Thursday, January 13, 2022

Niall's Injury Update

I’ve struggled with how to start this update so I think I’ll just start from where I left off in my previous post. Buckle up because this is long. 

 Niall arrived on October 23rd late in the evening. She settled in immediately that night drinking, eating, and calmly looking around. Just to make sure everything was smooth I was out at the barn the following morning for her first turnout in a solo paddock and again she was foot perfect. We allowed her a couple of weeks to settle in, figure out the routine, and meet the small herd that she would be integrated into over the fence before doing any introductions. 

Then on, or around, 1/8 we turned her out with one member of the new herd to allow her to slowly acclimate vs. just throwing her into the deep end. On that first day there were no fireworks, both mares were quiet, didn’t kick, didn’t squeal and seemed entirely disinterested in each other. The second day was the same and then the third day (Wednesday) the barn owner texted me that she had caught both mares butt to butt kicking at each other and when she broke them up Niall walked off slightly ouchy. She kept an eye on things that day but nothing seemed overly concerning so when I got a concerned text from her that evening with a video of Niall trotting out lame my heart sank. 

Luckily I already had a vet appointment scheduled for that Friday (they were going to look at her teeth so she'd be ready for a bit) and the BO told me I should ask the vet to bring x-ray equipment. Ugh. When I was able to make it out the following day Niall was uncomfortable at the walk and her hock was swollen but she was weight bearing. The BO had kept her in her stall that day and we left her in the stall until the vet got there on Friday morning. He hadn’t initially seemed overly concerned but as I walked her out of her stall to go trot her up for him he said there was no need, she was clearly off so he said we should go straight to x-rays. My heart sank again. 

We did a full series of X-rays on that hock and from that we didn’t see anything. Me and the BO were feeling hopeful that it was something more minor but as the vet was packing up to leave he told us both that he was seriously concerned. He was thinking there could be a fracture and that because the injury had just occurred, they weren’t seeing anything on the x-ray. He gave me a treatment plan of stall rest with 10 minutes per day of hand walking and 1 gram of bute per day. If things didn’t substantially improve he wanted to do another series of x-rays about 2 weeks later. 

I hand walked, buted, and monitored her with a significant amount of help from my amazing BO who has much more experience with this type of thing than I do. I’ve never even had a horse on stall rest because Katai was freakishly good at avoiding any sort of injury for the 9 years I owned her so this was all new to me. Unfortunately by the end of the first week it was clear that we were going to need to get additional imaging. The swelling would get better after we sweat wrapped it but immediately return and she was not improving enough in soundness at the walk. 

Of course two weeks out from the initial injury was also the week of Thanksgiving so we ended up doing additional x-rays at 3 weeks. During those x-rays the vet still couldn’t find anything conclusive but his recommendation was to bring her to the University of Minnesota vet clinic for a standing CT since that would give us more information. Alternative options were offered based on how much I wanted to invest in a horse that doesn’t have really any intrinsic value and who was brand new to me. I discussed it with James and we agreed that having an answer would be worth the cost so I started working to get the CT scheduled. 

Not surprisingly it is extremely tough to schedule a last minute procedure with a lameness expert that is in high demand during the holidays. After several false starts I was able to get a last minute appointment on the Monday after Christmas purely because the vet was extremely kind and willing to fit us into his schedule. This worked because we were just looking for the CT and not a full lameness workup. Because of that though we needed to be at the clinic by 7 which, with some quick math, meant that I needed to get up by 4am to be at the barn with enough time to load up and ride with her to the U. I also needed to coordinate this with my BO who was hauling. Thank goodness for kind people. 

Technically this was from before stall rest but
I'm seeing a lot of this right now when I walk into the barn.

We had everything ready to go and then the forecast for Monday started looking bleak. After consulting with the BO late on Sunday evening we decided it wasn’t the right choice to try to drive with a snow storm on the way and ice in the forecast. It ended up being the right call because everything was glare ice on Monday. Luckily, with a bit of a scramble I was able to get an appointment rescheduled for that Wednesday, two days later. 

Of course, Tuesday evening saw more snow and another weather warning but with no ice, a brave (and extremely kind) BO who is an experienced Midwest driver/hauler and an amazingly kind finance who was willing to get up with me at 4 and drive me to the barn in the morning so that I didn’t need to drive in the snow we were ready to go. 

We showed up at the barn on Wednesday morning around 5am and the temps were in the minus double digits. Because of the cold impacting equipment, we ended up needing to haul with a back-up trailer (thanks to another amazingly kind boarder at this barn) that had open slats on one side so we layered Niall up like a marshmallow. I’m not sure if she had ever worn a neck on a blanket before but she put up with me bundling her and then proceed to walk calmly to the trailer over slippery snow, hopped right in after just a brief hesitation, and was absolutely perfect other than not wanting to step forward enough for us to get the slant closed. All of that despite the fact that she was going on 7 weeks of strict stall rest at that point. We eventually got the slant closed, closed up the trailer and were on our way. 

I’m extremely glad that we had someone that was experienced with winter hauling pulling the trailer that morning but we made it safe and sound with our little convoy of me in the truck with the BO, Niall in the trailer, and James following us in his car so that we could go straight home from the U. We got checked in and then unloaded Niall. She was a superstar climbing slowly and carefully out of the trailer and then walking calmly into a large, state of the art vet hospital. We pulled her blankets off and then stood her on a scale and she stood still calmly while we got her weight. Other than a bit of concern that one of the door sills was a horse trap she was calm and easy to lead to her stall and she started eating her hay as soon as we pulled her halter off. On the way out I got to talk to the lameness vet that was going to be overseeing the CT and he let me know that we might not have results for a day or so based on timing. 

The BO headed home in the truck and James and I made the shorter drive home to wait for the call to come pick her up. They were able to get her in pretty quickly because of a cancelation so we met back up at the U at around 2 to pick her up. Again, she was easy to handle and loaded right back up with still just a bit of stickiness with walking far enough forward that we could close the slant. Not a big deal though, we got it closed eventually with some gentle encouragement and made the easier drive back to the barn where again she unloaded like a princes and seemed happy to see her stall. Then it was just a wait to find out the results. 

Unbeknownst to me what I thought was an email with a receipt was actually the report with the findings from the CT but I didn’t notice that until the next morning when my vet called me to talk through the results. It was then that we learned that my vet was correct all along and we have been dealing with a fracture, specifically of the talus bone. There is also potential damage to the collateral ligament but we will need an ultrasound and potentially arthroscopic surgery to look more closely at that. At that point my vet wanted to do some additional consult with the lameness expert vet and in the interim just wanted me to continue stall rest and hand walking. Back to the waiting game. 

Proof that Niall appreciated her sticky ball treat

Again because of the holidays we didn’t find out more until the following Tuesday (1/4) when my vet called me again. He had been at my barn and I knew that my BO was going to ask him what was going on. Because he had been at my barn that morning he had actually been able to see Niall walk and based on that and the consultation with the lameness expert on the results the conversation was actually incredibly hopeful. The current prognosis is that if she heals ok she could potentially still be a riding horse which was honestly better news than I was expecting to hear at this point. 

Based on the location of the fracture it does not make sense/is impossible to fixate it with hardware so we need her to be quiet enough for long enough to heal it on her own. Based on that we’re looking at 4-6 months of stall rest from the initial date of injury which means stall rest until early March to early May. We are currently up to 30 minutes of hand walking twice per day and while I’m not able to get her out for 30 minutes twice every day, thanks again to an amazing BO, she’s getting out twice when possible and I’ve been out at least daily to do the evening hand walk during the week and twice daily to hand walk when I can on the weekend. 

Throughout all of this I’ve been amazed and touched to realize how many incredible people I have in my life. Everyone in my community has pulled through for me in such big ways while also dealing with their own things. It’s been incredibly humbling. 

In addition, Niall is exactly the horse I was looking for when I started down this path. Her brain is so good, she’s so intelligent, calm, and willing and that has also helped me get through this. Everything from her standing perfectly for x-rays to the whole adventure of trailering her to the U all with a horse that was wild only about 6 months ago and without any sort of pharmaceutical support. With that my overwhelming feeling at the start of this year is hope. Hope that Niall will heal well and that we’ll be able to have adventures together and hope that overall things will be a bit smoother for me this year.


  1. I am so sorry that the news wasn't better. I'm hoping for a full recovery.

    1. Thank you Teresa. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

  2. Gah. My heart dropped for you several times.
    Keeping my fingers crossed so tightly for you and Niall. I know this is so tough for you and her!

  3. I am so sorry, but at least the long term prognosis is hopeful. Having a horse who had to be retired 18 months after I got him was rough, I can't imagine only a few weeks, but it sound hopeful that it wont come to that! Now you have lots of time to bond right? Having had a horse with several months of stall rest some of the things I did to keep him busy were:
    Hang empty half gallon milk cartons by the handle
    treat balls (which I can see you did already)
    Get those mirrors meant for lockers and put them on the outside bars (my horse was a ham though and loved to look at himself)
    Put a tennis ball in a tube sock and hang that
    Jolly Ball
    Not sure if this would work for her stall but I was able to tie 2 super soft curry combs in his stall so he could get a really good itch in
    Get a horse treat ball from Chewy and put some of her meals in it to keep her entertained!

    Good luck and fun tricks I thought my horse while he was on stall rest were:
    Smile (flip his lip). Find his mark (he would stand on a piece of tape in the stall). Ears up (to pose for pictures which was very helpful for the rest of his time). Yes and no head shakes (because why not, in January very easy to enjoy stall rest time but by April on a beautiful day, trust me, you will want some entertainment). And head down (super good trick to get them to touch the ground with their muzzle which came in handy at many vet appointments).

    Good Luck and positive vibes!

    1. Thank you so much!! These are fantastic suggestions. I have been teaching her some tricks along with rewarding basic, nice walking and groundwork and that’s been helping to keep her occupied while she’s being handwalked. I’ll pick some of these things to try :)

  4. Ughhhhhhhhh reading all of this laid out like this feels so much more gut-wrenching than the already gut-wrenching IG posts. Glad you're blogging and seriously hope things get better from here!

    1. Thanks Jen, me too and keep your fingers crossed for me.


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