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
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!