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In Loving Memory...
~ Gogo Fatale ~


6/2/01 - 10/11/11
~ Forever the Marest of Them All ~
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Sunday, February 13, 2011

When completely freak things happen to good horses. (RIP Penny.)

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.

26 comments:

sally said...

Oh wow Andrea .....you poor things to have to deal with such a sight and experience. The poor mare ....to go through such pain. RIP sweet horse and you guys look after yourselves as that can really play with your head that sort of stuff.

Hurricanes12 said...

firstly, no human should ever have to see something like that. hearing stories like this make me realise how fragile horses really are :(
it's by far the worst equine horror story i've heard ever, i'm so glad i didn't have to witness it.
so sorry for both you, and the horse's owners, as well as the poor mare.

Lisa said...

That is just horrifying! Poor mare... What a horrible thing for everyone involved. :(

rckinghrse said...

I'm so sorry, Andrea, for all of you and for Penny. Sometimes I think horses are the biggest heartbreakers known to man/woman. I've had a couple tragedies, but nothing like that. Take care.

spotteddrafter said...

Oh how awful, how horribly awful.

I'm so sorry you had to witness that, but I am glad she had some great horse people with her at the end.

Dom said...

That is completely horrible. I was reading and thinking she was going to end up with a broken leg and thought, "That sucks, but I've seen worse." Then I got to the end. Holy crap. Poor horse :( Stall bars scare the crap out of me. We had 1" square grates at the breeding farm and I think that's what I'd get if I ever built a barn myself. I'm so sorry for your barn's loss. I hope I never see anything like this myself.

Lexie said...

Andrea, I don't know what to say. I'm so sorry you and everyone else had to go through that.
I hope in time, you're able to sleep easily, and not have that etched in to your eye lids.

Jo Belasco said...

Ours is not an easy profession. Along with the wonderful times with these creatures some the times like you described. I'm so sorry for this poor mare and for all of you who had to witness what you did. Please take good care of yourself as you heal from this experience.

Alighieri said...

Oh, no. I heard about this this weekend. I have competed against S many times on her other horse and she is such a nice person. Her heart must be breaking and my sympathy goes out to both her and all those who had to witness the mare's suffering. RIP poor Penny.

GunDiva said...

Poor baby. Euthanization was the best thing, but how horrible.

Stacey said...

I'm sorry you had to see that Andrea.

Melissa said...

Wow. That's incredibly gruesome. My imagination fails me, and I'm glad of that. The poor horse. Nothing should have to die like that.

At least it's clear that you (and everyone else involved) did everything you could for her and there's no 'what if I had made a different decision' to torment yourself with. Small mercy.

I hope the images - and the smells - fade quickly for you and everyone else. Ugh.

Kate said...

Oh Andrea, that is just awful, that poor mare. Thank you to her owners for ending her suffering. I hope you can get some rest, I can't imagine what that would have been like to witness in person as your words are already haunting me.

jenj said...

Gosh, I'm so sorry to hear that. That must've been horrible for you and everyone else there to see and go through. RIP Penny, and I hope her owner is doing OK.

*Sharon* said...

Hugs.

Tricia said...

Oh, Andrea, I am so sorry... for you, for the mare, for her owner, for everyone involved. As haunted as I am just for reading about it, I cannot imagine your suffering. Thank you for having the courage and the fortitude to write about it. Godspeed, Penny.

Me, baby and horses said...

I think you are really brave to have handled that, I just felt like my heart was torn for that mare and the owner reading this, what a horrible thing to have to go through for all parties, it makes me want to go give my horse a big hug...

Karen said...

My God. You are full of strength to have been able to keep it together through something that horrifying. How heartbreaking for everyone involved.

Ruffles said...

OMG! That would have to be soooo hard to witness. I feel so sorry for Penny's owner right now!

R.I.P Penny

Val said...

You are a true horseperson, Andrea. You stayed with Penny and helped her in any way that you could, even when every inch of you wanted to leave. You were her hero, in her last moments.

I am so sorry.

Albigears said...

God, a living nightmare. The horror of her suffering in pain and scared and alone. So so so so sorry you had to experience that. I hope that we can help ease the burden just by knowing this story.

Abby said...

I am so sorry you had to go through that! I drove up to the barn last Saturday and saw a tarp being loaded into a truck. "Hmm, that's odd," I thought, "what is being loaded into a truck at 9 AM in the morning?" Then, I saw four hairy pony legs poking out of the tarp. I almost threw up. It was our 30 year old resident old fart pony who had colicked the night before. I can't imagine having to go through and see what you saw. I think I might have died on the spot once I saw that eyeball. You are one strong girl!

Andrea said...

Alighieri, I hear that this story is all over the community. I dunno what's being said but apparently EVERYBODY knows about it. It's so awful because there is seriously nothing that we did wrong.

Jenny said...

Wow.... what a shockingly horrible experience!
I thought I had been through some bad stuff with horses... but nothing compared to this. So sorry to hear this.. and how tragic for her owner.

Alighieri said...

Andrea, I don't know what is being said, but I didn't hear anything that implicated you (or your facility) did ANYTHING wrong. Like you said, this seemed to be a complete freak accident and you handled it the best anyone possibly could have.

I can tell you that the eventing community in Area V is VERY tight knit and news spreads like wildfire. The majority of us see each other at every single show, we've competed against each other for many years, we're all friends on facebook. I think the majority of people found out through facebook, once condolences started to come on to S's page, the story came out and everyone else then knew.

Please don't think that anyone is thinking badly of you and your facility. We all know that horses will try their hardest to break themselves. It's just incredibly unfortunate that poor Penny tried that hard.

I will throw out that if I DO hear anything negative about the way the situation was handled, I will set them straight. But I swear to you that I have only heard stories of shock and sadness over the mare's fate, nothing negative about the handling of the situation.

Andrea said...

Ok good cause I heard otherwise!