My last blog told you about when the vet visits me for routine exams. Now I will talk about when the vet comes to see me when something is wrong.
A couple of times, she visited when I injured my eye. Mom arrived at the barn both times to find my eye swollen, almost shut, and water coming out. It hurt when the bright light from the ball in the sky shined into it or if I tried to open it.
The vet looked in my eye with a glaring light that she had fastened to her head. She held it open, pulling my eyelids up and down simultaneously. Soon enough, the light disappeared, and she stepped away from me. She made noises with her mouth, and I got the sense she was telling Mom what she thought was wrong.
It wasn't long before she was back, and the light was blinding me again. She pried my eyelids apart again, and I felt something cold touch the bottom eyelid. I shifted my weight, leaning toward Mom and away from her.
I heard the vet say "corneal abrasion." She put a fluorescent stain on my eye, allowing her to see the injury to cell layers that made up my cornea. I learned from listening to her talk to Mom that I had scratched my cornea. Symptoms of a corneal abrasion are pain and light sensitivity. The injury made it feel like something was in my eye even though there wasn't.
The vet prescribed antibiotic ointment that Mom had to put in my eye when I ate breakfast and dinner for some days. Mom was a little worried I might make a fuss about the medicine, but I didn't. I stood still and allowed her to pull my eyelid down as she squeezed the cool gel into my hurt eye.
It was essential to prevent infection since that could lead to big problems, including ulcers or blindness. The vet told Mom she did the right thing calling her as soon as she saw the injury. She also explained that horses easily hurt their eyes because they are large and positioned on the side of their face.
Another time Mom called the vet because I was limping on my front right leg. When horses limp, it's called lameness. Lameness is the most common cause of loss of use in horses, and abscesses frequently cause this problem.
An abscess is an infection caused by bacteria entering the horse's hoof. Sometimes bacteria enters the foot due to a poor living environment or the horse's health. Other times bacteria enters the hoof due to an injury to the foot.
The horse's body tries to wall off or protect the rest of the foot by creating a capsule around the infection. The lump or abscess causes inflammation that can be painful due to a buildup of pressure. If left untreated, hoof abscesses will eventually rupture. They can break downwards out the sole or track up the hoof wall and pop out at the coronary band at the top of the foot.
Mom wasn't sure what the problem was but wanted to ensure I didn't have an injury to my hoof or leg. The vet examined both and told Mom she could feel the heat in my hoof, which made an abscess the likely cause of my lameness.
The vet used a hoof tester to find the general area of the abscess. Hoof testers are steel pinchers that apply pressure to the foot to help identify where there is pain. I jerked my foot away from her when she hit the abscess. Mom and the vet were making lots of noises with their mouths. Meanwhile, I was in no mood to deal with the poking and prodding. My foot hurt-a lot!
I heard the vet tell Mom she saw a dark spot. She suspected it was something foreign that entered the sole of my foot. She started digging at the area with something. OUCH! I ripped my leg away from her. She picked it up again and resumed her poking.
Meanwhile, Mom was trying to comfort me. She could tell I was in a lot of pain. She stroked my neck and said, "Good boy," when I allowed the vet to work on my hoof.
The vet let my foot go and moved away from me. She held out something in her hand for Mom to see. It was a small rock fragment that had lodged in my hoof. The rock was the culprit of the abscess and the pain.
The vet walked Mom through the process of soaking and wrapping my hoof. Now that rock was gone, it was essential to draw the infection out and keep my foot clean so no more bacteria entered the wound site.
Every morning and night, Mom soaked my foot in warm water, betadine, and Epsom salts. Betadine is an antiseptic to fight infection, and the Epsom salts and water help draw the abscess out of the foot.
I was a good boy when Mom soaked my foot. Some horses won't stand still, but I didn't mind. Mom always stayed close by and groomed me or gave me scratches. When the soaking was over, she carefully wrapped my hoof to protect it from getting dirty or wet.
It felt odd the first time I walked on it. I took a step and held my foot up as I shook it, trying to get the bandage off. Mom encouraged me to take another step, and slowly we made our way to the paddock.
The first few days, I stood in the corner of my enclosure with the tip of my hurt foot barely touching the ground. I didn't play or want anyone to handle me. I allowed Doxie, my favorite mare, to stand near me for comfort.
After some suns and moons passed, my foot felt better, and I slowly started acting like myself again. I could tell Mom was relieved.
Once, the vet came to see me because I had a stomach ache. Mom noticed I had stopped eating my hay and was acting odd. I intermittently glanced back at or bit my barrel. She entered the stall to see if anything was on my body but saw nothing.
It became clear as some more time passed that I was becoming more agitated. My eyes were wide, I kept biting at my sides, and I started kicking out. Mom decided I was too wound up for her to be in a confined space with me, so she stood outside my stall watching me.
I kicked the wall and then bucked hard and high. My hooves connected with steel bars that protected the window with a "CLANG" heard throughout the barn. Mom had never seen me behave this way, and she called one of the barn people over.
They quickly assessed me and thought I might be experiencing colic. Colic is abdominal pain and can range in severity from mild to life-threatening, depending on the source. The barn person suggested that Mom call the vet, which she did. Then the girl said walking could help me and suggested that Mom take me for a stroll in the indoor arena.
But Mom was too afraid to handle me because of my behavior. The barn person had more experience and said she was willing to try. We walked only a few steps from my stall when I reared and then bucked in succession.
In the meantime, someone scooted into my stall and removed the hay. Horses with colic should not eat. The girl walking me tried to settle me down, but I could not walk calmly. She decided the safest place for me and the people was in the box.
Mom and others gathered outside the stall. They made noises with their mouths, and I sensed they were worried. I heard Mom saying that "I didn't look normal." She also said I "looked far away."
When the vet arrived, I was no longer biting my sides, bucking, or kicking. My eyes still looked vacant, and I stood with my face jammed into the corner of the stall.
The vet was not my usual doctor; it was the on-call veterinarian. Being an equine vet is challenging and dangerous work. The hours are long, and the job requires doctors to drive far distances from their offices. And horses have emergencies at all hours of the day, resulting in chaotic schedules.
The vet pressed a hard cold thing against my barrel in multiple places. He carefully listened for sounds in my belly. No noises can mean an obstruction in the horse's intestine or colon, but luckily mine was making sounds. Next, he took my temperature, and then he checked the color of my gums. He told Mom he thought I had gassy colic.
Horses with this condition often show changes in behavior, as I did. They also might paw at the ground, sweat, breathe faster, or roll multiple times to get relief. The vet gave me a shot of something he called Banamine to reduce the discomfort I was experiencing. He told Mom to withhold my food until I was back to normal.
Gas colic can develop when a horse ingests forage high in sugar—usually lush spring grass—and excessive fermentation occurs in the gut, creating a gas buildup. Horses cannot burp but can expel gas from their rectum or bottom.
Equine veterinarians do many different things to help horses have healthy lives. It is a complicated job requiring years of education, dedication, and passion for horses. Even though the doctor sometimes scares me, I am grateful she is there to help me.
Written by Diane Jones, June 12, 2022