Sometimes I think horses were put on this planet to completely traumatize humans and break their hearts. They just always seem to find the most amazing things to maim and kill themselves on. Don't even bother reading this story if you're not interested in some serious suffering and gore. I've seen some pretty gruesome things in my life, and I have a an innate ability to hold it together during a crisis, but I have to admit that even my stomach turned during this whole ordeal. It was bad.
The facility I work at is private. We don't take on boarders unless there is a good reason behind it, which is what had happened in the particular situation of my boss' good friend's daughter S, who needed a place to take her horses for a bit while getting herself out of an ex-boyfriend situation. Her two horses have been with us for about a month or so, and were scheduled to leave this weekend. On Thursday, we arrived at the barn at 7:45 as usual, and I asked the other guy R that works with me to go retrieve Penny's feed pan so that we could feed everyone (she was fed a night check grain so her pan was still in her stall). He said all right, and walked away. Not a moment later, I heard a very concerned "Uhhh... you better come here..." issue from her stall. When I walked over to investigate, my jaw dropped. The stall bars on our stalls were designed by my boss to only be three inches apart (to make sure no hoof could ever get in there), and were hand-welded to make sure they were all perfectly placed. Somehow, some way, Penny had either kicked or had gotten herself cast and had put her right hind foot through the bars. There wasn't a single dent anywhere. I have absolutely no idea how she did it, but once in there she couldn't get her foot free, and was laying flat on the floor of her stall with her right hind still up and caught in the bars. She had degloved pretty much her entire pastern area trying to free herself, and was still wedged tight, pieces of raw skin and smears of blood all over the wall and bars. She lay helplessly, her eye rolling as I entered the stall. The marks in the shavings showed much thrashing, mostly from her front legs, but otherwise she was still. I called my boss and immedaitely following called the vet, and we also got hold of the owners and told them to get out to the barn ASAP. The other worker tried in vain to crowbar Penny's leg out of the stall, but we soon realized that the metal was far too strong. While I sat on Penny's neck and shoulder to keep her still, R took a buzzsaw to the bars (which are thankfully hollow), and sawed as close as he could get before taking a sledgehammer and pounding the rest of the bar off. Penny could not physically lower her leg... it was just frozen there in mid-air, rock solid and eerie. It did eventually relax enough to come down, but it was unpleasant to look at for a few minutes. It was also at this time that I started to really pay attention to the amount of swelling around her head and neck, and noticed some fleck of chunky meat-looking subtance on the mats. R noticed it to, and carefully lifted her head up off of the ground. Neither of us were prepared for what we saw next: the mare's entire eyeball hanging out of her skull, mashed into an unrecognizable meatball pulp. Half of her head was grossly swollen, and her face had no definition all the way from her muzzle to her ear. In her desperate attempts to free herself, she had completely destroyed that side of her face. I cannot imagine how long it took for the eye to get to the state that it was in. It was mashed enough that it was clearly not a quick or painless process.
With the vets and owners on their way, there was nothing more to do than to keep her down on the ground and quiet. My boss arrived just as the mare started to thrash, and it took all three of us sitting on her to keep her still and quiet. She struck, kicked and thrashed, but made no efforts to come sternal or to get up. Thankfully both the vet and the owners arrived at about the same time, so we were able to quickly get some meds into the mare to try and relax her and keep her comfortable while we assessed the situation. There was nothing to be done about the eye while she was down - it would clearly have to be removed - and there was no way to safely reach the damaged hind leg, which was twice the size it had been when we pulled it free of the bars. The vet's concern at that point was Penny's shocky state and the fact that her head was continuing to swell. If she didn't stand, there was a risk of her nostrils swelling shut as fluid continued to build in her head, or fluid pooling in her lungs. If she stayed down, she was dead. But we didn't know if we could get her up, or if we should. She still was making no effort to get up, and hadn't moved her head at all from where it was. We tried pulling, pushing, rocking, tugging, manipulating her limbs.... anything to try and coax her up. We had no response from her at all except for a rolling, frightened eye. She smelled like death and none of us wanted to say it outloud.
That was the point that we cut her blankets off of her to get a better look at her back. Eerie swellings had cropped up along her withers and midback, and the vet ran the cap of a needle down her spine and along her shoulders and hips. She had a minimal response in her front end, and none in her hind. The likelihood that her back was broken was extremely high. There was a very, very small possibilty that swelling was causing her paralysis, and that we could have tried to get the swelling down and get her to be able to stand that way, but at that point it appeared that the leg was also broken, which would have made standing impossible. It was at this point that the owners tearfully opted to euthanize, and we continued to hold her thrashing body down right up until the final moment when the vet injected her. It was such an enormous relief to finally see her be still.
Given how much her body was stinking even before she was gone, we opted to not do a full necropsy, but to take radiographs for insurance purposes instead. We laid sheets and blankets over her body, and waited for the vets to return with their machinery. Radiographs confirmed that she had indeed broken her neck at the base, sustained at least four fracutures in her back that we could find (and it was highly likely that there were more), and had also luxated (dislocated) her pastern. A luxation is in some cases worse than a break because of the displacement, which was the case in this situation. The necropsy continued to get more and more disturbing as we had to lift and manipulate her body to get all of the radiographs, and then lift her legs and flip her onto her gross side in order to get pictures for the insurance. Staring at a grotesquely swollen face, with a pale and crushed tongue already hard with rigor mortis and poking out from between teeth, and a meatball shoved in a socket where an eye should be all deeply disturbed me. That is not an image that will leave me. Worse yet was when the guys tied ropes to her hind legs, flipped her up onto her back, and dragged her body out the door with the tractor to lay out on the grass in the sunshine while waiting for the renderer to come pick her up for cremation. The dogs were all VERY interested in her, and I had to cover her face again with a towel for fear that one of them might have a little eyeball snack. Looking at that face made me want to throw up. When the renderer picked her up, blood poured out of her head like a waterfall, once again sending the dogs into a frenzy. She laid out on the grass for hours, and just reeked. Her stall stinks too despite the fact that we stripped it, like words don't even describe. It's lingering, and it will not. Go. Away. I didn't sleep that night....... all I could do was worry about Gogo. And all I could see when I closed my eyes were pale tongues and meatball eyes. At some point I finally just got up, made myself a drink, and laid on the couch for hours. I don't think I've caught up on my sleep since.
So that's that. I've seen more disturbing things, to be sure, and witnessed a worse death (Quincy's), but still. Pretty awful stuff. As a young professional, I've already had my first horse that I saved. It was inevitable that I'd have my first one that I couldn't. Sometimes there is absolutely no way to prepare yourself for these things because you cannot possibly imagine how they could ever do things like this. That mare suffered through excruciating pain for hours, and that is the part that bothers me worst of all.
Zac's 3 week update
18 hours ago