A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It was a Manic Monday, with good news

This is Melody shown at her first time to carry a rider (ok, seconds before I first climbed on).  She was actually the very first foal born here, and one of our test crosses for "The Polecat" (aka Spot).  She's more refined then I like, was born with an umbilical hernia, and short.  She's lovely, has great gaits, and the most amazing personality though.

Well, she was sold into one of our extended families.  Kris now cares for her, and she is owned by a lovely 10 year old named Rachel.  We call her Ojo since we have a few Rachels. 

A while back (2 weeks now?) Mel managed to find a long buried metal post in her paddock.  The drought has turned the dirt to powder, and things that once were hidden are now beginning to be hazards. So, of course Mel cut her left hind pastern to bits.  It appeared that she missed all of the important things - well at first it did.

We did make one mistake.  I didn't recommend a penicillin injection.  I should have.  Instead, we treated the wound, counted ourselves lucky that nothing structural was involved, and started the healing process.  Because Kris works all day, and only has a single pasture with multiple horses, Mel came to Iron Ridge for care, a small turn out, and daily bandage changes.  For a week all was perfect.  She healed amazingly, and in fact, she healed up too fast.  The laceration closed, and began scaring, but inside was a very tiny bit of infection.  After the first week, she began to show signs of discomfort on the foot.  An abscess was suspected, so soaking began.  The abscess ruptured the very next day, and she began to improve slightly.  Then she stopped improving, and another rupture was found.  Last Tuesday, she had a 3rd rupture leaking very gross stuff.  Through out this time, we had been bandaging, soaking, scrubbing, and all of that. 

Friday evening, when I went to change her bandage, I noticed what appeared to be joint fluid (sticky yellow clearish fluid) draining from the upper most rupture hole.  Uh oh.  The vet came to check her out the next morning, and we started our emotional roller coaster.  It appeared that the tendon sheath was infected.  Now, I am not the most experienced with joint or tendon infections, so I'm going to try to get this as close to accurate as I can.

It seems that in the joint cavity, and inside the tendon sheath there is no blood flow, only joint fluid.  Because of this, oral and injectable antibiotics will not reach that spot, so they are completely ineffective.  Mel had a tendon on the outside of her pastern that was obviously swollen, she was not bearing any weight on the leg, and it was hot and very puffy.  Prognosis: poor.  The vet gave her only a 20% chance of full recovery.  Euthanasia was a viable option.

Because she seemed happy, and content, and this is a little girl's horse, her owner opted to treat her for the weekend, allow her young owner to love her and say good bye, and hope things made a turn for the better.  The vet did recommend this option.  The other option was a $5000.00 surgery, with not much higher of a success rate!

Being a bit forward thinking, and realizing that the horse is likely not going to make it with out serious intervention, Dr. G suggested we use a certain drug off lable.  In other words, it might help, wouldn't hurt, but this isn't exactly what the drug was made to do.

CleanTrx was designed for deep punctures.  It draws out the infection while wicking up antibiotics.  Teh chances of it actually reaching up into the tendon sheath were slim, but it was definitely worth the long shot!  Saturday evening, we cleaned her foot, and prepared the solution.  She soaked in CleanTrx for an hour, then we "vaporized" it for an hour (covered in an OB sleeve, and taped/wrapped it up) and then rebandaged with padding to absorb the drainage.

The stuff we pulled out of there was disgusting!  The once clear fluid was yellow and murky.  After vaporizing her leg, the OB sleeve was filled with more of it.  The swelling was down on her leg, and she was starting to put weight on the toe.  I bandaged her up, bedded her deeply, and hoped like mad that it would work.

The next morning her owners were coming to visit.  I walked into the barn, and almost cried when I didn't see her topline over the stall side.  My heart skipped a beat.  I have had so much bad news lately, that I was certain this would not end well, and I knew I just couldn't take another loss.  Even though Mel is no longer "my" horse, she's still one of my babies!

Imagine my shock when I walked to the door, and saw her laying there just as happy as could be.  Melody looked so rested, and content.  She was bright eyed, and nickered at me!  I walked in, petted her, and was able to breathe again!  Not out of the woods, but she was still hanging in there.  In my heart I was preparing to say goodbye to her, but I didn't want her to suffer.  My greatest fear was that overnight she would take a bad turn.  I mean, Hex was fine the last time I looked at her, only to find her dead mere hours later.

When I got her morning grain, Melody hopped up quickly, and hobbled over to her bucket.  From there, we began her doctoring.  2 injections, oral bute, and assess the bandage.  Her bandage was good, so she got to keep it on the rest of the day (if wet, soaked through, or falling off I was to change it).  Later, Mel was taken out, and we all smiled at seeing her trying to bear weight on that leg, and rejoiced at her "I'm fine" attitude.

Sunday night I went to give Mel her evening meds, and found her down.  Again, I prepared to panic.  She was flat out!  Then I heard it.... a soft snore.  The poor baby was really asleep, and snoozing hard.  I walked into her stall quietly, and felt so bad when i startled her.  She rolled up, looked around, and hopped to her feet.  I figured that since I had already woken her up, I would do her check, and stick her with more penicillin.  Poor thing, she was SO tired of shots already, but was a good girl.  As I was cleaning up, preparing to head in for the night, I heard a groan.  I look over, and she's laying down again, stretching out.  The whole attitude was that she finally felt good enough to rest easily.  I smiled, and headed in.

Monday morning, I woke fearing the worst.  Like I said, I did not expect this to end well, and Monday was an evaluation day.  If the vet didn't think that we were headed in the right direction, we were likely going to schedule her euthanasia.  I rushed to the barn, still in my jammies, and found Mel drinking.  She took one look at me, nickered, and headed to her grain bucket.  That's when I saw the most beautiful thing.  She was resting the good leg, and holding her weight on the bad leg for seconds at a time.  It wasn't much, but it was progress!  I checked her bandage, and was stunned.  The swelling had gone down so much, that her bandage had slipped down her leg and was bunching up!

I removed the bandage, and headed in to find some clothes.  I figured that the swelling was down so much because the crumpled bandage had constructed her leg.  I pulled up her meds, and went out to begin my morning routine.  When I got back, I noticed that her leg was a bit swollen still, but ONLY where the laceration was.  her cannon bone was clean and dry, and completely normal looking.  The bandage had been off for almost 30 minutes at this point.

We finished feeding the herd, and I headed in to start making calls.  Played a bit of phone tag with the vet, and he was pleasantly surprised at what I told him (via his wife/office manager).  She called back to let me know that the odds had changed.

Dr. G wanted to do a limb profusion, and clean out the laceration, abscess site, and fill it all up with antibiotics.  With her drastic changes in comfort level, and the reduced swelling, he felt confident that if we did this, that Melody would have an 80% chance of full recovery.  He did mention that complications from healing could leave her gait less then perfect, but she would be riding sound, just not show horse perfect.  Hell, I thought, that's fine!

Called Kris, talked it over.  Called Betsy, talked it over.  Every one is on the same page, and the appointment was made.  I did a bad thing, and didn't even bother asking Leah if I could use her trailer (nice low step) because I figured that saving the horse meant a "yes" from her.  Hooked up, and Melody loaded right up and out a second thought.  I drove slowly, and tried to avoid the nasty bumps on that road, but it was still a rough trip for the 3 legged horse in the back.  Betsy and Ojo rode with us, and wanted to be there to drop Mel off for her procedure (in case that was their last moment with her).  We were all still nervous and worried that once he got into her leg, we would have nothing but bad news.  The decision was made that if it was bad, then she was not to come out of the anesthesia.  We left her there, and went home to hope, pray, cuss ,cry, and do all of the normal things you do when one of your pets is hurt.

I got in a couple of rides while waiting.  Lady was a complete saint for me.  She knew I was distracted, and stressed, so she worked perfectly.  I couldn't have asked for a better session with her.  Walk, trot, canter, trot, walk, halt.  Right on.  She needed me to hold her up at the canter, and her trot is on and off still (she fall on her forehand at times) but her mind was totally with me.  Kissed her, hugged her, and thanked her for being so good.  I mean, she barely even wiggled (for her) while being tacked up!

So, around 3:45, my phone rings.  I expected it to be Kris... but caller ID said it was the vet.  I'm thinking "oh crap".  I answered. 

"Well, it went better then expected, she's going to be fine".

I almost cried.  Evidently, the infection was not necessarily inside the tendon sheath, but OUTSIDE it.  her saw irritation in the joint and tendon, but no signs of infection inside.  He did clean and soak everything with antibiotics though.  The most obvious source of pain though was that the back third of her hoof had been compromised by the abscess.  He cut it away, and bandaged it, leaving a gaping hole that I must fill with cotton soaked in iodine tincture/formaldehyde.  Gross stuff, but it will strengthen the foot, and allow it to be structurally sound faster.  He said that the CleanTrx appears to have pulled everything out, but he had concerns about additional infection because Mel was just healing too fast.  The flapping and jagged edges of the inside of her foot likely was what prevented her from being able to bear total weight on that leg.

Prognosis: great!  100% chance of full recovery.  We picked her up, and headed home.  Mel is on stall rest with hand walking for the next 2 weeks.  The bandage can NOT get wet at all (and it's going to rain soon I think).  Besides that though, we have nothing more to worry about.  A couple of weeks of antibiotics, and some time to regrow the hoof, and she will be back to normal - including her amazing show stopping gaits!

I used older pictures of her for this, as I'm sure most of you do not want to see images of pus and ooze and raw flesh.  ICK!  But, now that she's happy and sporting her pretty purple bandage, I will start taking some more.  I'm so happy!

I can't explain how nice it feels to have a good outcome.  I was so worried about her, and thinking that I would soon be burying another loved animal.  Knowing that she's out of the woods, and WILL heal, is about the greatest relief that I know.


  1. That is the most awesome, incredibly great news!!!!! She is one special little horse and God has plans for her =)

  2. That's amazing and wonderful good news! She's a cutie, and her little girl will get to have her for what I hope are many happy years together!

  3. Fantastic news! So happy for you and Melody's humans! :D

  4. Oh, what a relief... and a testament to your great care!

  5. Glad my trailer was there for you and that she's going to be okay.

  6. Oh, that is so good to hear, you have been through so much. it's time for some good news for a change. I am happy for you all!

  7. Wonderful news indeed! Always nice to hear a horse story with a happy ending :o)

  8. Yay! Sometimes things do work out!

  9. Oh yay! Such a happy ending to a situation that could have ended so tragically. I hope Mel continues to heal well. She's such a beautiful girl.