Yesterday I got one of the calls that all horse people dread: my horse and his pasture mate were loose and spotted about a mile from the barn running on the road. Someone had opened the gate and the two horses had simply left.
I drove the five minutes to the barn in record speed. The horses were, thankfully, back in their pasture. A quick inspection revealed that both horses had no cuts, scrapes or puncture wounds. Hooves that were supposed to be shod still had shoes. Neither horse had fallen or been hit by a car. I could tell though, that at least my gelding was uncomfortable and stiff just from how he was standing.
I am lucky enough to live in a town where one of the police officers also has a horse. Even luckier, he was on duty yesterday and was able to herd them back home and catch them. Thank goodness they waited until after rush hour, ran away from the commuting route, and stayed on back roads where people generally don’t drive too fast. I heard that they mostly stayed on the right side of the road too!
So, what should you worry about once your horse returns from an unscheduled outing on pavement? Laminitis and tying up.
Road founder is laminitis that is brought on by excessive concussion of a horse’s feet from running on the road. It’s actually a misnomer since laminitis refers to an inflammation of the laminae of the hoof. Founder refers to laminitis that is so severe that the bond between the coffin bone and the hoof capsule breaks causing the coffin bone to rotate and/or sink. While all horses that founder have laminitis, not all horses with laminitis founder. Quick action can prevent founder in many cases.
Tying up (exertional rhabdomyolysis) occurs when there is a lack of blood flow to the muscles of an exercising horse. One of the causes can be sudden and intense exercise, such what can happen when a horse gets loose. When a horse ties up, the symptoms are muscle stiffness and cramping. The horse may look stiff, show reluctance to move, and have hard, tight muscles, especially in its hindquarters. What you can’t see is that ER can cause muscle damage.
A call to my vet advised giving them a dose of Banamine and icing their feet in case the concussion of running on the roads brought on founder. The first 24 hours are the most critical when facing the potential of laminitis and icing can make a huge difference.
Check the digital pulse at the back of the fetlock join.
I checked their digital pulses and both horses seemed normal. I was very glad that there was still enough snow in one part of the pasture where I could stand them and have them iced up and over their coronary bands. Freedom was stiff and his muscles felt tight. I used some massage techniques and got some big releases.
Hoof testers are used to check for sensitivity.
Later that afternoon my vet stopped by to check on the two escapees. I wanted to make sure there was no hoof sensitivity, triple check the digital pulse and draw blood. He found no sensitivity and a normal digital pulses when he checked both horses.
By that time Freedom’s muscles had relaxed. The combination of Banamine, the several mile run, and a massage left him sleepy. Van, on the other hand, was showing signs of tying up. His muscles were tight and he was walking stiffly. To help him recover, the vet tubed him with Dimethylsulfoxide (DMSO), which is both an anti-inflammatory and a radical scavenger, and also gave him electrolytes.
Having the vet come by and check them probably allowed me to sleep last night. I was so relieved that they were doing so well. At 11:30 last night they were both still doing fine and this morning they were a little stiff and highly annoyed that they are not to have grain until Wednesday or Thursday!
Read more about laminitis and tying up: