14. Wire wound
Barbed wire, smooth steel wire and nylon thread are often used to fence off pastures. But these types of thin wiring and thread are poorly visible to horses. Which is strange for an animal that can recognise its owner from a distance of four hundred metres. Accidents involving horses becoming caught up in these types of wiring are common and they cause severe wounds.
Plots for horses should be enclosed using ribbon or beams. Horses can see those. But if sheep are allowed on the same pasture, then they should not be able to pass under the enclosure. A few live wires on top of one another for the sheep and a wide ribbon or beam for the horses is a good solution. Having horses and sheep alternately graze pastures is practical. Sheep consume the grass that horses left behind in the pasture and they reduce the contamination of the grass with worms from the horses’ excrements because they consume the worm larvae that are contagious to horses along with the grass. This has no negative effect on the sheep whatsoever: they digest the larvae without these having any chance of further development. Conversely, the horses digest the larvae of the worms that are contagious to sheep. A nice example of biological cooperation.
A horse in pasture is sometimes inclined to lay down and roll. This is risky if done near the enclosure: a leg may become entangled in the wiring. A horse that becomes stuck will pull away; forcefully. The wire or thread will break in most cases, or the poles to which these are attached. But if that doesn’t happen, then the horse will continue to pull away until it is totally exhausted or its leg has been torn off. The wounds that come about in this way wreak havoc: frayed and contaminated lacerations. The bone is often damaged, or the joint ripped open. In the latter case, it is usually not possible to save the animal. And even if the lacerations are less dramatic, the healing process usually costs many months. Ugly scars remain visible and the leg is thicker than normal.
It is morning at the end of September and a haze is hanging over the grassland behind our house. And so the sheep are not visible from the bedroom window. Only the mare’s head rises above the haze. When I return home around noon, she is still standing on the same spot. The haze has disappeared and I see that part of the enclosure is flat on the ground. A number of poles have broken off. Only then do I notice that something is wrong with the horse. I am terror-stricken: it’s not that she …? I set off running towards her and sure enough: her rear right leg is severely damaged. The front of the pastern joint is resting on the ground and the hoof is turned back because the extensor tendon has been ripped. The skin is sagging like a sock that has slid down. The bone is exposed and has deep grooves. The tarsal joint is a bloody wound of frayed flesh. And everything is covered with hairs and filth. The mare looks stoical. Horses have no facial expression for pain.
Taking her by the halter, she stumbles along with me to the stable. I unroll the garden hose. But the jet of water does not remove the hairs, clots of blood and filth: everything is caked together. I then drive my car to the stable so that I have everything I need to treat her within arm’s reach. I attach a twitch to her upper lip. This has a slightly numbing effect, similar to acupuncture. I clean the leg with gauze and povidone iodine. I insert a needle in the tarsal joint next to the wound and inject pen-strep; that is a milky white combination of the antibiotics penicillin and streptomycin. The joint bulges a bit because of the pressure. If the capsule has a leak, then the white fluid will exit the joint and appear in the wound. That does not happen: fortunately, the tarsal joint is still intact! She is given a second injection with the same antibiotics in her buttock. The wound came about during the past night and so it has already become inflamed. I wrap the lower leg and hock joint in paraffin gauze: that will not stick to the wound. She gets a support bandage applied and she is given an oral painkiller. There, that’s done. Part of the load on my shoulders is now lifted.
She is given the painkiller and the injections with antibiotics for another two days and is kept in the stable. Only venturing outside her box a few steps a few times a day. The bandages are changed for the first time after a week. The wound is looking better, but the leg is still in ruin. The bandages are subsequently changed once a week for a period of two months. It starts to itch beneath the bandages once the healing starts. The mare licks the bandages and even bites into them. She would even bite into the wound itself if given the chance. So the bandages cannot be removed until the itching has passed. That takes a few more weeks. Meanwhile, the healing process kicks into high speed. Too high, as proud flesh is developing. It expands into a cauliflower and has to be surgically levelled off. Proud flesh is benumbed, but the cutting results in squirts of blood. These need to be stemmed with a new pressure bandage.
How it ends
After that the wound can be exposed to the open air. Skin gradually grows back across the new tissue. After a total of four months, all that is left of the wound is a wide, irregular scar. The ripped flexor tendon is functioning normally again: the tissue that filled up the hole in the lower leg has apparently proceeded to function as a tendon. As a three-year-old, she is inspected for the studbook and approved without any problems: her walk and trot are normal once again. The injury also does not seem to have left her with any functional problems during riding. All that remains is a somewhat thicker leg and a scar.
But such intensive treatment and care for four months is virtually impossible to combine with a busy veterinary practice. If you do not have such a busy job, you will have sufficient time, but then you will not be able to have a horse of your own.
scar on the rear right leg caused by a wire wound
© Leo Rogier Verberne