We’ll start with a few details about Nathan’s condition on arrival. A one-word description of the overall picture might be “overwhelming.”
As the trailer door swung open, the most obvious problem was his weight. Even with an abnormally thick summer coat, hip bones, ribs, shoulder blades and vertebrae were clearly defined. The heavy coat itself seemed a big bold arrow pointing clearly to Cushings. Nathan’s feet were all abnormally shaped, obviously not trimmed in some time. The biggest concern, however, was his balance. The gray gelding’s back end did not seem to be doing quite what he asked it too. He “listed” to the right, dragging his left hind leg any time he turned in either direction. There was no life in his tail, which hangs limply while the other horses’ tails swish gracefully back and forth as they graze.
Any one of those conditions, other than neglected feet perhaps, put Nathan’s future in question. Together, they seemed impossible to manage.
Once he was comfortable in his new accommodations, we stepped back to evaluate one step at a time. First…..feet. That issue seemed like it should be easiest to resolve and might bring the most immediate comfort. The problem, however, is that impaired balance meant it was difficult for Nathan to stand on three legs. When Nate finally did pick up the foot that appeared to be in the worst condition, we found it was heavily infested with maggots. The heel was virtually nonexistent accompanied by deformed bars and overgrown hoof wall headed in every direction. The smell was nauseating. Yet, Nathan looked fully weight bearing on that foot. Had he been like this so long that if felt “normal?”
The Animal Control Officer who brought Nate to Traveller’s Rest considered this a need for urgent veterinary care. We agreed and made the call. While here, the vet also documented Nate’s condition at time of arrival.
During the veterinary exam, the two biggest concerns were Nathan’s feet and his balance. Working together, the two issues made each difficult to evaluate separately. With poor balance, Nate couldn’t pick up a foot easily. Abnormal feet aggravated the balance problem. This combination of problems also made it hard to determine just how much of his lameness was pain and how much was neurological impairment. In addition, Nate had no muscle mass due to his malnutrition. Starve horses often drag their feet until they become stronger and rebuild muscle.
The maggot infested foot was addressed first. It was cleaned, flushed and poulticed with a Betadine/Epsom Salt paste, held in place with a baby diaper and duct tape. Not pretty, but functional. The hope was that the salt would kill any maggots that might still be hiding in any crevices, or hadn’t yet emerged from the diseased tissue covering the bottom of Nate’s foot. To thoroughly debride the foot, Nate will likely need to go to the vet clinic, but that’s a decision for later. At the moment he is likely not strong enough to tolerate anesthesia.
Where do we start in formulating a possible rehabilitation plan? Can we rehabilitate this beautiful old soul? Being realistic, as we continue to evaluate, it may be determined that the kindest thing we can offer our big new horse is a peaceful transition to his next life. That remains to be seen, but we’re trying to keep an open mind.