Foals, fences, legs, and equine surgery….

Preparing the equine operating theatre for emergency foal surgery

Today’s Diary Entry is sponsored by Vet School Success

Rather late finishing this diary entry as it has been a hectic week with studying and preparing for my Anatomy exam next Monday but lets hope it was worth the wait. Today I wanted to talk about foals, those baby horses that look extremely cute…

Now when I started here back in September I had very very limited experience with horses, this past semester I have done what is on our timetable as “Horse Riding” (on the other timetable it is down as Intro to horse rehab). So I’ve learnt a bit, ridden a bit, and altogether got a lot more confident with horses, however though I’ve read a little, until today my only experience with foals has been being trapped in a field with two a few years back when walking… This morning we’ve had a 3 week old foal in after getting one of her back legs stuck in a fence and tearing the skin rather badly in a few places whilst trying to get it free.

When dealing with “baby” animals a very important factor to consider is the mother, whose natural instinct will be to protect their young. This is especially so when the mother weighs 10 times as much as you, stands taller than you, and has an extremely powerful kick. Sometimes animal “moms” are so protective that you cannot even get near their young even if you are their best friend. So in this case where urgent treatment is needed, there are two options: a) Separate mom from foal or b) Keep the foal with mom and sedate her too. As the first option can cause a lot of stress for the mother and the foal we went with option b!

So in this case it was unusual as we had two horses in the operating theatre at the same time, mom who was sedated first, and our patient the foal who was placed under anaesthesia and moved onto the operating table. I somehow ended up getting the task of holding up the leg whilst it was cleaned, shaved and surgery started. Whilst this was going guarantee massive arm ache later, it did mean that I had a perfect view of the surgical field. Now I know a little of the theory behind the different suturing (stitching) techniques and when and why they are used so it was very interesting for me to see this in practice in such a large way. Also a few drains were placed, and also a catheter to allow the wound to be flushed later on to clean it. The initial part of the surgery took around 90 minutes to close 3 different wounds along the leg, and once this was complete another student took the leg from a different position for the major wound which circumvented around 60% of the leg behind the knee and involved muscles.

Us students had a debate on what technique would be used with here with the suggestion of a skin graft being used because of the amount of tension. This however is where experience beats book and the surgeon chose to close it directly suturing each layer back together. There are special suture techniques that can be used to relieve the tension across a tissue which are especially useful in cases like this with skin over joints.

Preparing the equine operating theatre for emergency foal surgeryThe surgery took a total of 2 and a half hours which is a lot for such a young animal to handle, and so I was curious as to how she would wake up. We moved both the foal and the mother to a recovery stall in the stables to come to with the foal being monitored and restrained on the ground. At this point I was giving the mare (mom) to look after as an out of control horse wouldn’t have been a good thing. It took around an hour for the foal to come partially around and though they tried she was still unable to stand alone so they set to massaging her limbs to increase the blood flow before trying again 30 minutes later where she stood and suckled a little.

We then had the pleasure of trying to get a bandage onto the leg to protect the wounds, and more importantly to stop mom trying to remove the drains. All in all, from start to finish it took around 5 and a half hours, and it was probably the most exhausting 5 hours of my week!