When I got my first look at the patient, a 3-month-old foal named Dozer in a pen with his mother, I knew I was in trouble. There was a nasty laceration across the baby’s face and exposed bone glistened from the depths of the wound, but this wasn’t what worried me. As I approached the pen, Dozer went skittering hysterically around in circles, and the mare came at me with bared teeth.
I scratched my chin. Sometimes I could sneak up on feral youngsters and pop them in the neck with a tranquilizer, but I had a feeling that the stealth approach would not work with these two. The mare never took her eyes off of me, and the baby went into his rodeo act every time he and I made eye contact. How were we going to get the drugs into him so I could sew up the horrible wound
on his face?
Corralling the Patient
There was a Dutch door on the stall attached to the pen, so we coaxed the youngster into the stall, leaving the mare outside, and quickly closed only the lower half of the door so the mare could still see him. After a few minutes of running and calling, the mare settled down but the foal didn’t, despite the gentle coaxing of the owner.
There was a long lead rope on the halter, and the owner’s daughter, a capable young woman named Marlene, grabbed it as it flew past her, wrenching the runaway Dozer to a crooked halt. They eyed each other for a microsecond, and then the foal flew into the air, yanking Marlene violently to one side. She anchored the rope against her hip and hung on grimly as the animal lunged and fought. The tussle was so violent that I briefly climbed the wall to avoid the crashing bodies. Twice I was sure she’d lost him, but with the determination of a steer wrestler, Marlene finally pinned him against a wall, both of them breathing hard.
I quickly sedated him and we let him go, only to see the drugs have absolutely no effect on him. I gave him 15 minutes, but when he remained as wild as ever, we repeated the wrestling act and I sedated him again, this time with stronger drugs. Finally his head drooped and we blindfolded him with a soft towel. He didn’t move as I clipped the hair from the nasty gash and numbed the torn tissues with lidocaine. I gave the wound a thorough scrubbing with surgical soap and lavaged every crevice with sterile saline.
I needed to pull the wound together with tension sutures before I could close the skin edges, otherwise there would be too much pressure on the skin and the sutures would pull through. It was satisfying to finally close the damaged skin and muscle, neatly covering the horrible exposed bone. When I was finished, the wound was hardly visible.
A Stitch in Time
I dabbed the blood from the foal’s face, then noticed that I’d missed one section that still needed a stitch. I grabbed my needle holders and quickly drew the needle through the skin edges, and was tying off the knot when the towel slipped from Dozer’s face and he and I stared at each other in surprise.
I quickly let go of the suture ends because I knew what was going to happen, and sure enough, he went straight up in the air, and spun around me like a helicopter, the suture and needle dangling from his face. I ducked as the silver needle came dangerously close to my eye, but the dependable Marlene was quick, and before I could blink, she had the foal pinned to the wall again. I quickly cut the suture ends, we sprayed the wound with antiseptic, and I gave him an antibiotic injection for good measure as well as a tetanus shot.
Marlene released Dozer and threw her arms over her face as he kicked violently in her direction and made furious laps around the stall flinging shavings into the air. The mare was ramming the Dutch door and whinnying in fury, so we opened it. They reunited quickly and Dozer ran straight for her udder, nursing as though he’d never had milk before. The owner went to take off the mare’s halter and she lunged at the woman open-mouthed, barely missing her face. Marlene swatted the mare with the lead rope and she retreated to a far corner of the pen, ears pinned flat on her head. Dozer was still nursing away.
We took a quick inventory of our injuries. I had a split knuckle, pulled hamstring, and manure all over my jeans. Marlene had a black eye, bloody lip, torn fingernail and a perfect hoof print on her back. The owner had her original bruise, a sprained thumb, and also ripped pants and shattered sunglasses.
All three of us were covered in shavings. We studied each other thoughtfully, and Marlene and her mother frowned when I suggested that the wound should be treated daily with the antiseptic spray.
I was packing up my things when something horrible occurred to me.
“I’ll need to remove the sutures in 10 to 14 days,” I announced.
Marlene and her mother looked glum for a minute, then brightened.
“We’ll be in Texas that week,” said Marlene cheerfully. “But I know what we’ll do. We’ll arrange for our gardeners to be here to help you!”
COURTNEY S. DIEHL, DVM, has been an equine veterinarian since 2000. She resides in Steamboat Springs, Colo., where she is in private practice. Her first book, Horse Vet, Chronicles of a Mobile Veterinarian, was published in 2014, and she is currently at work on her second book.
This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!