traumatic injuries in horses

It’s every horse guardian’s worst nightmare – potentially life-threatening, traumatic injuries.

We do everything in our power to care for and provide for our equine friends, but we can’t always keep them from getting hurt. Here’s some advice on how to handle traumatic injuries if they ever occur.

When disaster strikes

It was a day like any other. I had finished my conference calls for the day and stopped at the barn to turn the horses out on pasture while I ran into town. The footing was firm, so I didn’t worry about any of them slipping or hurting themselves while they had a quick romp.

I watched as the four of them ran across the field together. They headed for the far end of the pasture, just as they did every day. A line of cedar trees cuts right through the middle of the pasture, dividing it in half. Several trees are missing, leaving huge gaps that the horses dash through to get to the far side of the field.

But this day was different. One of the horses, my lovely and elegant Laurel, took a shortcut through a gap in the trees that wasn’t really a gap. Laurel is a 17.1hh Clydesdale/ Thoroughbred cross, and the athlete in the family. In her exuberance to play with her buddies, she overtook them right at the tree line and tucked her huge body through a space too small for her. I heard the cracking of branches and cringed.

I stood at the fence watching as they all raced around the far end of the pasture together, kicking up their heels and squealing like foals. Laurel was with them – she didn’t miss a beat. I looked for anything out of the ordinary, a misstep or slowing. But everything appeared normal. I heaved a sigh of relief and realized I’d been holding my breath.

Listen to your intuition

Seeing nothing amiss from a distance, I climbed into my truck for the quick trip to town. But as I stopped at the end of the driveway, unease tickled at the back of my mind. I decided to listen to and trust my intuition.

I parked the truck and headed out into the pasture where the horses were finally settling down to munch at the grass. As I got closer, Laurel came trotting up to me. She turned to the side and I saw it – a branch from the cedar tree. She had impaled herself on it, and it had broken off from the trunk. There stood my beautiful friend, with about 10” of a substantial stick poking out of her neck. I couldn’t tell how much of it was buried inside her. But from the angle of the protruding end, I could tell the stick had followed the jugular groove – right down her throat.

Cool heads prevail

I said a silent prayer of thanks that I had the gift of keeping a level head in a crisis. I knew Laurel would be looking to me for a reaction. She followed along beside me, with no halter or lead, as I headed back to her paddock, as if she knew she needed the help I was about to offer.

I knew not to pull out the stick – puncture wounds are best handled by a professional who can be sure to find the “pocket” formed at the end of the wound. If Laurel had nicked any vital structures, she could have bled out when I removed the stick. I placed a call to veterinarian Dr. Vicki Newell, who agreed to come out to assess the situation and provide what assistance she could.

While I waited for her to arrive, I prepared to transport Laurel to the surgery 45 minutes away – I suspected this would be the likely course of action. I brought the other horses in from pasture and fed them their afternoon hay ration. I worked to stay calm and keep the horses calm, too – I acted as if it was business as usual as I set about the chores of the day and waited for Dr. Newell to arrive.

Using alternative tools while you wait

Given the location of Laurel’s injury, I knew there was a distinct possibility I was going to have to put this lovely creature down. I monitored her condition and worked acupressure points for colic and shock. I did craniosacral therapy to keep her calm and make sure her energy was moving despite the wound.

When Dr. Newell arrived, she agreed I would need to haul Laurel to Dr. Tom Dixon for surgery – there was nothing we could do for her at my farm except ensure she wouldn’t go into shock. We cut some of the stick off to allow for easier transport and reduce the risk of Laurel injuring herself further. Dr. Newell monitored Laurel’s vitals and was pleasantly surprised that she had no elevated pulse or respiration, and had great capillary reill – all good signs. Laurel began to tremble eventually, a sign of the adrenaline racing through her veins. But Dr. Newell determined she did not require any sedatives before I loaded her into the trailer for the trek to the city.

Dr. Tom Dixon performed the surgery. He confided later that when he’d first seen her he was afraid he would have to put her down. But his quick and eficient action to surgically remove the stick and clean the two large puncture wounds was nothing short of extraordinary. The branch in her neck was buried 8”, and was 1¼” in diameter. There was a second deep puncture wound above where the stick was protruding, but no branch had been left in that one, just a gaping hole. I left the clinic two hours later with Laurel in my trailer. It was a miracle she had not harmed either her jugular or her trachea.

I had instructions to keep the wound clean and to flush a saline/iodine solution through the drain twice a day. Both vets warned me that fluid pockets would likely develop below the wound. They surmised that the fluid retention in the area would be significant and that the pocket would eventually drop between her front legs on her chest in an effort to drain. We were sent home with antibiotics to prevent infection.

Healthy horses heal better

After I returned to the farm and settled Laurel in with her equine friends for what was left of the night, I formulated my plan for wound care using herbs, natural antiseptics and energy work. My horses are maintained without chemicals, using all organic feeds and no chemical wormers. They are barefoot and live in an environment that’s as natural as I can make it. They are extraordinarily healthy. And that was the first and most important step in Laurel’s healing – she started with a healthy body.

The power of complementary healing therapies 

The fluid pocket 12 hours after we left Dr. Dixon’s surgery was the size of a football, and the swelling was so extensive you couldn’t see any shape to Laurel’s throat. I continued to apply a topical herbal spray and perform energy work on her entire body as well as the wound itself. At the 36-hour mark, the fluid pocket had shrunken to the size of a grapefruit. By 60 hours post-surgery, there was no fluid remaining.

I continued flushing the saline/iodine solution provided by the veterinarian through the drain and into the other puncture wound two to three times daily. I also used a natural and very powerful antiseptic to facilitate healing and decrease the risk of infection. I closely monitored Laurel’s vitals and the wound for any signs of infection. Dr. Newell came back to the farm on day eight to remove the drain and several staples. On day eleven, I removed the stitches. I also administered probiotics along with the oral antibiotics so that her system could handle the medication and remain strong and functioning properly.

Once the wound began to close, I added a topical wound salve to assist in healing. Once it was closed fully, I used a wound balm and manual stimulation to decrease scar tissue both at the surface and underneath.

We have just passed the four month mark, and you can see from the photos how dramatic Laurel’s healing has been. There is barely any scar at all. And there have been absolutely no negative side effects from Laurel’s adventure. I couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome.

The healing process of traumatic injuries begins with a fit and healthy horse. Laurel remained calm and composed throughout, both the day of the injury and during the weeks of after care. The herbs, energy work, acupressure and topical treatments facilitated an unbelievable healing, and this beautiful and spirited creature was quickly back to racing around the pasture with her mates. I am thankful to the vets who provided their talent and assistance. And I am eternally grateful to those who taught me the natural healing modalities that helped me ensure Laurel made a full recovery. She continues to thrive today.

That was the first and most important step in Laurel’s healing – she started with a healthy body. top tips for optimal healing

• Make sure you start with a healthy horse!
• Provide a safe environment.
• follow your intuition when you sense there’s trouble.
• Remain calm in an emergency situation.
• Practice well-established triage techniques.
• have at least a basic knowledge of irst aid.
• Keep adequate emergency/irst aid supplies close at hand.
• Practice proper wound care.
• Use natural healing methods, herbal treatments, and energy work as appropriate.
• Understand and utilize emergency preparedness processes:
– first aid kit and other tools readily available
– Phone numbers handy
– fuel in your tank
– Trailer in good repair
– Solid groundwork basics to ensure easy handling in a crisis
• Practice loading your horse under varied circumstances.

Sandy Siegrist is a lifelong horsewoman who practices natural horsemanship, healing and horse care techniques. She works with clients throughout the u.s. to evaluate their feeding and horsekeeping programs based on their horses’ specific needs. She also does energy work and overall health analyses, often taking in horses for more extensive rehabilitation. Sandy’s approach to horse care is based on natural and alternative therapy techniques and incorporates bio-energy testing, craniosacral therapy, acupressure, kinetics, herbs and flower essences, among others. Her lectures and articles address nutrition, hoof care, bodywork, worming, vaccinations, and emotional well-being, grounded in maintaining a more natural environment and healthcare practices.