Step 1: Panic completely.
Horses are a walking paradox: simultaneously remarkably hardy and incredibly fragile, horses can withstand some incredible forces of nature or physics and also be completely incapacitated by something as small as a pebble in their path. In my equestrian life I’ve helped nurse horses through minor cuts and scrapes all the way to fractures and debilitating soft tissue injuries, and no matter the scale of the injury, that period of waiting for a prognosis remains the same.
1. Assess the injury.
On a scale from “three-legged lame” to “broken leg” how off is the horse? Or, you know, to put things in experienced veterinary terms, on a scale from “4/5” to “5/5”? (Those lower grades are for amateurs.) For flesh wounds, exactly how much blood is gushing all over the floor?
2. Call the vet.
Also call your farrier, your acupuncturist, equine masseuse and maybe your religious leader just for good measure. Babble incoherently into the phone so the receptionist at the vet’s office has to ask you multiple times to slow down and calmly state the nature of your call, which is most definitely an emergency.
3. While waiting for the vet to arrive, prepare stall for six- to twelve-month layup, which is definitely what your horse will need to recover.
Frantically stripping and rebedding the stall will give you something to do while you wait, and when you inevitably finish this task in ten minutes due to all of your nervous energy and have double- and triple-checked that your injured/lame horse is still standing patiently in the wash stall where you left, you can then pace nervously up and down the barn aisle and double-check that your collection of standing wraps is nicely laundered for this very occasion.
4. Plan what you will do for your horse to prepare yourself for the news that his injury is definitely career-ending.
Because that scrape, lower-limb swelling or mysterious bump is definitely the stuff that careers are ended over. You don’t even need the vet to be here to confirm it. You just know it, because every other injury your horse has had prior has just been a lucky stroke that it wasn’t way, way, way worse.
5. Raid the barn fridge for any alcohol you might find to soothe your nerves.
Become disappointed when all you find is a leftover Capri Sun from last summer’s pony camp. Drink it anyway.
6. Hover over the vet from the moment her truck pulls into the driveway.
Yes, she may immediately reach for the sedatives and start drawing a syringe, and yes, she may intend to give that to you rather than the horse. But how else will she know how serious this is if you don’t impress it upon her right away?
7A. Collapse in utter relief when Sparky’s career-ending injury turns out to be a mild overreach, a small and easily-drained abscess or a scrape that just needs some daily cleaning and no stitches.
Your vet has just become your new favorite person for bringing you this good news.
7B. Calmly accept the news that Sparky’s lameness will require several months of stall rest and careful rehabilitation, or many, many stitches. You’re made of stronger stuff. This does not upset you. You will get through this.
And your vet has just become your new favorite person for spelling out a game plan for healing.
Have a laid-up horse? We feel your pain. Commiserate with us here at Horse Nation… and soon enough, go riding.