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Sometimes we all need a little help from momma, even when it comes to equine wound management.
The lady handed me the lead rope after she unloaded the 3-year-old gelding off the trailer. She had a disgusted look on her face and a strange tone to her voice.
Here’s what she said: “You see that gelding’s leg? That won’t get well. He cut it over a year ago and I have done had this critter to two other vets that couldn’t fix it. I am leaving him here, and I ain’t gonna pick him up until it is healed over. If you can’t get it healed up, he is yours. I am tired of messing with him!”
Then she got back in her truck and drove off. I was so shocked that I forgot to get even her name, let alone details about the horse. I knew she didn’t have an appointment, and I had never seen her before. But it was too late now; she was already heading north.
I stood there with this horse and began to size up my assignment. An area about two inches wide and eight inches long on the top of the right front leg was covered with proud flesh, and sure enough looked like it had been there for a year. Then I noticed that the horses nose was covered with “goo” from chewing on this wound constantly. As if on cue, the horse pulled its leg forward and began licking and chewing on it vigorously. I could see this would be no easy task.
I took the horse into the clinic, where we cleaned up the area and applied a thick bandage. It was late in the day, so I decided to just get the wound covered for now and get after it more seriously the next day. I put the horse in a stall and went inside to finish things up before heading home.
Ten minutes later, I looked over at the pen and noticed that the bandage was already off and the horse was chewing on the leg. I couldn’t believe it. That was a super-duper, tougher-than-nails, Bo bandage! No horse had ever chewed one of those off, and this one had done it in less than 10 minutes.
No 3-year-old was going to outsmart me. I arrived the next morning on a mission and warned the horse that he had met his match. He just kind of looked at me and smiled. Game on, buddy.
We took biopsies to try to determine an underlying cause. We built a crib to go around the horse’s neck that would keep him from being able to bend his head down low enough to chew on the leg. And just in case, we covered the new bandage with hot sauce mixed with Vaseline. You’re all mine, little gelding!
About an hour later, I saw the bandage in the alley outside the gelding’s pen; he had his leg propped up on the second pipe of his stall and was chewing on it like a beaver. This was going to be more of a challenge than I imagined.
The biopsy came back clean; the tissue was simply granulation tissue from chronic aggravation inflicted by the horse. It had become a habit for this rascal, like biting one’s fingernails.
Over the next two months we tried everything. My vet buddies and horse trainer friends had dozens of ideas, and the horse soundly defeated every one. He remained standing in the stall sans bandage, with a goo-covered nose and no change in the size of the lesion, and gave me a sly smile every time I walked by the pen.
I few days later we went to Amarillo to visit my momma. We were gathered around the table eating breakfast when I noticed a pretty bowl of peppers. I reached to get one and momma stopped me.
“Don’t eat those! We grew them in the garden and they are so hot that Earl nearly had a stroke when he took one bite,” she said. “I can’t understand why my peppers are always so dang hot. I just kept them because they look pretty in that bowl. But I wouldn’t eat one if I was you.”
I picked one up. It was a pretty normal-looking light green pepper. I figured maybe it was just that one pepper Earl had tasted that was bad and decided to give it a go. I took a small bite from the end, chased it with a bite of egg and sausage, and began chewing the mixture on the left side of my mouth.
The first few chews went really well, and I was beginning to think Earl was a lightweight when suddenly the left half of my face began to sweat and turned “red as a tomato,” according to my wife. My tongue was on fire. That little hangy-down thing in the back of your throat that you thought had no pain receptors … well it does—and that was on fire, too. My left eye was watering and I could feel my bottom eyelid drooping. Every inch of my esophagus that had come in contact with that piece of hell vegetable was screaming at me.
I had to abandon ship. I gargled a large gulp of milk for several minutes. I paced the living room while fanning my paralyzed face with a couch cushion. The heat was like nothing I have ever experienced, including ghost peppers. After 30 more minutes the pain let up enough that I could speak. The first thing I told my momma when I could finally utter a word was, “I need to take all those peppers home with me!”
I stood in front of ole’ leg chewer’s pen slowly mixing Vaseline with two finely ground peppers from momma’s garden, all the while giggling and telling the horse I had a surprise for him. I imagine I looked like a mad scientist or a wizard mixing up some magic potion. When the mixture was just right, we applied a new bandage and smeared it completely with the lava-level salve.
The horse gave me a bit of a grin as I left the pen. This time, I grinned back and let out an evil laugh. When I walked away the horse immediately went to work on the bandage. He licked it a few times, then chewed a few times with his front teeth to try and get a seam started. Then he licked a few more times and got an edge exposed, just like he had done dozens of times before.
During the third lick and pull, he suddenly stopped. His ears went back a little and he kind of shook his head. Then he let go of the bandage and looked up. His tongue was hanging out, and it was almost like he was trying to get it out far enough that he could look at it. He began wagging his tongue like a dog’s tail and trotting in circles. I had a feeling if a couch cushion had been handy he would have been fanning his face with it. He ambled over to the fence and began rubbing his tongue back and forth on it and snorting. He went to the trough and took several big glugs of water and then shook his head and wagged his tongue some more.
It took five weeks of magma-covered bandages to get that leg healed up to a dry scar. I delighted in every bandage change. Gone were the smirky grins that had tormented me for months. When the owner came to pick up the gelding, she asked how I was able to get him to quit chewing on it long enough for it to heal. I simply told her my momma had helped me out. You just never know where the best medicine might come from.
Bo Brock, DVM, owns Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas. His latest book is Crowded in the Middle of Nowhere: Tales of Humor and Healing From Rural America