my horse and I are enjoying our short walks, and he is happy to be out. His gait is off, and probably always will be as a result of fibrotic myopathy related to the injury, but I can work with that. 

A bumpy ride lies ahead for us, but we are happy to be out in the Fall weather, with magnificent colors, new wildlife, and a chill in the air, and most importantly, the grace given us to ride together again.

Katharine MacCornack
Published on 2020-09-29