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Halloween Has Nothing on This Nightmare

“I answered the phone, and unfortunately it was not just a butt dial. One of my worst nightmares was quickly becoming a reality.”

A note to our readers: there are graphic images of an injury contained in this post. Proceed with caution.

Photo taken by Marcella Gruchalak

As Halloween is nearing, spooky decorations and horror films are everywhere we turn. I’d like to take the time to tell a story that is much scarier than any gobblin, ghost, ghoul or horror film any equestrian could encounter.

It was 5am on  a rainy Monday morning and my phone started ringing as I was making my commute to work. As soon as I glanced at my phone and saw it was the barn owner calling, my heart sank. Multiple situations ran through my head. My pregnant mare aborted the foal, the horse I had up for sale injured herself and then I thought, “Maybe it’s just a butt dial.”

I answered the phone, and unfortunately it was not just a butt dial. One of my worst nightmares quickly became a reality. I could hear the concerned and upset tone in her voice. She stated that my five year old Thoroughbred gelding, Funny Bunny B, aka Buns, did not come in from the pasture. I immediately thought he was loose. He’s the least accident prone of my horses and low man in the herd, so confrontation isn’t his cup of tea.

The situation was worse than Buns gallivanting around the premises. The barn owner uttered the most terrible news I have ever received over the phone — Buns was standing at the bottom of the pasture, his leg was bleeding and something was hanging out of the wound. At that point I didn’t know whether to vomit or bawl my eyes out.

The vet was called and on her way. The barn owner stated that she would call me if the vet thought it was serious enough that I needed to leave work.

Shortly after the initial call, I received another as I was walking into work; Buns had to go to the clinic. I didn’t need the barn owner to say any more, I called off work as I walked back out of my employer’s doors and flew to the barn. By the time I had arrived at the barn, the vet had administered Banamine and antibiotics, quickly wrapped the wound in the field, and the two of them were able to walk Buns up the hill into his stall in the barn.

The vet had obtained an X-ray which showed rocks and debris in the wound along with a small fracture in the canon bone. A piece of the bone was chipped off. The vet had explained that the bone could calcify and the chip could make its way out of the open wound, but there was also a chance that it may not make its way out and act as a foreign body, causing complications and infection.

After looking at the X-ray, the barn owner and I attached the trailer to the truck and loaded Buns. It was heart wrenching walking Buns from the stall to the trailer and loading him. He didn’t want to walk and really had trouble getting into the trailer. Twenty minutes later we arrived at the veterinary clinic and, to my surprise, Buns was bearing a little weight on the leg to unload.

We walked him into the clinic and the vet cut the bandage off. For the first time I was able to see how serious the wound really was. It was a clean bordered, deep cut and the ligament was hanging out. At that point, I thought Buns’ career as a mounted shooting horse was over. I was preparing myself to hear the worst.

Photo taken by Marcella Gruchalak

To my surprise, Buns had severed the least important ligament and one of the others could easily take over in its place. The vet stated that he could make a recovery with a healing time of six months to a year. Not what I wanted to hear, but better than hearing that the injury was career ending.

Buns’ wound was thoroughly cleaned and stitched on both sides with the middle left open to allow it to drain and give the ability to flush it out regularly. The torn ligament that was hanging out of the wound was cut off and an ultrasound was attempted to visualize the suspensory ligament to see if there was any damage to it.

Unfortunately there was too much swelling to see if there was any damage. Damage to the suspensory ligament will determine how serious this injury really is. Once the swelling goes down, the leg will be ultrasounded again to check for damage to the suspensory ligament.

Photo taken by Marcella Gruchalak

For the remainder of the initial accident day, I was ill. Day one post injury I received a positive update. Buns was doing well, no fevers, no signs of infection. He was eating and drinking normally, the wound looked good and he was bearing weight on the leg for significant amounts of time. The wound was still too swollen to do the ultrasound, but as long as Buns continued to improve, he would be able to come home from the clinic at the end of the week.

The end of the week came and I awaited a call stating that I could bring Buns home. My phone rang at approximately 10 o’clock a.m. and I was rearing to answer and go to pick up my beloved horse. My heart sank when the vet told me that he had to stay. There was a lot of fluid surrounding the tendon injury and it wasn’t draining as quickly as anticipated. Until the fluid drained, Buns had to stay at the clinic on IV antibiotics.

Photo taken by Marcella Gruchalak

I continue to wonder what happened overnight. I walked around the pasture multiple times to see if I could find any indication of what had happened. With the rain, I was unsuccessful. I’ll never know the story of how Buns injured himself. If bubble wrapping was an option I’m sure we’d all be doing it, but horses will be horses and they always manage to get into something. I’m just grateful that when situations like this do arise, I have a great barn owner and an awesome vet.

Going forward from this, I’m prepared to do everything I can to heal Buns’ wound as quickly and effectively as possible. We will be following the vet’s recommendations for stall rest, activity and wound dressings. Buns will also be getting red light therapy done on the wound along with Magnawave.

It’s going to be a long road to recovery, but Buns is worth every minute of my time and every penny I have to my name — I’m fairly certain I will have a negative balance to my account and my credit cards will be maxed out once I see this vet bill. I have faith Buns will make a full recovery, I just have to be patient and dedicated to the healing process. Bring on the next six months to a year — I want my partner back!

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