Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Ranger Jim's Ramblings for March
I'll bet this photo grabbed your attention, didn't it? This is Yankee's shoulder wound, a week after the vet stitched him up.

Now, I'll bet you're all wondering why I would send such a gross picture. The answer is the subject of my post this month: Horse illnesses and injuries. With horses being an integral part of any Western, there comes a time when there will be a scene where a horse gets injured or ill. I'm no expert, and rely on Doc Anderson, but I thought perhaps a few basics would help some of you in your writing.

As you can see, horses can be stitched up. Yankee got this when he and his buddy tried to squeeze out a partially opened barn door at a run. He caught his shoulder on a round eyebolt that holds the end of a rope. The wound was as big as my fist, and about three inches deep. Went through skin and muscle. Doc Anderson stitched the flap of skin back in place, after cleansing the wound. He purposely used loose stitches so the wound would drain. More on the results later.

In the old West, often the only doctor around was the veterinarian. He would often be called on to treat humans, as well as animals. Of course, that did work both ways. Sometimes the human physician would need to treat an animal.

One of the most serious, in fact back then, an always fatal injury a horse could suffer would be a broken leg. He'd have to be put down, which is still true in most cases even today. A horse has no muscles below his knee, just skin, bone, tendons, and ligaments. The muscles he does have in his legs are so powerful if a bone is broken it usually gets pulled apart, and can't be reset.  Torn ligaments or tendons can also be just as serious.

Clearly, bad cuts, bullet or arrow wounds, or any injuries caused by sharp objects could also be life-threatening to a horse. But, hard as it is to believe, most of the horse's head consists of nasal passages. A horse can have a hole shot through those passages and possibly survive.

Colic was, and still is, one of the most life-threatening conditions a horse can suffer. Because of the strength of their neck and throat muscles, horses can't vomit. That makes any obstruction of the digestive tract extremely serious. I lost my horse Sizzle to a chronic colic condition. Treatment must begin immediately if the horse is to be saved. There are various remedies I won't go into here, but it's imperative the horse not be allowed to lie down, and be kept moving. If he goes down, he's liable to twist his stomach or intestines, an extremely critical situation, and in the old West definitely fatal.

Another life-threatening condition is laminitis or founder, the inflammation of the hoof wall and tissues. If the condition becomes severe enough, the coffin bone can actually detach, and break through the sole of the hoof, which is obviously fatal.  Even if a horse survives, he could be crippled for life.

One thing that can lead to either of the above conditions is not cooling off a hot horse by walking him out after exercise. Another is letting him drink too much, too fast. So when you read in a Western a cowboy is only allowing his horse a short drink, that's why.

This barely scratches the surface of this subject, of course, but I hope I've provided a bit of useful information.

Now, the update. Doc Anderson came by yesterday for the followup. The stitches had all popped, which we'd expected, due to the location of Yankee's wound, right at the point of the shoulder where there's a lot of movement. In addition, the flap of skin died, so that had to be cut off. But, the wound itself is healing nicely, with a nice granulation bed. Yank should heal up with hardly a scar. He's back to full exercise (not that he was ever really limited) and can be ridden. He never acted like he was hurt. And yes, if I'd really been a Ranger back in frontier Texas, and this was an arrow wound, Icould have ridden Yank at a full gallop until out of danger.

Until April, Vaya con Dios.

"Ranger" Jim


  1. I've often wonder what was fatal and what could be serious but still healing. It is post such as yours that help me understand the ins and outs of such things. I appreciate it. Doris McCraw/Angela Raines

  2. You bring back memories, Jim. Memories of nights spent taking turns walking a colicky horse through the wee hours to make sure it can't lie down and twist an intestine. Other hours spent cooling off a hot horse. Good hours, all in all. I hope Yankee heals as nicely as you think he will.

    1. Sizzle colicked severely soon after I got him. He needed surgery, then a month later was found cast in in his stall, having colicked again. Thought for certain we'd lost him. I stayed with him all night, then about 4 in the morning he took a drink, and I knew a miracle was about to happen. Then, 18 months later, the colic started again. We fought it for two more years before it finally claimed him. The vet who did the surgery said if a horse gets through the first six months it's usually fine. However, I'd later moved, and the new vet said in his experience it took 18 months to know if the horse would have problems from the surgery... and it was almost 18 months to the day from the surgery. Colic surgery often leads to scar tissue in the intestines, and that's what happened to Siz. Man, I still miss him.

  3. Very interesting, Jim. Thanks for posting it.