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I have heard it said that one could put a horse in a padded room and s/he would find a way to become injured. Many horse people have long given up trying to figure out what might have happened in the middle of the night in the field, and simply shrug their shoulders and go about treating the injury. Horses have been known to get themselves into all sorts of trouble, often resulting in injury. Years ago at pony camp, I was fascinated and delighted by our lessons and activities on “veterinary medicine.” I had thought we would be riding all day but of course, only a child would think that. I have long felt fortunate that Mrs. Murphy felt it important to give children in her pony camp some instruction on equine science. And frankly, at that time, girls were not being pushed to study STEM subjects, so I am even more grateful to a horse woman with vision. 

One day in late December, after having fed my horse an hour and a half previously, I looked out the window to see my horse lying down, seemingly with his head on the other side of the fence in his pen. Alarmed, I ran out, at which point he rose and went into his stall. 

Blood stained the snow beneath broken shards of a rail that lay in pieces against a white background. The scene evoked Arthurian imagery from the Middle Ages. Ranger’s nose was bleeding and he had a puncture wound on his face. Naturally, I called the vet to come out for an emergency and stanched the blood while I waited for her, wondering how on earth this had happened. 

The vet diagnosed the injury as a skull fracture. The blood on his nostril was mostly from cuts fortunately, not internal bleeding, but the puncture wound had gone through to the skull. He also had a superficial lesion just below his eye. After injections of dexamethasone and banamine, a catheter attached for IV cleansing of the small area, my poor horse was prescribed stall rest and a few days’ of bute for pain. His face was wrapped to keep down the swelling. We were to avoid him running around until the swelling went down and we could recheck him. The vet was also concerned that there could be more bleeding of a more serious nature once that happened. 

Ranger perked up very quickly as the vet had hoped. He was allowed to be turned out alone to avoid any wild playing with other horses. The vet even gave me permission to ride after 2 weeks as long as he was in a controlled situation at all times. Fortunately, I am not in the habit of riding in uncontrolled situations! We have been out in the fields, but I haven’t gone too far from home, just in case. 

So what actually happened? There were no witnesses to this accident, but it appears that he got his head stuck between two rails while lying down, panicked, and thrashed around. Consequently, he broke a rail that shattered, pushed off the cover board, and in the process, caught a sharp shard of wood into his face that punctured his skull. My fence guy said that only an animal as big and strong as a horse could possibly cause that kind of damage to wood fencing. 

I am grateful that my horse survived, ever aware that crazy things happen to horses that we humans cannot prevent. I am reminded of just how vulnerable horses and humans really are. I think of this accident as a reminder of how fragile life can be and how fortunate we horse lovers are to spend every minute we can with these amazing creatures who seem to bounce back through thick and thin sometimes. I have learned some things about resiliency from my horse.

Katharine MacCornack
Published on 13-01-2021
I started riding as a child and have always loved everything equine. I've been involved in training, breeding, and several disciplines over the years. I live on a small farm with my horses. I am a teacher and a writer.