SEPTEMBER 1998 BACK ISSUE
Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 9/4/98; 2:00:00PM.
Stillmeadow's Will - A Horse Challenge
Will was born from a fine maiden mare two weeks early, across the fence from 08 mother (who didn't know " nothin'' about birthin'' and babies!"), out on Orcas Island, Washington. I was on a hurried business trip in Alaska at the time. My daughter, Fiona who was in charge of the herd, received a leg spiral fracture the same day that Will was born. Her leg could not be set due to the extensive amount of swelling. Fiona was limited in the amount of medical assistance that she could provide young Will or foal schooling for his mother, as a result of her injury. Will's was off to a rough start. When I returned to the island the next day, I found one very sick horse puppy and with reason, a painfully unhappy daughter. There are many valid nighMARES of a breeder. During foaling season predominately it is that of a foal born early (premature), or a foal born across the fence and not being able to get to the miracle fluid "colostrum" from the mother within the first eight hours of life. A maiden mare with no skills to read up on birthing in an encyclopedia, makes matters worse. This was Will, his mother and the beginning of my extensive foaling season nightmare of '95.
Will was extremely sick. His white count was way off, he was dehydrated, his eyes were bluish and his body tone floppy. It was clear we were losing him. Two liters of spun plasma was ordered up overnight from two mares in southern California. At this time Will's temperature was 105.4 and I had to pick him up every two hours to nurse because he was to weak to stand. He was clearly fighting for his life with only sheer will (thus, his name) to live. Sometimes I would syringe the mares milk into Will when we both became to exhausted to accomplish the "heave ho and up we go" feeding exercise. Will was on i.v.'s, twice daily antibiotics and stalled with his mother for a month. What made matters more complicated, was that we lived on an island which lacked in equine veterinary assistance. Often for micro chipping or ultrasounds, I routinely flew vet's to the island from the mainland. Eventually, as a result of our experience with Will's situation, we had the incentive to move off the island was to be closer to an equine veterinary service. One front leg of Will's, became wooden from the septicemia.. At four months of age, we headed off to participate in the Nordicfest at Libby, Will and his mother crossed the waters to the mainland with us. Fiona and I left the two off at the hospital. Will was to receive a spliced tendon operation of his leg to gain mobility. He was at the Pilchuck Equine Hospital for two weeks. He also had a special custom shoe made to help strengthen and straighten his leg. At this point Will's expenses was easily in the $4,000.00 range. His surgery required his leg to be rewrapped everyday for three weeks and then every other day for two weeks. This was a very arduous process. Stall cleanliness and quiet was mandatory and difficult to acquire in a young vivacious colt. He also needed two more weeks of antibiotics. Remarkably, he improved rapidly.
Fiona decided to try Will under harness when he became a little older. She found him an extremely patient student. In 1996, Will and Fiona came in first in the drive line competition at the international Fjord show in Libby, Montana. They also placed in halter and he seemed to enjoy the attention at the show. Client's were interested in purchasing Will for his quiet nature and skills. But, they were reluctant and confused when I disclosed his early brush with death and the latter tendon operation. None of the surgery was visible and he looked completely normal. I mentioned that he probably should not be jumped since there wasn't any medical documented assurance on the strength of the tendon. The four veterinarians that performed the operation stated that his leg would be fine, but I felt with this type of operation being still in the experimental stage, he should not be jumped. It didn't bother me when client's were disenchanted with this news. I knew what his disposition was through all of his trials and knew he was hard to match. Keeping as a gelding would be fine.
In late October, I made a fast move off the island to Chewelah, Washington. A day later after moving the last stallion, the mountain pass closed. This felt like a bad omen but, I was ecstatic that I got the complete herd across the mountains without complication. Quickly, I turned my attention on collecting thirty tons of hay, bucking up the winter wood pile and then of course there was my schooling too. I kept eyeing a fence line that was gradually being swallowed by record snowfall and I kept wondering if I should tighten it. I was staying at a temporary spot until summer and then moved to a permanent farm. That fence line bothered me.
On a snowy December morning, I walked out to start my farm rounds and knew right away that something wasn't right Too quiet. I counted up dozens of Fjords and quickly realized young Will was missing. A little nicker, as I made the corner through the crisp cold air, greeted me. There was Will standing steady in the twilight, clearly held fast by the wretched dual barbed wire. We grabbed our cutters and headed for Will. On approach he became anxious with his predicament and our arrival. As we got close to him I asked him to stand, which he did. We slowly cut him out of the wires. The wires had spiraled up his hind leg, cutting off circulation and the barbs were embedded. I glanced at the red snow around him and realized he hadn't fought the situation, but also noted that he had been in the wire overnight in 25 degrees below temperature with snow falling heavily on him. Standing out there alone he had a clear view of my window and I can imagine him waiting for my light to come on to start my chores and save him from purgatory. I shudder as I remember this scene. Also, I stop to ponder how we as humans would have adapted to such like conditions for ten hours. As we cut him out, I kept asking him to stand. This is a wonderful accomplishment of training a horse by voice commands on drivelines.. No halter, no lead line, just voice command. As I warmed him up, soaked his legs, patched his lacerations and injected antibiotics, he nickered to me throughout the process. It was then that I decided no more, Wills. You are not for sale any more. You may stay, I will give you to my best friend. You've been through enough and are a good, kind and steady horse that can be trusted in bad and nasty times. He no longer needed to go through the rigors of proving himself to potential buyers or performing in far away places to an unfamiliar audience.
Fortunately, Will did not become ill from infection and did not suffer a long recovery as he could have. He is still an attractive horse. People often call that have seen Will in past shows and ask if he is for sale. I smile to myself and say, no he found himself a home. People also ask who observed Will's plight, if I would repeat the plasma transfers and tendon splice operation in a foal and my answer is without hesitation, yes I would. I figure that I am responsible and therefore I accept the consequences within reason if there are neonatal complications. If a breeder has ten or more pregnant mares, eventually odds are there will be the unforeseen problems. The larger the numbers in reproduction, the larger percentage exists for risk in the unborn foal, mare or stallion in a breeding program. This next year, I will be just under the ten pregnant mark, which will make foaling season next year easier. I am looking forward to the calm.
Will's winter coat has long since shed out and there now are the scars where this past winter left it's mark. I doubt that I will ever turn my back on a questionable fence line again, no matter how tired I am and regardless if the land is only a temporary situation. Will's marked hide, although now seemingly superficial, will remind me to check those lines where ever I live.
If anyone has questions about plasma transfers, the difficulties of septicemea or spliced tendons don't hesitate to reach me for more information at 509-935-0412 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Stillmeadows Farm, P.O. Box 959, Chewelah, Wa. 99109.