Knowing when to call the vet

Fortune was stocked up
When I first saw Fortune I realized she was uncomfortable but I thought it was her hind legs — her injury is on her RH but her LF was quite stocked up. Later I found out it was her front feet.

One of the only things I don’t like about being in a co-op barn is that when a horse looks not-quite-right, it’s up to the person feeding that day to

a) notice,
b) know what to do, and
c) decide whether you have identified a problem or are just being alarmist.

No one thanks you if you call the vet unnecessarily; no one is happy if you don’t call the vet and there’s a problem.

On Tuesday, it was my turn.

Luckily, it was a morning where I’d chosen not to hunt. I’ve been feeling behind for days, if not weeks, and I thought a nice quiet day would do me good.

So, I wasn’t in a hurry when I fed. Which was just as well because Fortune just didn’t look right. She’s been on stall/paddock rest for the past two and a half months recovering from a fractured sesamoid and a torn suspensory ligament. But she’s been a good patient and has been looking pretty content.

That was not the horse that greeted me. She was lethargic, not interested in her breakfast, her hind legs were quite stocked up and she was reluctant to move (normally she walks cheerfully into her paddock for her grain). What bothered me the most was how she was standing. Her hind legs were too far under her body and too close together. And she was shifting the weight on her front feet.

I watched her for a few long minutes. One of the advantages of taking care of the horses is that you get to know them pretty well so that differences in their attitudes or posture stand out. I know my own horse very, very well but it’s harder with another person’s horse. I tried to encourage her to walk. She looked stiff and uncomfortable but she wasn’t running a fever and there was fresh manure in her stall. I didn’t want to unnecessarily panic her owner so I called the vet. One of the things I really, really appreciate about the practice that we use is that they are happy to talk to you on the phone. She listened to my observations, and agreed that a farm call was probably in order. So I called Fortune’s owner who scheduled the visit.

I had just gotten back from my ride when the vet (a different one from the one I’d spoken to earlier) showed up. I explained what I’d seen and showed her some photos I’d taken of her hind legs which showed the swelling. I still felt a bit sheepish about having the vet come out but hoped it wasn’t something serious. When I left, they’d ruled out colic and the vet was pulling out her hoof testers.

An hour and a half later I was back at the barn . . . and the vet was still there. Not good. It was the early stages of laminitis and they were already icing her feet. Her discomfort had been real but instead of hind legs, it was her front feet.

Fortune was moved to the vet’s clinic for the next few days so they could manage her care. Luckily, the films show only a tiny (2 degree) rotation of the coffin bone. The vet thinks the laminitis was brought on by a combination of rich second cut hay and inactivity, but it’s hard to know.

I am glad I was paying attention and glad that I suggested a vet visit. Delaying would have only caused the situation to become worse.

Generally, for my own horse I call my vet if something seems wrong just to give them a heads up and find out when they plan to be in the area. I only get a vet out immediately for a wound, a serious colic (I’d call and give Banamine first), or an incident like choke. Often if a horse looks slightly off or has a puffy leg, I’ll cold hose, ice and wrap it first to see how it responds (when Freedom injured his check ligament I knew right away that it wasn’t just a sprain. It looked serious). But it’s so much easier to make those decisions with your own horse. I’ve had other barn members want to wait before calling a vet — in fact, several years ago a pony at our barn was showing classic signs of laminitis but I couldn’t convince the owner to call in a vet. The pony foundered quite severely and while she recovered, it was touch and go for awhile.

When do you call the vet about someone else’s horse? I have to say that it was one of the days when I really would have liked to turn the whole thing over to a barn manager!

7 thoughts on “Knowing when to call the vet

  1. You expressed this very well — truly, more difficult to make the judgement for someone else’s horse. Good on you — you made the right call! Phew!

  2. I feel for you! Years ago I was barn manager at riding lesson/boarding facility. One of the schoolies showed classic colic symptons, but with a high temperature. When the vet arrived, she diagnosed Potomac Fever. It was one of the most awful experiences with horses I’ve ever had. The horse’s owner left for a cookout after the diagnosis, knowing the horse may have to be put down. When the vet decided nothing could be done, she couldn’t get hold of the owner, who swore upon leaving the barn to attend the cookout that she would be available by phone. That horse suffered needlessly all night and well into the next morning, when the owner finally answered her phone and said, “Okay.” Only after this horse’s miserable death were all the school horses vaccinated for Potomac Fever, something the vet had been pushing for a while before this incident. The owner claimed it was “an unnecessary expense”. This is one of the many reasons I prefer NOT to work in the “horse industry”. I know there are (hopefully) more good than bad out there, but it left a mighty bad taste in my mouth.

  3. Talking on the phone and texting photos often helps a lot. My biggest impetus to calling the vet is if a horse appears to be in pain, and not a 1 gram of bute kind of discomfort.

  4. I am very, very lucky to be in a barn where everyone keeps an eye on other’s horses. There’s no divas or easily offended egos (well, the barnlord has a big one, but …) to consider. If someone sees someone else’s horse is NDR…Not Doing Right, we immediately call the barnlord, the owner or SOMEONE. At least once since we moved Raven to where he is now, I got a phone call for another woman who said she was walking him, he’d colicked, the barnlord…and Sue..were out of town, please come now. Of course I broke speed limits to get there, and by then, the vet was there. That’s one thing boarders should always have…a clear and written statement as to what to do if and when. In our case, it’s Call The Vet ASAP.
    Yes, there have been times when I was wrong…but as barnlord and the owner said to me afterwards, better to be wrong about a horse’s health and appear to be a bit naive than right on target but afraid to ‘interfere’ and a horse that needs to be put down.

  5. I’m with you on that. I think that the time the pony had laminitis, there was a financial reluctance. Of course, waiting can make it worse. Luckily, I have a good relationship with my vets and they are willing to talk over a situation on the phone, look at a photo or video, and then decide whether they need to come right away or give it a bit of time.

  6. Again, I’m lucky…the women in our barn are not only friends, but they understand, y’know? More than once, I’ve donated money to someone else who couldn’t afford the vet bill. Not that I’m rich…it’s just that the horses are all family. In fact, Romeo…the ‘rescue’ pony (barnlord insists he’s a “miniature horse’ but any equine whose withers are at my thighs is a pony)…is ‘owned’ by everyone. Meaning, everyone kicks in money every month for his hay. Y0u can’t help it…he’s so adorable.

  7. That sounds like a great set up. In the case of the pony with laminitis, I ended up paying quite a few of the vet bills and one of the kids worked it off with babysitting and pet sitting. Win-win.

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