The Square Nail

“Deb! Cowgirl is limping! I mean really badly!”  Rachel, who rides Stoney, had ridden ahead to Quail, while I finished up at Campo.  My first thought was that CG was feeling so good after her chiropractic adjustment that she’d over done it and had injured her stifle or fetlock joint.  Rachel, implacable in almost every situation, comes to pieces when horses are injured and often exaggerates the severity. But CG was limping really badly; barely putting pressure even on the tip of the toe.  I didn’t even have to lift her hoof to see the floating 1/2″ square, metal plate, held in place by an exceptionally sharp, square sided nail, stuck firmly into the tip of her frog.

“Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Is she going to be OK?!!! I mean, ack! You hold this!”  Rachel shoves CG’s lead rope into my hand.  Then, voice quavering, says, “Is that blood?!”  A veterinarian she is not.

The nail had not penetrated very far, only 1/8″ or maybe 3/16th.  There was a few drops of blood, but that wasn’t what Rachel was referring to.  I had immediately splashed iodine on the sole of the hoof, leaving blood stain looking puddles on the stall mat.  What I didn’t do was soak the hoof in epsom salt and poultice it with Icthymol.  I now know that’s what you should do, but I had promised Rachel and Lainey a ride home.  Both girls had homework looming.  Riding already makes getting the homework done a bit of a squeeze and neither of them had welcomed the delay.

The next day, Cowgirl was one very lame pony.  The first words out of Kristin’s mouth were, “I hate puncture wounds. They are the worst!” Not an encouraging statement from a veterinarian.  The hoof is not made to be punctured.  When it is punctured, it doesn’t really know how to heal.  If infection sets in, it fairly often doesn’t respond to antibiotics.  Extreme surgical methods can be used, but not on a 27 year old pony.  Cowgirl got immune booster, injected bananime and powerful antibiotics.

Six days of poultice and soaks later, she was right as rain.  She went out for the Clark’s field loop on Thursday.  I watched her carefully on Friday.  I couldn’t tell if she was or if she wasn’t favoring the punctured hoof.  I asked Jan, my landlady at Quail.  She didn’t think so.

The Saturday morning horse girl mob scene got off to a rip roaring start and it was back to business as usual, heading to the arena with plans to work Cowgirl in the harness in preparation to start in with the cart.

Saturday’s are now divided into two parts with mornings dedicated to “the youngins” and afternoons to the older crew.  The two overlap, which creates a bit of tension as the older girls chafe at the restrictions necessitated by the presence of inexperienced riders and the young ones try to hang on for every minute they can squeeze out of me, resenting the fact that they have to go and the older girls get to stay.  Thinking I’d give the older girls a chance to ride undisturbed in the arena, the three young riders and I set to giving Jackson a bath.  With my attention firmly fixed on keeping track of three, small, quick moving bodies and one marginally co-operative horse, I didn’t notice when Cowgirl started limping, nor did anyone else.  With her string halt, it’s hard to tell if she is actually lame.  But limp she did.  I was scheduled to board a plane to San Diego late that afternoon and only managed to wrap her hoof and ask Rachel to dose her with more banamine before I rushed off.  The last thing I did before I left was take a look at her jugular vein. It was pounding.

I returned from San Diego 10pm Sunday and drove straight to the barn.  Cowgirl was still limping; more banamine and a call to the vet the next morning.  Kristin said, “Puncture wounds can do that.  You think they are done, then whaboom, they erupt.”  She asked if I could feed a digital pulse.  I thought I felt a pounding pulse in the pastern, a sure sign of infection.  It must have been my own pulse pounding in my fingers because  Kristin didn’t find a pounding pulse. She injected her with more immune booster and antibiotic and told us to soak and poultice, which we did.  Not knowing if it was better to leave the bandage off or on, on Tuesday I left it off to see what would happen. I showed up Wednesday to find a pony who could hardly walk.   Something had gotten much worse. Savannah had met me at Quail and knew something was very wrong.  She walked Stoney over to Campo to join Jackie and Sara, who had already shown up and I drove.  I called the vet and got permission to max out her banamine doses, did my best to put on a brave face and told the girls I wanted to muck the paddock at Campo, although Savannah wasn’t fooled.  She probably guessed I didn’t want them to see me cry.

When the injury first occurred, I warned the parents that there was a small possibility that Cowgirl might not survive this.  Kayla insisted on coming to see Cowgirl and she cried and cried.  So did Allison and Kate.  Arya had her mom text sad face icons with tears to me.  None of them knew that the injury had returned.

Rachel is a hugger.  So is Savannah.  So is Sara. Getting hugged is part of my job.  I’m guessing Savannah told Sara about Cowgirl.  As I maneuvered the wheel barrow back out of the paddock and through the gate, Sara was there, a look of concern on her face, her arms outstretched.  I cried and cried.  Savannah joined the hug and I cried more.

With just Savannah, Jackie and Sara riding, none of them needing much in the way of supervision, I was able to follow at a distance on my bike and cry even more.  By the time we had returned to the barns for the evening, I had managed to regain some semblance of composure.  Jan met us as we returned with Stoney to Quail.  She rested her arms on the rail that borders the aisle and talked to us as we untacked and fed.  “Have you ever had a puncture wound?  You know how painful it is?  You know how it can just hurt for weeks and weeks?”  I didn’t, actually.  “What I’m thinking is we need to put some kind of stiff pad under her foot.  Some cardboard, or plastic.  When I injured my foot, I had to have it in a boot for weeks.  I couldn’t walk otherwise.  I think that’s what Cowgirl needs.”  It was certainly worth a try.

Twenty five years ago, I taught art classes.  With the exception of pens and paint, all the materials were salvaged; mountains of it.  With every spring cleaning, piles of supplies have been passed on to grateful parents and preschools, with only one, large square of cork board remaining, a piece of material that never found it’s purpose until yesterday morning when Jan and I sat down on the stall mats and fashioned a plate to affix to the sole of her injured hoof.  “Why don’t you make a cut out where her frog goes? That should make a nice, raised platform.  Here, if you place the template like this, you’ll use your material more efficiently.”  Jan has a masters in mechanical engineering.  She also worked as a vet tech during high school.  She said, “They didn’t use to have ready made splints or boots.  We had to figure out how to manufacture what we needed to help the animal heal properly.  Never had any experience with horses, but seems to me it’s kind of the same problem.”  I fitted the plaque neatly to Cowgirl’s hoof using duct tape.   Jan took the lead rope and said, “why don’t we try this out?”  She lead Cowgirl out on to the driveway.  Sure enough, the pony was walking.

Then next stop was to pick up more banamine from the vet.  On hearing of our success, Kristin said, “That makes sense.  If the puncture had been something round, like a screw or an ordinary nail, you wouldn’t be having this problem.  You know how when you get a crack in a windshield and they fix it by drilling a round hole?  That’s because the pressure from sharp corners focusses the stress and it spreads outwards.  That explains why they heat sensor picked up injury towards the outer edges of the hoof, not near the site of the puncture.”  The nail was imbedded in the hoof for some time before we found it, no doubt being jerked back and forth as Cowgirl limped about.  Probably the only square nail in all of Los Altos Hills and it ends up in her hoof.

Today I found out about a type of boot with an orthotic gel insert made specifically for horses recovering from laminitis or puncture wounds.  It will be a week before we get it, so cork board and cardboard will have to do until then. Cowgirl is not out of the woods, but she’s not near the grave either and I am hopeful. In our culture, we are fed a daily dose of the idolization of individualism and self absorption and egotism.  But in real life, it’s team work that gets the win.

 

 

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