A shot in the dark


There was a note of regret, mixed with relief, in Dr. Mark Justice's voice when he called to relate the events of the previous night.

There was a note of regret, mixed with relief, in Dr. Mark Justice's voice when he called to relate the events of the previous night and explain why he was referring a horse to our clinic in Lamesa.

I had encountered this horse before, so anything he might tell me would not be a surprise. The critter is huge and stupid. When I say huge, I'm not joking. It is more than 16 hands tall and must weigh 1,400 pounds.

And that isn't the worst part.

The lady who owns it is afraid of it, so the horse is spoiled. It will kick, bite, paw and try to demolish anyone who tries to make it do anything it's not in the mood to do.

Just about dusk the evening before, the owner called Dr. Justice. She was in hysterics. The horse had run into something in the pasture and sustained an 18-inch gash on the front of its back left leg. The cut was close to a joint and had severed a large blood vessel. Blood was squirting and tissue was hanging out.

Little did the doctor know what he was about to get into.

Because it was after hours, Mark asked his new bride to come along and see what a typical farm call was like. The owner met them at the truck with tears flowing and panic in her endless barrage of descriptive terms.

The doctor's new bride followed him over fences and through barns until they came to the critter in question.

The owner was right: The cut was deep and in a dangerous place, but she had failed to tell him about the look in its eyes.

After you have worked on thousands of horses, as we have, you learn to tell when one might be a bit snakey. This horse was snakey, and Mark could tell it from across the pasture.

After 15 minutes of chasing and sweet-talking it, he finally got a halter on the beast.

When he stuck the needle into the vein to give the sedative, the horse rared up, pawed and tried to bite him. He decided it might be wise to increase the dose a bit. Even with enough sedative for an elephant, the horse would still kick at him when he tried to clean the wound. So he gave more sedative.

Let's get a brief mental picture here: Mark is standing in the middle of the pasture with only the lights of his pickup truck to help him see what he is doing. A frantic owner and a new bride are looking on, each worried about one of the parties involved. The horse is so tranquilized it can barely stand, but it can still kick with fly-swatting accuracy. Mark has given it an elephant's dose plus one, and now he is going to attempt a local block with lidocaine so he can suture the laceration.

He gently slid the needle holding the numbing agent into an area of the skin that needed to be sutured.

To his surprise, the horse just stood there. Maybe the sedative had finally calmed the beast.

But when he started instilling the medicine, the horse suddenly kicked, hitting the hand holding the syringe and needle and sending it flying 20 yards across the pasture, where it stuck in a pecan tree.

He gave the horse more sedative.

The odd thing about that sedative is that it makes a male horse extend its "boy part." After the third dose, the critter finally let him instill the local anesthesia, but now that part was hanging down right in the way of where Mark needed to suture. It was hitting him in the head as he attempted to do his work.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to squat and sew up a horse's wound, but stay in a position to exit quickly if necessary? Now imagine how hard that would be with the added complication of the offending part slapping you in the face.

The good doctor finally had enough, and reached over to move the annoying part. This, of course, triggered another vicious kick that sent the needle holder flying off into the night.

The new bride was getting a bit concerned. The owner was apologizing, and Mark was giving yet another round of the sedative.

With both hands bruised, a missing pair of needle holders, a syringe stuck in a pecan tree, a worried wife and a nagging owner, Mark decided he'd had enough. It was time to send this horse to us in La-mesa, where there is a set of stocks and easier ways to fully anesthetize the monster.

As I mentioned, the next day his voice greeted me with a tone of regret mixed with relief. All I could do is laugh as I listened to him apologize for sending me such a mess.

Dr. Brock owns the Brock Veterinary Clinic in Lamesa, Texas.

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