With modern veterinary diagnostic and treatment techniques, it’s sometimes hard to remember that it wasn’t that long ago that things were a lot more black and white, and that in many cases, with a horse who was really ‘wrong’, it was a fairly simple case of ‘shoot it, or chuck it away in a field for a year or two and let Dr Green sort it out (if that’s even possible).” Hopefully this tale will give hope to anyone with a horse which is on ‘Dr Green’ rest at the moment… it can work miracles.
My homebred filly, Jinni, destined to be an eventer, maybe even a great one in my dreams (she’s out of my lovely TB mare Katy, by the legendary Jumbo) nearly managed to kill herself 2 years ago. In a large, perfectly flat field, with calm company, she executed her favourite ‘rear completely vertical and pirouette’ manoeuvre and slipped, crashing down onto her side and hitting her head hard. I’d just left in the horsebox, and a panicked phone call from the person who’d witnessed it (my ex, who was in fact the hero of the hour) brought me rushing back, calling the vet en route.
She was unconscious for about 40 minutes, breathing very erratically, which was horrible to watch… probably the worst 40 minutes of my entire life. Then she came to and began trying to get up, falling all over the place, including wobbling straight over backwards when her hind end collapsed from under her.
My ex had to do desperate scrum-tactics, to literally manhandle her away from the perimeter fence as she lurched dangerously towards it, as I daren’t sit on her neck to keep her down, since she’d obviously already injured herself badly. She was very heavily concussed and looked totally doolally. There was blood coming from her mouth, which we later discovered to be from a bitten lip/cheek, but at the time was even more worrying, as we thought it might be from her brain.
Heavy-duty anti-inflammatories and painkillers, and steroids, were administered immediately, and in the ensuing months, but there was definitely significant damage done. She seemed ‘out to lunch’, and was very slow to process things. She was still very sweet-natured, fortunately – if she hadn’t been, things would have been very different. She wobbled, and was extremely clumsy.
I was told of a colt who did something similar to himself and turned very aggressive as he realised he was vulnerable, and had to be shot. I was very lucky – she stayed as sweet and gentle as ever, so was never deliberately dangerous. Accidentally dangerous is bad enough!
Neck x-rays were inconclusive: it looked as if the area around C5 and C6 was messy (very non-technical term, just for me!) and possibly overlapping, and it could either improve as the bones grew, or not. We just had to keep everything crossed from then on…
She had occasional physiotherapy sessions (I was told that nerve regrows at 1mm per day, if it is going to regrow at all, so the distance from her brain to her hind feet was going to take, no way around it, a year or two, as it was about 4 metres, so 400 days) and McTimoney Chiropracty sessions, which always helped. I massaged her, and I used specific TTouch exercises to try to improve her proprioception.
She was on box rest for months, for her own safety and recovery, and was angelic about it. She ate from raised platforms, because if she stretched her neck down, she got what looked like electric shocks up it, which made her twitch and jerk repeatedly. Her neck muscles atrophied, and she couldn’t bend her neck at all – a sort of whiplash, I assume.
Eventually I was told to turn her out but this was worrying, since she was ataxic, with her left hind in particular being very badly affected. She fell or slipped over fairly frequently, and would wobble into me if I was leading her. I’ve never had my feet trodden on so many times… I’d think I was in a safe place, then she’d suddenly move completely erratically and stick a foot straight onto one of mine. It never gets less painful! She suddenly wobbled into me last winter as I led her along, and almost shoved me bodily into a full, ice-cold water trough – a real comedy moment, with me ending up with my arms around her neck trying to get her to pull me out, with my bum an inch from the freezing water!
Farriery was a nightmare for well over a year. It took 3 of us to support/prod her upright for trimming, and sometimes even that wasn’t enough, and she’d collapse and just lie there looking up at us. My farrier was endlessly patient, and strong at holding her up when he needed to be, but was also the first to say frankly that he’d give her a few months and if there was no improvement, shoot her. It’s a good job I’m not impatient, because it took a hell of a lot longer than a few months!
She was a pretty sorry sight, with her scrawny locked-up neck and odd way of moving, but gradually, very gradually, she started improving.
Now, finally, her brain has come back into focus. She reacts quickly to the sound of her name, or the sound of a polo wrapper in a pocket. She’s started being a bit bright and cheeky, like a typical youngster… 18 months late.
She used to be very crooked, trotting and cantering slightly sideways all the time, as if she was being asked to leg-yield, but that is better than it was, although I may have to show her how to be truly ‘straight’ under saddle, if she hasn’t got it by then.
She found ways of staying upright, which have developed into habits: to halt from canter, she usually swings her bum through 90 degrees and does a flying change behind to avoid using her left hind. This will probably be interesting to try to eradicate!
Recently she voluntarily went over a small jump while turned out in the arena – she just lengthened her stride and flew over it confidently, for fun. A year ago I’d have doubted her ability to land that safely, as would she!
So, there really is hope now. She’ll be backed either this autumn (she’s not 3 until June) or next Spring, once her bum-high-ness has levelled out. Whether she’ll ever be the horse she should have been is doubtful, but if she’s as sweet and willing under saddle as she has been growing up, then she’ll have a super-trainable brain, and we can work on the rest!
I am very lucky that her temperament has been so fantastic from the very start, which made looking after her while she was, frankly, physically and mentally disabled, doable… and I guess she’s lucky that she had youth on her side, and that I had the space, time and patience to let Dr Green do his utmost over a couple of years, so that she might be even become an eventer after all…