Thursday, December 04, 2008


Magic in the Barn

I just have to blog about this. Many people will read our blogs but do not venture in to our bulletin boards. And this must be known. So I have to blog about this.

True magic – real magic – the goose-bump kind of magic - happened in the barn yesterday.

With everything else going on – the cold, the news story, the telephone, the upcoming breakfast, the computer failure, and the wind – it was time for Miss April’s eight week trim and reset of her front shoes. Our specialized farrier, Dave, is one of a kind. His heart is as big as his hands. His smile is ready and he always – read that as always – has a joke to tell. His diligence and commitment to helping Miss April walk is contagious. He will see her run, he told me once. Over a year ago, he told me that he would see this little mare run someday.

Over a year ago I was at the end of my attempts with Miss April. It seemed that everything I tried only made her worse. The winter of 2006-2007 she spent on her side and she literally wore holes in her hips – right through her hide – from the constant pressure. Her feet hurt her so badly that she would stand only to eat or drink. Even her manure came out of her as she was on the ground.

I had consulted over four vets on her condition. No one seemed to know what to do other than to bute and support her. But I consulted just one more vet on what to try for her – Doc Magnusson. A common sense kind of a vet, Doc Magnusson took one look at her and then at me. “How long has she been this bad? Maybe you need to put her down.” I explained her story and how she had never really been able to walk – chronic laminitis from starvation while in the womb. I tried to explain the emaciated mare of a mother and the no milk at birth. The fighting of the milk replacer and the spunk of them both that kept them together until the mare could produce milk from her very first bites of hay and sips of water. He looked at her teeth and felt her joints. He clucked and said, “Poor girl. Everything hurts on her.”

He said he really couldn’t do anything for her other than to mask the pain. And that, he felt, was what was keeping her alive. But he did tell me about a farrier that he had worked with that had brought back one other horse from a bad case of laminitis. Not this bad, though. Doc warned me that it was a long and expensive process. That once it was started if you stopped, the animal would need to be put down. “But”, he said, “She’s there anyway already.”

I called this farrier. And called. He was swamped and really didn’t have time to take on another severe case. But he would talk to Doc Magnusson and then get back to me. A week later, the farrier called me and told me to take her back to the Doc for x-rays. He wanted to see if he could actually do anything for her.

The x-rays were taken and her turned little toes were like ballerina feet. It was worse than even I had suspected. Doc Magnusson patted Miss April and wished her well. I think what he saw told him that she was beyond repair.

Well, that was over a year ago. Dave, the farrier, has diligently been in the barn in the heat, in the flies, in the mud, in the freezing cold, with his bum knees, his sore back, his ripped up shoulders…. every eight weeks like clockwork. Dave is here and resets her front shoes and trims her hind feet. And we have her front shoes on her backwards to relieve the pressure on her toes. Dave has also made custom pads to serve like bedroom slippers for her to help support her frog and give her some cushion to ease the task of walking.

Yesterday as I brought Miss April in to the barn for her trim I let her walk around the center of the barn freely while we waited. I studied her. And I started to see the results of the work of this talented man. Her chest was a bit smaller that it has been up to now – her muscle is relaxing a bit. In fact, when I rubbed her chest, it is actually a bit softer now, too. She is not so tense and frightened to move anymore.

Her hindquarters are smaller, too. Her hips seem more like a horse’s hips now than like bull’s hips. She has some roundness to them and they, too, are a bit softer. She’s not supporting her weight on her hind feet any longer like she has all her life. She can put weight on her front like a horse should.

Her head is up and her eyes are alive. She’s interested in the world around her. Not as absorbed by her own pain and the ground that she needs to maneuver with those tender feet of hers. And not so watchful that another horse may bump in to her. She is active and participating in her surroundings - not avoiding contact and on guard all the time as she has been.

And she walked around the hard ground of the barn easily – not tiptoeing and then suddenly moving off a foot that maybe had stepped on some uneven ground unexpectedly. She seemed relaxed and comfortable. When Dave arrived, he looked at her and said, “She’s starting to look like a horse, isn’t she?”

Then the magic happened.

We put her in the shoeing bed and made sure the belts and lead ropes were secure and correctly attached. Then I bent down next to her and went to try to get that left front foot up to begin the reset of her front shoes.

Miss April shifted and moved and feet started moving and I flew up and away from her. I looked at Dave and he looked at me and then we looked at Miss April. What was wrong? Was she in pain? Why did she move from just the thought of my touch? Was there an abscess? Did she have a wound? Was she sore in the cold weather?

Then we both smiled and stood in amazement. We congratulated and praised Miss April. We both celebrated!

You see, Miss April had simply put herself “in position” for that left front foot. In that past, we have had to winch her front feet up because she was so resistive to putting pressure on the other sore feet. But today? Nope, she rested in the bellybands, shifted her weight, and that left front foot was lifted by her for me! She was ready to go!

Was this a fluke?

We finished the left front foot – no sign of new bruising or new abscesses, the shoe was the proper size which meant her foot was no longer spreading out as it had in the past, the silicone was placed in to give her frog extra support and then the foot was released and she stood on all fours again.

I went to her right side and once again bent down to reach – but not yet touch – that right front foot. And voila! She shifted her weight, laid in the bellybands, and lifted that foot for me all on her own! This horse knows! She knows that she is healing! She knows that this is good for her! And no longer does she wince with every tap of the hammer. No longer does she fight the lifting of a foot. She is on the way to being a sure-footed mare and she knows it!

And yet, there was more magic to come.

In the past, we have used the shoeing bed for Miss April’s hind feet as well. She doesn’t have shoes on those hind feet, but she has been so resistive to putting pressure on her sore front feet that we have needed to winch her hind feet up as well. And she has shown us on more than one occasion that she really isn’t appreciating this process!

But today? Today Farrier Dave ordered me to “Back ‘er on outta there!” And so Miss April was untied and backed out of the shoeing bed. I stood at her head and Dave went to her left rear hip and told her what he was going to do. He placed a hand on her left hip and asked for her foot.


Miss April stood on solid ground and lifted her left foot for Dave before he had even touched her leg. Before he had even bent over to receive the foot, that foot was in the air and Miss April stood steady and proud on her remaining three feet.

My heart was bursting with joy! Dave was proud and rejoicing as well! This little mare was healing and she knew it and was showing us so clearly that she was in this game to win! She knows!!

The scenario repeated itself for the right rear. When she was all done, she thanked Dave and I took her in to the paddock area. I lead her in a circle to the right which really has never been too bad for her. But then I stopped her and lead her in a circle to the left. Usually, she would bend her neck until she couldn’t bend any further and there we would stop. Today, however, we went in circles a few times. More signs of progress.

So magic happened in the barns yesterday. A little mare that was so sore she would not stand but to eat is now walking. A little mare that is so darned resilient and so darned determined to be alive is now walking in circles using all four of her feet. A little mare who had no chance at life is now about to actually be living the life of a normal horse.

I now, too, believe that she will run some day. I believe it now, too. As Farrier Dave says, “It takes time, diligence, commitment, and a horse that wants to live.” It also takes a talented farrier with a commitment to his work. Looks like we’ve got the formula!

Enjoy the journey of each and every day,
Sandy and The Herd and a Walking April!

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