Miniature Horse Suffers Severe Broken Leg
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On a personal note, tragically this week my beloved yearling colt suffered a broken leg. Saturday morning, May 29th, 2004, Nova was standing motionless on three legs while his playmates rushed to the feeder for their breakfast. It was heart wrenching to see him dangling his right rear leg behind him on the very day that would have been his first birthday.
Nova is the son of Egyptian King Too, our 26 inch-tall Hemlock Brooks Egyptian King son and Shadowcaster (Cassie), our 32 inch-tall Buckskin mare. Being bred from super-refined show pony stock, Nova has excellent conformation and refined spindly legs. It was obvious that he did not have the strong, stocky bone structure suitable for a Guide Horse for the Blind. But he was our personal pet so we prized his fine appearance and delicate legs. We planned to train him to drive so that he could be his mother's partner in a matched driving team.
Devastated to find him injured I prayed that he had only sprained his leg or dislocated his stifle. There was no external sign of injury and no way to be certain what caused the injury. Perhaps he took a wrong step and broke his leg while horsing-around with his rowdy colt playmates. Always playful, the little colts have a tendency to be rough, sometimes tackling each other and then wrestling on the ground.
It was but a short time ago that I was helping Cassie with his delivery in the wee morning hours while waiting for the vet to arrive. And now we were waiting for what might be the last time in Nova's short life. Nova has always been a wonderful little boy, calm, friendly and intelligent, a precious baby that loved to sleep in my lap while having his tummy rubbed.
Our Veterinarian, Dr. O'Malley, rushed to the farm and after performing a careful examination of Nova's leg and his general condition, he broke the sad news. "I can hear crunching sounds when I move his leg and I'm 99% sure that his Femur is broken. There is seldom hope for successful treatment with a fracture in that area, I'm so sorry." He went on to explain the various scary scenarios that lay ahead recommending that it might be best to euthanize Nova.
Heart broken and crying, I knelt by my injured pony as he nuzzled my face with his soft muzzle wiping away the tears. Dr. O'Malley then told me that there was a chance that a doctor at the Vet school in Raleigh might be able to offer some hope. "While it's rare for a pony to recover from a broken femur, you might want to talk with an Equine Orthopedic surgeon. Since Nova is young and tiny there may be hope for him to recover. It's going to expensive and time-consuming, but if you are willing to make the commitment you may be able to save Nova".
Don and I discussed the options and quickly decided that we wanted to gamble and try to save our baby. With Dr O’Malley’s help we loaded Nova into our minivan and started the 90-minute journey to the North Carolina State University Veterinary Hospital.
Knowing that a broken equine leg is often a death sentence, even for a yearling miniature horse, we were praying that Dr. O'Malley had made a mistake. Shocked and numb, I fought back the tears while Nova snuggled-up between us in the van. Even now suffering from the pain of a broken bone, he was the same sweet, friendly colt as always playfully tugging at my cap and trying to lick the salty tears from my cheeks.
Desperate to do anything to save our baby Don and I discussed amputation and wondered if a three-legged horse could survive without foundering on the good leg that would have to support the extra weight. We discussed hand-made traction devices and innovative ways that we might be able to immobilize Nova for the months required for his leg to heal.
When we arrived at the Horse Hospital, the doctors were guarded not to hold-out any hope until the x-rays were completed and they discussed two treatment plans, one plan ending with the delivery of Nova's cremated ashes to the farm. They explained that lower-leg fractures are often easier to treat that upper-leg injuries and that if Nova has multiple fractures or shattered bones it might be best to put him down.
The hours passed like days while we waited for the radiologist’s report. While we were waiting, we went to the isolation ward to visit BeeBee, a seriously ill tiny miniature horse baby that was donated to the Guide Horse Foundation. Only 3 weeks-old, BeeBee had a tracheotomy tube and an IV line attached as he played with his mother. Watching this tiny baby pony make the best of his situation gave us a sense of the hope that accompanies the horse’s strong will to survive when given half a chance.
After consulting with two other Vets, Nova’s doctor announced "It appears to be a simple fracture, and we have no hesitation in attempting surgery. It will be a long, complex operation, lasting at least 4 hours, and there will be a 5-8 week recovery period in the hospital". Unlike people, horses can never lie in traction, and a complex treatment plan was devised to allow Nova to stand on his three good legs while allowing his fractured leg to heal.
The doctors also cautioned us that even if the surgery is successful, there can be life-threatening complications afterwards such as infection and loosening of the metal screws and plates in Nova's broken leg. However they seemed optimistic that after two months of intensive hospital care, that Nova's prognosis was good. Like any mother, I didn't hesitate for a minute to approve the surgery.
Not that long ago, it would have been difficult to anesthetize a horse successfully for four hours, and no surgeon would have attempted such a risky procedure. Thank God for the advances in Equine Medical technology.
Nova goes in for surgery early tomorrow morning, afterwards I will post a follow-up. Nova is not out-of-the woods yet, but it’s a relief that my baby was born in an age where a leg fracture does not automatically mean an instant death sentence for a horse.
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