Once upon a twine ...

January 12, 2017
Bo Brock, DVM

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.

Dr. Bo Brock's local old man contingency intervenes shockingly in the case of an obstructed horse with negligent owners.

(Shutterstock)After 26 years as an equine veterinarian, I can tell you three things: (1) Some people just don't need a horse. (2) The better care you take of your horse, the more likely it is that bad things will happen to it. (3) If the owner habitually talks baby talk to his or her horse, it's more likely to kick me.

The flip side of No. 2? Horses that graze in a junkyard never get hurt. This had been my theory up until Maynard's case entered my world.

This Appaloosa belonged to a family that fed round bales. You know what I'm talking about-terrible grass hay rolled into a 1,000-lb, pressurized, mold-growing buffet that will cause colic in nearly any horse. The owners would just roll out a new hay bale every now and then, leaving the twine on it. I had warned them about it, but as usual they gave me the old excuse of, “Aw, Doc, we've been doing it for years and never had a problem!” The pasture was covered with piles of orange binder twine that had accumulated over the years.

This rascal had eaten these things all his life and never experienced colic once … until today. Maynard was rolling all over the place. I informed the owners that I wasn't coming out but that they had to bring the horse in, and I told them that while Maynard was at the clinic, they had to clean up that pasture and get every strand of string out of it or I was going charge them double.

After 15 minutes of argument, they finally conceded that it would be better to bring him in.

A case with strings attached

Maynard arrived down, facing the back of the 1957 decayed-wood-floored trailer with mostly missing faded green paint and rust. I looked in from the back gate and scratched my head with disgust and wonder. I managed to get a halter on Maynard and coax him into getting up. It was then that I noticed it-about three feet of orange string hanging out of the fanny. It was just a single strand, but who knows what it was hooked to upstream.

I managed to get Maynard out of the trailer and into the stocks for a proper examination. I lightly pulled on the string and discovered it was firmly anchored to something. I put on a sleeve, lubed it up good, reached into the fanny and found the string was stuck fast to an object that was farther in than I could reach. What to do now?

I told the owners what was going on and recommended surgery to remove it. They asked how much it would cost, and I gave them a very low estimate because I knew they were tightwads and I didn't want this rascal suffering because they didn't want to part with any of their “hard-earned money.”

They could tell by the look on my face that I wasn't going to buy a guilt trip and settled for rattling off a million excuses why they “just couldn't see” putting that much money in an old horse.

I told them I would do what I could medically, but I wasn't going to watch this horse suffer for days and then die. In my best stern-school-principal voice I reminded them that I'd told them this would happen and I wasn't one bit happy the critter was suffering now.

Meager medical measures

We doctored Maynard with laxatives and oils to lube up the gut and gave high doses of pain medication and fluids to attempt to set things free inside. It didn't work-the poor rascal just lay next to the fence, moaning and straining.

A day passed and still nothing. By now some of the local citizens who loiter around the clinic every day had noticed the horse and the peculiar string hanging out his behind and had begun asking questions. There are about five of these old men-bored retired fellas who have nothing better to do than come to the clinic and tell me everything I'm doing wrong each day.

The old men were appalled by the situation. I didn't stifle their chatter much, because I was appalled too. They spent the entire morning looking at the horse and discussing what needed to be done to relieve the terrible predicament. I came by periodically to check on Maynard, and they were still harping about the owners and telling me I needed to call the humane society. I told them to leave the horse alone; I would keep it pain-free and pray that what ever ball of mess was in there would pass.

A bad decision

After three days with no success, I called the owners and told them it had gone far enough. Maynard had been given all the medical treatment possible and it wasn't working and I wasn't going to watch it suffer any more. I was hoping this would spark them into action to do surgery, but no, they just told me to euthanize him and they would come get him and bury him in the pasture full of binder twine.

This infuriated me to no end. I had offered the surgery at a price that was just what it cost me and they still wouldn't do it. So I set about getting stuff together to put ol' Maynard to sleep.

The old man contingency had been listening as I talked to the owners on the phone. When I got hung up, they began stomping around and calling the owners terrible names. I told them I had to go over to the other clinic and get the “pink medicine” and I would be back in a few minutes to end the suffering.

A worse decision

It's about a 50-yard walk from one clinic to the other, and when I came back with the euthanasia solution, I noticed the old men in the pen gathered around the horse. I wasn't sure what they were up to, but I didn't like the looks of it. One of them was tying the protruding strand of string to the fence. After he got it secured, they all took a step back and I knew what was about to happen. Before I could get any words out, they had slapped the horse on the fanny and started hollering “Giddy-up!” at the top of their lungs.

The next few seconds happened in slow motion. Maynard jumped up and started heading west across the pen with that piece of protruding string firmly attached to the bottom rail of a pipe fence. I watched as the slack diminished and the string began pulling on whatever was holding it.

The scene began with a prolapse occurring. The string refused to let go and just pulled the intestine out through the fanny hole. It got longer and longer as he went farther and farther from the fence. Oh my! Just about the time I thought he was going to turn completely inside-out, a quick popping sound occurred, and a ball of tangled string the size of a volleyball launched out of the fanny and bounced off the fence it was tied to.

The intestine, on the other hand, recoiled the opposite way and shot right back up into the horse. Maynard took a few more steps and came to a stop with a look on his face that reflected both shock and relief.

Orange you glad there's a happy ending?

By the time I got there, the old men were shaking hands and praising their efforts amongst one another. I couldn't believe it. I wanted to give them all a spanking and send them to their rooms, but their endeavor was better than anything I had done, and the horse appeared to free from pain for the first time in three days.

Maynard went home two days later, but only after four of the five old men went over to the owners' house and picked up all the binder twine themselves. Maynard is still alive today and has no idea how thankful he should be to five old dudes that decided, “He's gonna die anyway; we might as well give it a try!”