Warning: this post contains some graphic images of wounds and blood.
Keeping horses will always involve coping with injuries.
This is one of the worst I’ve dealt with so I’m sharing this experience to help others who face a similar situation.
My Arabian gelding was badly injured to his flanks, sheath, chest, and foreleg when he got caught up on a metal fence.
I helped his healing by using these:
- regular washing with water,
- applying saline/honey spray,
- keeping him with his herd for movement,
- and using Equiheal
Dealing with wounds has been part of caring for horses during the past 45 years I’ve owned them. And because I’ve often lived far away from veterinarians, I’ve had to do most of it myself.
I learned to give injections and to cleanse and bandage wounds. I knew what to use at each stage of treatment which put me in the best position to help Fiera when he became injured.
Hooves banging on metal woke me up when he got hung up on the fence (rails covered with roofing iron) around my berry garden. He must have been leaning on it to reach the fruit inside when the fence collapsed. It looked like he fell in and landed on top of the netting protecting the berries and that freaked him out. He then tried to jump out over the fence but got hung up with his front end on one side and back legs on the other side.
I’d never heard a horse scream so much in pain! With the help of my friend and a chainsaw (yes, it cuts through tin fast), we were able to get him off the fence within 10 minutes.
I always keep a syringe of intravenous pain killer (Flunixin) on hand so I used that right away. Luckily, the bleeding wasn’t coming from any major veins or arteries so it stopped on its own when clotting began.
It happened at 5.30 am on a Saturday morning so I knew it would be difficult to get an equine vet to attend. So I called a nearby experienced horse friend. I was in a bit of shock myself so having a calm hand was a great help.
Then I called another friend with a trailer for transport should we need it. His wounds were so large there was no way of bandaging them to keep dust and dirt out. At this stage, they were very clean so I was reluctant to move him. Transporting him would have also added to the stress he was already in.
I put him in a yard alongside his herd as they were very agitated and would have pushed him around. Then gave him hay, water, Rescue Remedy, and peace to overcome the shock. I called every vet within 2 hours of my place but no one could come that day.
With no other options, I took photos of the wounds and sent them to my two equine vets. Both said it would be impossible to stitch the main wounds due to their location in a stretching area. The smaller leg wound would be fine with a bandage. As the vet knew me well, he was able to organize medications via a colleague. Then his advice was to clean the wounds with gentle running water and spray with a saline mixture daily.
Here is a good guide for the initial assessment and treating of wounds by Equus Magazine.
After bandaging his cut leg, I left Fiera with a cotton blanket on to keep flies away from the open wounds. We then drove to our nearest vet to pick up tetanus antitoxin, penicillin, and more bandages.
The traumatic nature of his entrapment and release caused the herd of six mares he lives with to be very upset. So I dosed everyone (including myself) with the Bach Flower Essence of Rescue Remedy. It took them all day to calm down and relax enough to eat hay while contained next to Fiera.
Ruby was the first to calm down and had a good connection with him so I chose her to be in with Fiera. He worried about not being in the herd. Especially when the herd moved away without him. Separating a stressed herd-living horse causes them concern. Having a quiet friend to keep them company is the best solution.
I’m a great believer in enabling movement for healing where it’s not detrimental to the injury. The swelling his system produced could at least drain better that way.
Over the next few weeks, his pained walking eased into something more fluid. His ‘sideways crabbing’ trot became normal as healing progressed, and he could canter again.
He couldn’t lie down though. After trying once, the stretching of the flank area was too painful so he slept standing for many weeks.
At this stage, he was getting daily wound cleansing which was an education in itself for him. I’d never thought to condition him to hosing (we live in a cool climate!) so to achieve that with minimal stress we sedated him the first couple of times.
I then changed to positive reinforcement using his bucket feed during treatment. When he finished that we used small amounts of sunflower seeds to continue the rewards. This worked well and when we were hosing every second day, I could treat him at liberty while he ate his daily feed.
The Treatment Regime
The treatment regime started with cleansing the wounds with a very light spray from the hose. This softened the scabs enough to remove them and cleaned up the serum that dripped from the flanks. All his wounds had low open drainage points and the weather was cool so flies weren’t a bother. After drying around the wound edges I applied Vaseline to keep the serum from sticking to his skin and hair.
There was a lot of swelling under his abdomen for the first 10 days from fluids produced to help with healing. This is quite a normal process and movement helps this fluid to disperse.
I changed the bandage on his front cannon bone every 2 days for the first 2 weeks. Then I was able to leave it uncovered as proud flesh filled in. This was the slowest wound to heal but typical of an area where there’s little flesh.
From day ten I was hosing him every second day but continuing with daily spraying of honey and saline. After four weeks he was healing so well I was able to reduce the saline/honey spray to every second day. The saline/honey recipe is 30g (1 level tablespoon) of plain salt to 1 litre of water and 1 tablespoon of raw honey.
You can find more info on making a saline spray here.
At 3 weeks I concentrated the honey to 3 tablespoons in each liter of the saline mix. After 4 weeks I cleansed then applied pure honey which was locally harvested and not heat-treated so it contained all the good healing properties.
By the time the wounds were completely closed and starting to granulate, I changed from using honey to Equiheal which kept them from developing hard scabs, and reduced small bits of proud flesh.
12 weeks after the injury his wounds were completely healed and at 6 months there is very little visible scarring.
I am constantly in awe of how horses, with a little help from us, can heal.
Obviously, the right treatment to avoid infection and promote good health is going to help a lot. Throughout his healing period, Fiera was fed his usual daily bucket feed of lucerne chaff with Copra, salt, and Balanced Equine Minerals. He also benefitted from eating grass – good old ‘Dr. Green’.
Freedom, friends, and a quiet environment certainly helped too.
His mind has taken longer to heal as, like humans, horses can suffer post-traumatic stress. If he hears tin rattling or sees something strange in the berry garden, he’s still quite scared.
And I don’t blame him one bit – every time I heard tin moving, I also had to deal with flashbacks! So we give ourselves time and try not to dwell on it – for accidents do happen…
Please, never use roofing tin anywhere that your horses can come into contact with it. They’ll most likely find a way to hurt themselves!
Fiera leading the girls – all healed and happy.