Monday, April 29, 2013

No Frills 30

Oh how I thought I would be writing a story so different from the one I'm about to tell. I've spent most of today recovering physically and mentally from yesterday's events. It was such a high-stress time that I didn't have much time to really sit around and let it sink in until now. I've slept 13 hours since finally getting home shortly after midnight last night. I've tended the mare twice, and now I sit here ready - I think - to tell this story.

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Friday dawned early. I was to the barn by 7a to have Q ready for Jen's arrival between 7:30a-8a. I pulled her out of the field with little issue after the previous day's baby hormones. She was mostly back to herself it seemed. I gave her a flake of hay to encourage that good behavior and brushed her awhile as we waited on Jen.

A couple minutes before 8a Jen pulled in the drive. I could hear banging coming from the trailer and see it rocking behind her truck as she pulled up to the barn. She wasn't kidding, I thought, Eagle really does hate being on that damn trailer alone. We loaded up my water, hay, and saddle then moved to get Q loaded. She trotted around me like a little mad woman as I walked her to the rocking, banging, neighing trailer. Jen opened the window to grab her lead and tie it when she got on, and I sent her on. She self-loaded beautifully. I was so proud of her. Eagle immediately ceased all of his antics with his new lady friend aboard.

Jen showed me how her husband had built bunks in her small living quarters and she had plenty of room for all of my stuff + Kenai. We quickly took all of my things in my car and moved them to her truck/trailer and were on the road by 8:15a. Not too shabby.

We pulled into ridecamp right around 11a after only stopping one time along the way. Camp was small. Tight quarters. Designated parking places. Limited space for corrals. We were able to get camp set up pretty quickly though. We checked in after we'd settled camp and then sat around talking and snacking as we awaited the 3p vet-in. Q and Eagle fell in love pretty quick as they munched away on their alfalfa flakes. Jen ended up taking a nap and I sat reading and sunning myself. The weather was beautiful.

Q vetted in at 3a with all A's and a pulse rate of 52. She trotted out very nicely for me and didn't run the vet over. I was really proud of how well behaved she was for the entire check. Such a good girl.

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Jen and I saddled up Eagle and Q and headed out with another rider to get in a few miles and see how the horses felt. We rode this whole time on gravel roads. I discovered that Q finds gravel roads very boring. The other two horses have really big trots. While Q absolutely can trot like that, too, she definitely prefers to just canter. It made me chuckle a bit. We did have a few stretches where everyone cantered, too. Q's inner competitive spirit came out as she surged past both of the other horses we were with. Each of us was laughing at her. She thinks she's such a hotshot sometimes.

About halfway through our ride, Jen really became concerned with Eagle. He was a little off on his left hind and she couldn't figure out why. She rides him barefoot, but puts shoes on him for really rocky rides like No Frills. She wondered if he was just mad about the shoes. He gets really angry anytime his tack is changed at all. He's been the hardest horse she's ever had to train out of hundreds she's started over the years for herself and others. He's a superstar though, so working through his difficulties has been worth it.

She had a vet look at him when we got back to camp and decided she wasn't going to run him the next day. He wasn't breaking over right on that left hind when he moved out at a walk. It wasn't noticeable until he walked downhill. The vet thought he might have felt a little heat in the fetlock, but it was so hard to tell. It was determined to likely be a minor sprain. He's set to run the 100 at the Biltmore FEI ride this weekend upcoming, so pulling him out of the running for the 30 was the safest bet.

The ride dinner and meeting went without issue and Jen and I were in the bunks for bed by 8p. The night was a little cold, but I slept fairly well despite it.

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Saturday dawned earlier than I'd hoped. Jen and I were up around 5:30a. I putzed around for awhile not wanting to get out of bed and confront the cold. She assured me it wasn't too bad outside. I mustered up the
strength and got out of bed and headed to confront the day.

The 50s were set to start at 7a and the 30s at 9a. Talk about luxury distance! I gave Q her grain concoction and went up with Kenai to get myself a muffin from ride management. I went back to our camp to get my phone and then took Kenai on a walk for awhile away from camp so he could be off leash (he basically won't poop on leash). I nommed my muffin, drank some juice, and perused the internet with my phone while he explored for awhile and did his business. We went back to camp in time for me to tie him at our camp and go watch the 50 milers head out.

Jen left with the volunteers to go to the away vet check for the day right after the 50s left and I mosied back down to our camp to lazily get dressed and ready for my start. I rearranged and removed some of what I usually carry in my saddle bag to make it a little lighter, booted Q up, then tacked her up. She was a little antsy, not wanting to stand still, but no other antics as we awaited the start. I was really pleased with her.

Ride time reached 9a and the trails were opened. The front runners headed out and I ended up leaving with a small group of riders after that. I knew we were far from leaving camp last, but those leaving later weren't even mounted and I didn't much want to wait around, so off we went.

We had an easy trot up the gravel road to the top of the mountain where we veered left into the woods along the ridgeline. There were so many downed trees along the first mile of this trail. Q and I were having an absolute BLAST jumping them. I wish we hadn't been in a group of riders so I could have let her just tackle them all out. It was so much fun. Those jumps really pepped her up and got her into a great mindset for traveling along.

The ridgeline single track popped out at a firetower where we then followed along a FS road for awhile until turning back into the woods about a mile down the ridgeline. We were riding right along the WV-VA line. The vistas to our left were of VA and to our right were of WV. Not a cloud in the sky, a light breeze, and temps in the upper 60s. It was stunning. I was beyond happy and Q was moving out incredibly well.

The Virginia side; not the redbuds
in bloom at the valley-bottom
We crossed Rt. 55 and continued in the woods along the Tuscarora Trail that followed the stateline high up on a ridgeline. So. Flipping. Beautiful. Rocky, sure, but nothing too crazy. All typical for this part of the country.

Q was moving out beautifully. We had partnered up with another rider and her little Arab filly who was doing her first ride. Q and the filly made a great team. Both the other rider and I were snapping tons of photos as we trotted along. The pace was probably around 6-6½ mph. pretty quick but so much fun. There really weren't a lot of up and downs, just ridgeline riding with rocks to navigate.

We'd reached the rockiest section of the trail yet around 6 miles out. We'd slowed to a walk to let the horses navigate the terrain better. A rock lodged in the trail ahead like a step down looked like it would be pretty tricky to navigate. The filly in front of us put both her front feet on it and slid down. It looked rough and I hoped Q would do a better job of navigating it. I checked her speed to an even slower walk before she got to the rock. She got her front feet down it just fine, but then she got confused (I think?) with her hind feet. She lurched to the left as she took a misstep with the hinds and then as she walked away from it she was off in the back end.

I looked down to see blood on her left hind stocking. Fuck.

I got off and found a sizeable cut on the medial aspect of her left stifle. I grabbed a water bottle from my pack and flushed the wound within 60 seconds of it happening. I could see the fascia of muscle, but nothing crazy beyond that. A vein had been sliced, but it was small. Blood spurted from it all the same. I noted that the cut had missed a larger vein by less than a half inch and thanked my good fortune that it hadn't cut up there.

I told the lady on the filly that I was done and for her to head on. I pulled Q to the side of the trail, cursing myself for taking out the cravat I'd had in my saddle pack that morning. I zipped it open to find I did have a medical sponge/scrub, and an ace bandage. I tied Q to a tree alongside the trail and proceeded to try to wrap the cut.

Riders kept coming by and gasping at the amount of blood. It looked a lot worse than it really was because of her white stocking now being red. I was concerned, but not very worried. My medical training with ski patrol has taught me a lot about wounds and I was confident this was not a life threatening one - but it would be tricky to get it to clot because I couldn't get a bandage to wrap on the area.

Riders kept riding by, freaking out, asking if there was anything they could do, giving me vet wrap, asking my
The bandages a day later. These really emphasize the amount of blood.
number to report to management, etc. etc. Great folks. Big thanks to all who stopped to check on me and special thanks to the lady who held Q still for a bit while I tried to wrap the wound.

I realized after a few attempts that nothing was going to stay on the laceration because of its location. I opted to just start walking and get her to the vet check. We were 4 miles away. I flushed the wound once more and then started hiking.

She was sound on the leg and with time the bleeding slowed. The blood coagulated as it clotted around the wound and the vein. Q didn't seem to understand why we'd stopped, why I was walking, and why she couldn't keep going like she had been. She was completely unperturbed by the riders that passed and kept going. Walking up a few little hills along the ridgeline she tried to run me over so I finally opted to hop back up and ride for a bit.

I hopped back off a few minutes later, checked and flushed the wound again, and continued hiking. With time we reached the end of the ridgeline and headed down a super steep, rocky hill. Q was polite and respected my space as I scrambled down it not nearly as gracefully as she did. I even fell at one point, doing a front somersault and Q just stopped and looked down at me with a Well, that was graceful, Liz, now what exactly are you doing on the ground? look.

The steep ended at a gravel road about a mile out from the vet-check. Q's wound had stopped bleeding at this point. I hopped on Q and rode her up the road, wanting to get to the vet-check by the 11a cut off just in case the wound proved to be superficial and something we could continue with. (I really doubted it, but us reaching the vet-check by 11a was definitely feasible.) Our in time was 10:57a.

The in-timers were astonished by the blood down Q's leg. Even more than that though, they seemed surprised at my lack of great concern for it. I explained my ski patrol training to them, explained what the wound had appeared as, and told them why I wasn't super freaked. They just sort of nodded at me and I continued down to get Q's pulse. She was a little high, so I headed up to get her sponged off and find Jen to get her opinion.

Jen waved and came right over when she saw me. She agreed that as long as Q was sound that it certainly looked like a superficial wound that I could continue with (she's been around the block and then some with rides and I definitely trust her judgement). We sponged Q and she came down really quickly to 60 bpm. As Jen and I walked her down the hill we noted that she was a little off on that left hind. I wasn't too surprised and was happy that she was finally being honest about how it hurt instead of being superpony and pushing through. I called forward to the vets as we approached that I was done and we were going to need a ride back to camp to the treatment vet to get the wound looked at and stitched up. Her vet-out was Ds on impulsion, gait, and wounds, As on everything else.

With 10 miles, our attempt at the No Frills 30 was thwarted. It was starting to sink in that I wouldn't get to continue riding those beautiful trails that day and I was really sad about it. It was just so pretty! I had really been loving every second of our ride. I was really, really sad I wouldn't get to spend the rest of the day out there. Beyond my sadness though I was so thankful that she wasn't more seriously injured. That we would be able to get stitches, have a week or two off, and then plug away and be back at it for the Old Dominion in June.

I led Q back up to the area of the check that had food to get her something to eat before we headed back to ridecamp on the trailer. A volunteer got her some carrots (the biggest EVER) and some grain. She dug right in and I sat beside her while she ate, sipping on a bottle of water. I could hear other volunteers talking about "the rider with the cut horse" nearby. I guess they didn't notice how close I was. They were talking about how bad the horse looked but how awesome it was that the rider was a ski patroller and knew that the horse would be okay; they had a few other really nice things to say. Sometimes its nice to hear people say things like that. I was still sad at this point, but happy that others respected my decision-making skills.

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Back at ridecamp, I dumped my stuff in a heap, unloaded Q, and headed over to the treatment vet. She had to finish checking on a horse from the 50 that had tied up (he ended up recovering and was okay) before she could assess Q. When she finished we moved Q to the shade, sedated her, and the vet set to inspecting the wound. She probed it and found that it the incision extended toward the ground under the skin about 1¼ inch. She was concerned that the joint might be compromised. It was hard to tell without radiographs and ultrasound if the joint had been compromised. If it had been affected, she would need to have surgery to have it levaged in order to minimize the chance of the joint losing functional capabilities.

Visible injury with dotted line
depicting the extent of the wound
What seemed like such a relatively minor injury just got really complicated.

The treatment vet noted that she could definitely stitch or staple it up, but she had to let me know about the risk of this. She offered to refer me to the equine hospital in Leesburg. I had her call the vet there and I talked to her, got price estimates for what could happen. Part of me wanted to go home to our normal vet, but she was out riding and didn't have cell service so I couldn't get ahold of her to get her opinion. I had the volunteers radio to the vet-check to get Jen to come back to ridecamp.

Waiting on Jen, I talked more with the vet about what could be happening and had her discuss my options again and again. I was really starting to get scared and was thankful I had on sunglasses to hide the tears that were forming. I really started to get scared that something serious was happening. Should I go to the vet hospital? Could I afford that? Was it worth it to potentially pump upwards of $6k into Q?

Jen arrived and assessed the situation. She called one of the other vets we both knew (the uncle to my normal vet, actually) and he noted that time was of the essence for these kinds of things. Jen told me that if this was Eagle she would definitely go to the hospital. "Okay," I said, "Then let's go."

The treatment vet called Leesburg to let them know we were coming. Jen and I packed up camp in record time. She put Eagle in the property owner's round pen. We loaded Q and headed out.

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We were both so freaked the whole drive over. We tried to distract ourselves, but the looming question of how bad this actually was silenced our conversations frequently. I had messaged and called a multitude of friends letting them know what was happening, trying to get answers, and letting others know so they could send positive energy our way. (Thank you, thank you, thank you, all.)

With only one minor wrong turn ,we made it to the hospital. The team was awaiting our arrival and helped us unload Q and get her into the treatment room. I basically turned a very well-behaved Q over to their team and just watched answering their questions as they asked them. They ushered Jen and I out and prepped radiographs.

Jen and I wandered around the halls outside the room for what seemed like forever. She shared stories. I listened. We both danced around and contorted our bodies trying to figure out how in the hell Q hurt herself the way she did. We decided it must have been a stick or something similar.

I realized that whenever they called us back in I would find out news that could potentially change the rest of my life with this horse. It scared me to think about it that way, but the gravity of the moment wasn't lost on me.

And then they called us in.

In a British accent I heard the words, "Well, we didn't find anything wrong with the x-rays. The bones aren't compromised. The radiographs look really good."

RELIEF. Relief washed over me. They'd already shaved the area around the wound and were prepping it.

Sweet, sweet girl.
"So what's this mean?" I asked, "A week or two recovery and a month or so off?" "Yeah," he replied, "The wound extends a lot further than we thought, so probably a week on stall rest and 4-5 weeks until you put her back to work. *the doctor proceeds to insert his entire finger into Q's leg following the wound just under her skin and tracing it down her leg* I used my finger instead of the ultrasound to help save you money....*he makes an odd face as he's feeling something in her leg*...and it feels, hmm. *he mutters a few anatomy terms* Patellar ligament. She's got a knick on her patellar ligament, too."

"What's that mean?" I ask again. "Well, now we're looking at probably 2 weeks of stall rest and then 3 months off work to let that ligament heal completely," he tells me. Okay, I can handle that.  He continues, "So the way this wound is we're going to have to put a drain in. We're also not going to stitch the top closed because it will likely become very granular as it heals and would probably burst open in a few days anyway. The way it extends down her leg into this area *he points* we will need to put a drain in so that all the fluid can get out as its healing. The flap of skin hanging off of the upper part of the incision will likely die off." No surprises on that. Okay, sounds good.

Blue line shows where the injury extended
under the skin. The white is the drain.
Coagulated, dripping blood coming from
the point of exit.
The team inserted the drain (after the second doctor inserted her finger to feel the ligament that had been partially cut for learning purposes - in trying to find it she was fondling the top of Q's tibia...holy crap), prepped the leg up nice, and then left Jen and I with Q while they went to do paperwork. Jen's phone had been ringing off the hook with friends from home and from ridecamp calling to check up on Q. Between calls we discussed how lucky it was that nothing more had been affected by the cut and what the hell could have cut her that deep!? It almost had to have been a stick. And her ligament?! It cut her ligament!? How so very fortunate that nothing else happened!

Q woke up from the sedation, paperwork and instructions for care were given, and we loaded up (after a couple members of the team cooed over Kenai) and headed to get Eagle and go home.

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We pulled into the barn around 10:30p. Fortunately for me (and Q) the foaling stall that had been set up for Calamity was never used (she had the foal in the round pen) and was prepped and ready for Q. I was able to put her in there, get all my stuff out of Jen's rig and into my car and be gone by 11p.

                                                                  SUCH A LONG DAY.

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Sunday I went out to treat Q and give her bute once in the morning and once in the evening. D warned me that when she wen to check on her earlier this morning that Q tried to jump out of the stall when she opened the top of the door. I went down with this in mind and subdued her before any attempt at lift-off could be made. She. Was. WIRED.

I walked her around the barnyard for awhile letting her hand graze. I tied her outside and brought Griffin in
(since he was at the gate) to stand with her while I cleaned her stall. I decided to leave him in the barn in the round pen with her to help her not be so upset about being alone.

The swelling is localized around the wound, nothing crazy happening with the rest of the leg and she's walking sound on it. She's pissed she has to stay inside and doesn't really understand why. I did buy her a boombox though so she can have radio to listen to in addition to having Griffin in the barn with her. That little colt is worth his weight in gold.

When I went out tonight, Q was so much calmer than she'd been in the morning. I got both her and Griffin out, tied them, cleaned their areas, brushed them, cleaned Q's wound around the drain, buted her, fed them, put them back, turned the radio on and left.

This stall rest thing sucks, but I'm hoping we can get through it.
Time off riding/working and my whole summer season in the shitter sucks, but I'm so so so so thankful that she's not hurt worse. She's going to be okay. I'll be able to start working her late summer with the goal of trying the Fort Valley 30 at the end of October if things progress smoothly. She'll have two solid months off of riding and then in July I will start doing some light riding at the walk with a lot of bending and flexing exercises. Jen and I noted when she was on a hard level surface at the hospital that she's buck-kneed on her left front knee. Its not awful, but it is there. (This totally explains what I've been seeing in her hooves.) Jen noted that I need to be certain she's trotting both diagonals and cantering both leads because with time its likely she'll compensate for that leg with the opposite hind.  Gotta keep the little girl balanced!

I've recovered all day today and am finally able to wrap my mind around everything that's happened. It was intense yesterday. Really intense. I never in a million years thought I'd be going to the equine hospital. I'm just so so so very happy that fortune shined upon us and nothing super serious was wrong. I'm thankful for the expertise of the doctors at the hospital finding the ligament injury, too. If I'd proceeded with one of the other options I likely wouldn't have found out about the ligament and would have brought her back into work, too soon, potentially compromising the joint for life. What happened on the trail was a freak accident that could have happened to anyone. I'm just so thankful and fortunate that things weren't any worse than they were.

Love this sweet, sweet, honest little mare and I love that little colt who is taking his voluntary stall rest like a champ so far.

Watching the commotion Saturday morning


  1. Hundreds of training miles with no issues, then 10 miles into your ride...damn! wow, how scary! I had to scroll quickly past the photos, pretty graphic for us wimps! Glad to hear of the good diagnosis, I am sending healing thoughts and patience to your pretty pony!

  2. Oh man, that didn't end the way I was hoping it would! I'm so glad she's OK though, and that she will recover just fine for y'all to have many more rides in the future!

  3. I am so sorry that it ended like this. That is a seriously scary wound. I'm also relieved that it didn't do more damage than it did. That could have been a career/life ender and I'm so glad it wasn't. You sound like you handled it so well and calmly and just... you're a pro. I know that heart stopping feeling of wondering if you life with your horse is about to change forever. It's not a good place to be. Good call about going to the hospital. :( :(

  4. I said it earlier today, and I'll say it again: even from the point of view of someone in the veterinary profession, you did everything PERFECTLY. Kudos to you for staying so calm and collected! I become a mess when it's my own animals, and all the vet tech schooling in the world just goes flying out the window. You did awesome-even continuing to flush the wound while walking Q. (Reading that, I kept wondering, "Would I have thought of doing that with my own horse?" With someone else's yes. But knowing how I become paralyzed with my own, I'm not sure if I'd have thought of that with Lily. You go, girl!) Seeing the before pic prior to going to Leesburg, I can understand why you thought it wasn't that serious initially-that was a deceptively small hole! But man, what a huge pocket! She really must've been speared by a branch; it's impossible to imagine a rock doing something like that, no matter how sharp and jagged. I'm so glad you went to the hospital right away. That could have been so, so bad!
    Sending healing thoughts Q's way. Keep posting pics every few days, so we can see how she's healing. I know you're worried, but I hope you feel better as the days go by and Q does well. Did they put her on an antibiotic by any chance? If they didn't, I might check in with your regular vet, or give Leesburg a call. If it were my horse, I'd want her to be on an antibiotic with a wound like that. Are they having you clean around the drain site?
    I read somewhere that horses find classical music soothing. :) We use it at my hospital in the cat ward.
    And what is up with your mare and mine being laid up due to the same leg? Left hind.

  5. Thank goodness everything's okay! Going to the vet hospital is one of the scariest things in the world. You'll do a stellar job of taking care of her.