Check Ligament Injury, Horse Healing, Horse Injury

Time Out: A Day in the Life of an Injured Horse’s Owner

On Monday, 20th July, I asked my gelding, Cruz Bay to trot, after fifteen minutes warming him up in walk.

He immediately took two horrible missteps and I jumped off him. The front left shoe had twisted underneath his hoof, and the clinch (the flat metal edge that’s supposed to prevent slippage) was sticking into his sole. He’d only been shod four days ago!

There was no way he could take another stride like that. With great effort I managed to pull off the shoe, thinking, “This is going to be bad. He’s for sure pulled a tendon.”

For the next week I bound up his foot, while waiting for the farrier’s next visit. Cruz was turned out as usual with his chestnut BFF, Chance and when no swelling showed during that time, I congratulated myself on having dodged a bullet.

Two weeks after the incident, although Cruz wasn’t lame, the leg swelled halfway up from the fetlock joint so it wasn’t accumulated fluid: it was inflammation of the soft tissue.

On palpitating the leg, the vet thought he felt a pulled tendon. When the ultrasound showed otherwise, he told me I’d lucked out: Cruz’s check ligament was torn, and this injury was much better than the alternatives of suspensory or tendon damage.

However, it required eight weeks’ stall rest, a situation that I’d always dreaded for this horse. As my vet in Maryland recognized, “Cruz is not a candidate for stall rest.”

Coping with Stall Rest

I explained this to the vet, who nevertheless insisted on it. To help my horse handle his imprisonment, he was given two more calming supplements in addition to his regular one. This was an emergency: my enormously fit horse was never going to chill out in his stall 24/7 for two months!

One advantage he did have over the two other horses that were diagnosed with tendon injuries at the same time. He could be hand-grazed for 45 minutes twice a day.

At first, he seemed so relaxed in his stall that I figured he didn’t need to get out. Then I thought ahead to when I’d have to hand-walk him. If I didn’t accustom him to the limited exercise from eating grass now, with me on the other end of his lead rope, I was going to have a demon on my hands when I did finally take him out of his stall.

On day four, I bit the bullet and led him out, with my heart beating wildly and feeling very sick, as I waited for the fireworks to begin.

But they didn’t. He was so glad to escape from the confines of his (very spacious) stall that he dropped his head down to eat immediately his feet touched the green stuff.

Here’s Cruz at his previous barn, looking alert: you can see he has hardly any forelock of his own, which is why I add an extension for our grazing sessions.

The Daily Routine

Currently, this is what my day looks like.

6 a.m. Get up, shower and dress: write for an hour, go to 8:30 Mass then leave for the barn.

9:30 a.m. Arrive at the barn.

  • Unwrap the bandages around Cruz’s front legs, apply ice-wrap to the injured left leg and the BEMER to the right leg for 15 minutes. The BEMER sends electro-magnetic waves to the site of injury, increasing circulation and promoting healing. I use it on both front legs to keep things equal.
  • Switch BEMER to injured leg for 15 minutes.
This BEMER cuff is wrapped around the injury and emits a low-level electro-magnetic pulse for 5, 10 or 15 minutes
  • Groom Cruz in the mean time to make him comfortable.
  • Bandage all four legs. His back legs became ‘stocked up’ – filled with fluid from standing around, especially on hot days – and bandaging them prevents this from happening.
  • Apply fly repellent and attach forelock extension to his puny front hairs to give his eyes more protection against the bugs.
  • Put on gloves, (so I don’t get rope burn if he goes nuts), place halter on Cruz and lead him out of his stall onto a large grass area by the paddocks.
  • Hold onto the lead rope, while allowing him to meander around munching, making sure his legs don’t get tangled up in it.
  • 45 minutes later, return to stall, apply thrush remedy to all four frogs and soles.
  • Clean out his stall.
  • Kiss him on the nose, say good-bye and drive home. (It’s now 11:30 a.m.)

5:30 p.m. Drive back to the barn

6 p.m. Rinse and repeat.

This makes a total of 2 hours a day spent driving to and from the barn, and 4 hours tending directly to Cruz for a total of 6 hours.

Filling in the Time Profitably

With an hour and a half spent standing next to my horse, every day I needed to find a useful occupation that could be done at the same time. Since I have my heart in my throat every time I take Cruz out, worrying that he’ll spook, get loose and run around doing more damage to that ligament, I was naturally praying he’d stay calm.

That led to my decision to say the Rosary a few times while I’m out there, and not care who sees my white beads dangling as I juggle them and the moving horse.

I’ve also taken to reciting the Seven Sorrows of Mary, which any Catholics reading this might want to consider. It’s an opportunity to contemplate the occasions of grief she suffered as Christ’s mother, both before and during His Passion. Otherwise, it’s tempting to think that her life with Our Savior was a bed of roses sans the thorns.

If I’ve finished my prayers and the time isn’t yet up, I try to solve the daily crossword on my phone. But a horse in motion is not conducive to accurate typing in of letters!

My Blessings

As annoying as this state of affairs is, I have many blessings to count. Especially when I see some of the other horses’ injuries. One of them has foundered and has to be in her stall for 30 days straight. She has to stand with each leg in little rubber tubs of ice twice a day, to bring down the inflammation and reduce her pain level.

Blessings Enumerated:

  1. It’s only a check ligament: it could be much worse.
  2. Cruz can be hand-grazed: other horses are stuck in their stalls for the duration.
  3. He’s at a barn where his stall is twice the size of his previous one and makes his life much more bearable – with two windows looking over the polo field!
  4. I have three friends offering me their horses to ride (four equines in total) – now I just need to find the time to ride them!
  5. Cruz has been a really good boy so far – contrary to my expectations.
  6. I’ve learned how to wrap stall bandages, after several tutorials!
  7. I’m getting to know the other boarders, since I’m in the barn, not on my horse.
  8. Cruz is getting three months’ rest from being ridden.
  9. He’s enjoying the extra attention from me.
  10. I’m able to say my prayers while I let him graze.

God is good!

Until these past two years in South Carolina, Cruz always had several months off work in the winter because the weather was so bad. As one friend put it, he’s younger than his twenty years because he’s not been ridden non-stop.

Which is why I’m happy for him that he’s getting a break. When I’m allowed to get on him again, we’ll both have a fresh start.

But hopefully not too fresh!

P.S. In addition to my using the BEMER, Cruz is also getting three shock wave treatments, which are powerful boosts to his circulatory system and encourage healing.

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