Maria, the Misfortunate

Some of you may have seen or read about all the ways that Maria has injured herself. I thought it might be fun interesting to compile as many of her odd injuries as I could remember. I spent some time this week searching through my archive of photos, and I’m kicking myself because I apparently didn’t take or didn’t save many photos of her injuries. I’m sure in the moment I was in damage control mode, literally trying to stop the bleeding, but I’m making a mental note now to make sure I commit everything I can to photograph!

Maria has had a habit of injuring herself, either by getting into awkward situations or just by being plain clumsy, pretty much since the time I got her. I like to think that because of her history as a polo pony, she is just used to getting knocked around and doesn’t see the need to remove herself from the situation, but it could just be a personality flaw. Who knows?

The first injury that I can remember her having happened pretty shortly after we bought her. At this point we were boarding at a large facility, I went out to the barn to ride one afternoon, pulled her out of her stall and walked to the cross ties to tack up. I was leading her from the left side, and when I turned her around in the cross ties, I noticed a huge gash running horizontally from just behind her shoulder to her flank, and two smaller gashes running vertically from her hip down into her flank. I (being 14 at the time) immediately panicked. I called my trainer over, who was just about as confounded as I was by where she managed to get these giant cuts. Fortunately the lacerations were not too deep, they bled a little bit but were pretty superficial. We treated them and returned her to her stall to munch on some hay so we could try to find the culprit in the paddock, where she’d been earlier that day. We searched every inch of fence line but never found the nail or staple or splinter (?) that had done the damage. The wound healed in a matter of days and we were back to our regular program.

The next big incident that I can remember happened after we had moved from the boarding facility to a family friend’s home stable. I was on my way from work and my trainer was already at the barn. We had limited time before it got dark, so she said she would saddle Maria for me (I know, spoiled), then run down to the arena to set some fences for the lesson. I got to the barn and went to get my helmet and to bridle Maria. I noticed that there was some dust and dirt on one side of her and of my saddle. I finished tacking her up and walked down to the arena, and asked Diane if she had noticed anything weird. She said that the saddle and Maria had been clean when she came down to the barn. We weren’t completely sure what happened until a few weeks later, when I was tacking her up in the cross ties again and she started to close her eyes and let her head hang down, then fell down on to knees and jumped back up. She literally fell asleep! I made a vet appointment and they did some tests and determined that she probably had narcolepsy, and we could put her on a medication that was very expensive that might improve the symptoms, but maybe not because narcolepsy in horses is not well studied, or we could try changing her diet. We opted to try changing her diet and it has definitely helped, though there are still times when she stands tied that she’ll start to drift off and I have to get her moving to stay awake.

There was a period of time, several years, where she had spots on the front of her ankles that were rubbed pretty much hairless and starting to scab. She rolls pretty frequently, so I determined that she was pushing off of this spot when she went up and down, and when she was in the run attached to her stall, there was no grass to provide any cushion. Since this was happening so frequently, there was no opportunity for them to heal. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I tried everything to clear these things up. She wore bandages, fly wraps, specially made boots that fastened above and below the joint and covered the whole front of her ankle. I applied every ointment we had and some ridiculous mixtures of ingredients that I found researching online. One called for iodine mixed with white sugar and another called for a paste made out of whole milk, white bread and Epsom salts. I am not kidding. I tried leaving them alone and treating the hell out of them, keeping them covered and letting them breathe. Nothing that I, my trainer, my vet, strangers that I asked for suggestions, anyone could find worked to clear up these stubborn lesions! They didn’t really clear up until we moved the horses to my parents house where they had more access to grassy areas, and even then it still took months in that environment.

There was also a period of time when Maria had a regular water trough in her run. You know the kind, the tall, metal troughs that are used in pretty much every livestock operation ever? Maria viewed it as her personal plunge pool. She would literally soak her front legs in the water until someone noticed and made her get out of it. It got to the point where her hoof tissue was turning brittle from so much time soaking in the water! We removed the tall metal trough and tried a shorter, heavy rubber trough, thinking that it would discourage her from trying to take a dip. No such luck. Since it was shorter and less sturdy than the metal trough, this one would just flip over and drain all of the water into her run or her stall. We eventually had to install automatic waterers (and by ‘we’ I mean the lovely man who owned the property where my horses were living at the time. I literally sometimes cannot believe he didn’t kick Maria out on multiple occasions.) that were mounted on the wall so she would drink her water instead of turning it into a spa treatment.

One afternoon after we had moved to my parents property, I brought Maria in from the pasture to tack up for a ride. I was grooming her and noticed that her eye looked kind of funny on the right side. I stood in front of her face so I could see both eyelids at once, and I was pretty shocked to discover that one of her eyelids was completely swollen! Even after all of the other injuries I had endured with Maria, something about a huge swollen laceration on your horses face just reaches a new level of horrifying. The backstory on this injury is that my parents neighbors also have horses, but they have barbed wire across one section of their fencing that my horses have access to. I assume that their horses were out in that area of their property and some over-the-fence greetings got a little intense. I actually think Maria learned her lesson on that one because we haven’t had issues with the fencing since then (yes, I just knocked on my wooden desk).

The first major (believe it or not) injury that we dealt with happened at a show. It was the last event of the 2010 Spring season. We were stabled in those tent stalls they frequently have at large shows, the kind where it’s red or blue vinyl covering the lower half of the walls and then metal bars from the middle to the top, and the whole thing is covered with what is effectively a giant circus tent. The first night we were there was extremely windy and a lot of the horses were getting upset in their stalls. I was out on Houdini at the time, and when I got back to the barn, someone told me that Maria had been bucking and kicking pretty violently in her stall. Sure enough when I pulled her out of the stall, she was already starting to swell. When we got home, she had a bit of time off to recover. The swelling was gone and she was walking normally, so we decided to put her on the lunge line to see how she looked in the trot. The second she started trotting she lost her balanced, and I don’t know any other way to describe what happened next than to say that she drunkenly stumbled sideways into the fence of the arena, like, actually took part of the fence down. We immediately got her back to her stall and scheduled a vet appointment, which is where we learned through x-rays and an ultrasound that she had compromised the superficial sesamoid ligament and our vet estimated 6 to 8 weeks for it to recover. This meant stall rest, which Maria was not overly fond of, but she did handle it well. The ligament ultimately recovered, but it did cause trouble another time when she slipped while running in the paddock and strained it again. You can actually see exactly where the injury occurred, as she has some permanent ‘stocking up’ in that area of her leg. We’ve rechecked the injury with x-rays to confirm, and it’s really just a large mass of scar tissue over the ligament.

One of the stranger incidents happened in the fall of 2014. One morning, my mom went out to feed the horses and noticed that Maria’s leg looked hugely swollen. She called me right away and when I got to her, she would not bear any weight on her right hind leg and when I say it was swollen, I mean this leg was the same width all the way from her hoof to her stifle. I have never seen anything like it. There was no sign of a wound, puncture, cut or anything, I thought her leg was broken because I had never seen so much swelling before! This was one of the only times that I haven’t been able to get her on a trailer to get to the vet right away. She honestly couldn’t walk and I knew there was no way she could withstand a haul, even if we could have gotten her on the trailer, so we had to wait until my vet could make it out later in the day. The swelling hadn’t subsided at all, and there was still no sign of an external wound. She didn’t have any respiratory distress or other signs, but he still suspected that it was a bite or a sting of some sort. She got a steroid shot and some bandages and I cannot tell you how relieved I was to come out the next morning and see her bandages sliding down her leg because the swelling had reduced so dramatically! It took another few days before a lovely would emerged on her lower leg, which seemed to be the evidence we were looking for of a bite or a sting being the culprit.

The bite took several weeks to heal, and since it was right on top of a joint, I didn’t want to aggravate it further by riding or having her moving around excessively until it did. I kid you not, the very day that I was able to get back on, we had a great, low-key ride, I untacked her and went to get her blanket to put back on, came back to where she was tied and noticed that she was favoring her right front leg a bit. It turned out to be a huge abscess, the entire width of her foot under the heel. My vet had to separate her hoof wall on both sides to be able to drain it fully. This, of course, resulted in another few weeks before we were able to start riding again.

There have (unfortunately) been plenty more instances of Maria coming out of her stall in the morning or coming in from the paddock at night with scrapes, cuts, swelling, really anything you can imagine. The most recent series of injuries happened throughout 2017. In January, she came out of her stall one morning with a pretty nasty heel grab. It ended up needing sutures and several weeks off to heal. We went back to work until, in March, she came out of her stall again one morning with what looked like a heel grab and a deep laceration on her ankle. At this point I didn’t think that the injuries were related because they were so different in appearance. More sutures, more time off.

We again went back to work after a few weeks, then, in May my mom was feeding one morning and called me in a panic because there was blood everywhere and Maria had deep cuts all over her leg. I rushed out to the barn and was, of course, horrified by what I saw. Maria had four large, deep, messy lacerations on her right front leg. The biggest one was on her inner forearm and was so deep that you could actually see some of the smaller ligaments. I was completely convinced that this was it, there was no way she would be okay or would recover.

As much as I can joke about how accident prone Maria is, I was terrified that this would be the one she couldn’t come back from. After some panicked phone calls and deliberating, I decided to try to get her on the trailer to get her to the vet as soon as possible. After he saw the lacerations and got them cleaned up enough to work on, he determined that the cuts were too jagged to suture and that they would have to heal open. We makeshifted a lovely bandage for her entire leg, which essentially consisted of two regular standing bandages stacked on top of each other, over a lot of cotton padding, gauze and Vetrap underneath. She had to wear the full bandage and have it changed every few days (which was a process in and of itself, trying to keep it clear of debris and flies while it was uncovered, during a Texas summer). She was finally healed enough to take off the bandages and enjoy some limited turnout around the end of July, and was pretty much back to her normal routine, with a little more AluShield than normal, by mid-August. I’m actually pretty impressed with how well the wounds all healed. You can still see some superficial evidence of them, but once her coat grew back in around those areas, the visible damage is pretty minimal.

I am also impressed with you if you have made it this far! I’ll leave you with the first thing that my vet said to Maria the last time I pulled her off the trailer at his clinic and led her into the x-ray room:

“Mare, you’re sure lucky you have an owner who loves you.”

You can say that again.