A horse’s tale and teamwork

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The freedom and ecstasy expressed by a horse galloping across the prairie is a joy to behold, but 5-year-old Martha, an American quarter horse mare, was robbed of that happiness when she was injured as a 2 year old, and her owner neglected her.

It is believed the colt got her front foot caught in a cattle guard and was left to heal on her own. Consequently, her foot became badly deformed.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Martha, a neglected 5-year-old American quarter horse mare with a previously broken ankle, is brought to the Los Lunas Animal Clinic. She is led by Charles Graham, the executive director, and ranch foreman, Steve Forrester.

The pastern below the ankle twisted as her broken ankle healed, disabling her ability to walk and run normally, so her hooves grew to an enormous length.

The New Mexico Livestock Board was notified of an abandoned horse and took the young mare over to a horse rescue ranch in Edgewood, Walkin ‘N Circles Ranch, on June 16.

“We believe she comes from Bernalillo County,” said Charles Graham, the executive director of Walkin ‘N Circles.

“This horse went through some terrible stuff,” said Ruth Andrews, the president of the WNCR board.

Two veterinarians advised them the mare should be put down.

“But we made a decision to keep her alive,” said Steven Forrester, the foreman of the ranch.

“We want to make sure she has every chance she can,” Andrews said. “Because you can see what a lovely horse she is, how she’s adapted to this.”

The director was determined to try to find a veterinarian who would help the mare he had affectionately named Martha, after Martha Graham, the famous dancer.

“She has the heart of a dancer, the spirit of a dancer,” said Andrews.

Deborah Fox-News-Bulletin photo: Cheri Tillman-Anderson, head of the Feet First team at the Walkin ‘N Circles Ranch, a horse rescue facility in Edgewood, talks to Martha, a 5-year-old American quarter horse mare with a badly deformed foot.

Graham finally found Donny MacDougall, D.V.M., the chief surgeon at the Los Lunas Animal Clinic, who had a surgical table, and agreed to help the horse rescue organization “at bare-bones cost,” Graham said.

On Tuesday, Martha was brought to Los Lunas to begin treatment and hopefully a new life.

The x-rays of her previously broken ankle revealed the extent of her injury, and MacDougall was able to plot a course for trimming her deformed hooves.

She was lightly sedated and placed in a padded stall where the vet and his staff could gave Martha an anaesthetic and safely get her onto the operating table.

Using the flank of the large metal stall door, they were able to make a simple squeeze shute, so as she became drowsier they could ease her down to a prone position using the gate.

With hoists and ropes, clinic staff gently moved Martha to the table, where she was hooked up to oxygen laced with anaesthetic gas.

At MacDougall’s direction, the WNCR farrier, Andrew Weyrich, began to work on her feet. Both men worked to saw off excess hoof with a small, electric hand saw and then Weyrich was able to trim them normally.

Weyrich is a certified farrier from Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari, and has been with the rescue ranch more than a year.

When a horse is unable to walk and run normally, the horse’s hooves don’t wear down naturally, so, consequently, they can grow to enormous lengths.

Martha probably never had her feet trimmed in her life, MacDougall vet said.

“We haven’t been able to do any farrier work, because she’s too delicate to stand with even one foot raised,” said Andrews.

Trimming the deformed hoof was the trickiest part of the whole process.

Picture your foot folded in half length-wise to such a degree the sole of your foot was no longer visible, just a thread-thin crease. That’s how Martha’s hoof had grown because of the way her broken ankle and twisted pastern healed.

At the vet’s instruction, the farrier was able to trim enough hoof away to expose the sole of her foot halfway to how it should be.

“This is something we’ll have to do every three to four months,” said Forrester. “But she’ll make a good pasture pal for another horse. She’s a real gentle horse — a sweetheart.”

The whole procedure was finished with a shot of cortisone into her ankle.

The hope of re-setting the broken ankle is unrealistic because it has been broken for so long, and it is a very expensive procedure with no guarantees, MacDougall said.

“It’s completely, what we call ‘arthrodese,’ which means it’s bridged over, and you can’t change it,” he said. “They spent a million setting Barbaro’s fracture, but he still died. I mean, it’s not about having the best doctors in the world, an unlimited budget and everything, and it still doesn’t work.”

This visit to the Los Lunas vet was a major portion of treatment that will entail more corrective measures and hoof trimming. It’s possible a special shoe might be designed as well.

“That’s still the direction to go, try to get them to land flat, stabilize the feet where the frog (sole) can begin to work and the parts of the foot hit the ground, get off the side of the foot,” MacDougall said. “We’re just following the principles of podiatry, so she can function and live the best life she can for her trauma.”

Once the gas was removed and the horse moved back to the padded stall, a reverse procedure got her back on her feet.

Now she is back at the rescue ranch and recovering from her ordeal.

“Now, she doesn’t hang around with her head down or wait for her feed to be brought to her — she comes to you and has a whole new disposition,” Graham said.

The board president is excited.

“We are extremely happy with the outcome — that is an excellent vet,” said Andrews. “I’m amazed at how much more normal she looks, I never expected this.”

Martha will be given Bute and Banamine, potent anti-inflammatory and pain medications for the next two weeks while her leg muscles adjust to a more normal posture, and she’s getting the TLC she deserved all along.

Walkin ‘N Circles Ranch is a 20-acre facility operated on a volunteer basis. Currently, there are 118 active volunteers who work a minimum of 17 hours a month.

The ranch is home to about 100 horses, with close to half of them seized from negligent owners. Seven horses have gone to foster homes, but more horses come in weekly, Graham said.

The ranch is funded solely through grants and donations. If you would like to donate to support rescued horses or to visit the ranch, call 286-0779 for an appointment, or visit the website at www.wncr.org.


-- Email the author at dfox@news-bulletin.com.