Chester came to Serenity February of 2008 as one of the horses rescued from PEC. He was a malnourished baby with parasites, lice, overgrown and cracked hooves and in need of a lot of health care, love and attention. After several months Chester started to grow and fill out. He became healthy and trusting. His beautiful coat, shining like a new copper penny in the sun, and his kind loving temperament always drew people to him. We at Serenity adored him and he will be sorely missed.
The following articles are shared to help our readers better understand the complications of fracture in horse’s legs. Though we will miss Chester, we are proud of the fact that the life he lead at Serenity was one of healing and growth and love. If you would like to contribute to our veterinary fund to help offset the cost of Chester’s treatment, please send your checks to Serenity and note "Chester" in the memo line make checks payable to Mt. Rainier Equine.
By Daniel Engber
Barbaro's veterinarians say the champion racehorse has a 50 percent chance of survival after breaking his leg at the start of the Preakness. He may not recover even after a successful five-hour surgery on Sunday, during which he had almost two dozen screws implanted to stabilize his bones. Why is a broken leg so dangerous for a horse?
There's a high risk of infection, and the horse may not sit still long enough for the bone to heal. Infections are most likely when the animal suffers a compound fracture, in which the bones tear through the skin of the leg. In this case, dirt from the track will grind into and contaminate the wound. To make matters worse, there isn't much blood circulation in the lower part of a horse's leg. (There's very little muscle, either.) A nasty break below the knee could easily destroy these fragile vessels and deprive the animal of its full immune response at the site of the injury.
Barbaro was lucky enough (or smart enough) to pull up after breaking his leg. If he'd kept running—as some horses do—he might have driven sharp bits of bone into his soft tissue and torn open the skin of his leg. Though his skin remained intact, he still faces the possibility of infection; any soft-tissue damage at all can cut off blood flow and create a safe haven for bacteria.
It's not easy to treat a horse with antibiotics, either. Since the animals are so big, you have to pump in lots of drugs to get the necessary effect. But if you use too many antibiotics, you'll destroy the natural flora of its intestinal tract, which can lead to life-threatening, infectious diarrhea. You also have to worry about how the antibiotics will interact with large doses of painkillers, which can themselves cause ulcers.
If the horse manages to avoid early infection, he might not make it through the recovery. First, he must wake up from anesthesia without reinjuring himself. Doctors revived Barbaro by means of "water recovery." That means they suspended him in a warm swimming pool in a quiet room and then kept him there for as long as possible. Not all horses are willing to sit around in a sling, and the antsy ones can thrash about and break their limbs all over again. (In 1975, the filly Ruffian managed to break a second, healthy leg in the process.)
If Barbaro starts favoring his wounded leg post-surgery, he may overload his other legs, causing a condition known as "laminitis." If that happens, the hooves on the other legs will start to separate from the bone, and his weight will be driven into the soft flesh of the feet. He may also develop life-threatening constipation as a side effect of the anesthetic.
Doctors will often put down a horse that develops a nasty infection, reinjures its broken leg, or develops laminitis in its other hooves. (A horse that's unable to stand will develop nasty sores and can be expected to die a slow and painful death.) A few horses have had broken legs amputated and replaced with metal, but the equine prostheses don't have a great track record.
Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.
Explainer thanks Rick Arthur of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and Carl Kirker-Head of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.
This next article is from the Ultimate Horse Site
Why are horses killed if they break a leg?Racehorses break legs and are euthanized; why are they put down?
By Annamaria Tadlock
Horses may not be "shot" when they break a leg, like in old westerns, but today their fate is often still the same: A broken leg is still usually a death sentence for a horse.
In the wild, a horse with a broken leg becomes dinner for a predator pretty quick. But when someone's pet-- or a champion racehorse-- breaks a leg, owners will what they can to try and save them. The reality is that most horses with a bad break won't recover-- due to costs, the time involved in healing, the horse's anatomy and behavior, and other issues.
- Success depends on the severity of the injuryWhen breaks are minor, such as small fractures,or when they are in young or small horses, the chances for recovery are higher. A foal with a broken leg may have a much better chance at recovery because they are still young and growing, and their bodies are lighter.Incomplete fractures are when a bone under stress cracks but doesn't break, and those tend to be much easier to heal. This type of injury is more common in performance horses and usually heals, leaving the horse able to perform and function normally.
Complete fractures mean the bone is completely broken through. This generally occurs in a sudden traumatic incident, such as when a racehorse breaks down or trips, or horses kick each other, causing the bone to shatter and break into pieces. Bones that come through the skin may be full of dirt or grass and greatly contaminated.
This type is much more difficult to heal for many reasons and generally is fatal to a horse. In cases of bad breaks, an animal is quickly humanely euthanized because there simply are no treatment options (such as Eight Belles, who shattered two legs at the fetlock and cannon bone).
- Horse legs aren't designed to heal--All horses are big, heavy animals on small legs and feet, and each foot has to support roughly 250 pounds. When one breaks, it is difficult for the other legs to handle that weight. Even after a successful surgery to repair a damaged leg, the other legs may develop laminitis or abscesses because they have to carry extra weight on their other legs (this is what ultimately killed Barbaro, 8 months after successful surgery). There is no muscle below the knee or hock joint, meaning those leg injuries do not receive the same amount of support or blood flow.This can lead to complications in healing. The large bones of a horse also take a long time to heal. Fractures that break the skin often contact dirt, grass, or manure, making the risk of infection very high.
- Horses don't like to be still --Horses are active creatures. They are designed to run from predators (or today, on the racetrack) and love to move about and play. Keeping a horse from re injuring itself is a big problem in recovery. They can step on themselves, get excited and try to move around, or simply get bored of being in a stall and try to get out.
Many horses simply won't comply with treatment procedures. Ruffian's surgery to repair her broken leg was successful, but she continued to thrash and ended up injuring herself badly and had to be euthanized. Nureyev broke his leg while free in his pasture when he was 10 years old, and he was saved because he tolerated slings and stall rest so well.
When the ex-racehorse Alydar broke his leg at the age of 15, he underwent surgery, but two days later he broke the leg again moving about on it and had to be euthanized.
- Can't they use slings? Slings are used to help bear weight, but they can't be a long-term option because they do cause other problems, such as bed sores and discomfort to the horse. Some weight is needed to be on the injured leg to ensure it recovers the strength needed to support the horse. The other legs can develop laminitis or abscesses, and the horse may object to being in a sling and struggle, injuring itself further.
- Pain Management--Having a broken bone is painful, and drugs are administered to control pain-- but if you give too little, the animal suffers, and if you give too much, they feel fine and want to gallop around. When horses are on pain medication they may re injure themselves moving around.
- Huge Expenses & Few Vets--Treatment options are also very expensive; the average horse owner cannot afford the thousands of dollars it can take to recover, or provide the care needed. When you hear about horses being rehabilitated, it is usually an expensive racehorse, not an average racehorse or a riding horse. There are success stories, but they are the exception.When Barbaro fractured his hind leg (in more than 20 places) his owners went to great expense to attempt to save him. Surgically implanted steel plates, specially designed horse swimming pools, constant monitoring and pain management were all a part of his recovery attempt. They had the resources to provide the best care available. But they kept fighting with abscesses and painful laminitis that developed and he was euthanized 8 months after the initial injury.Even if an owner has the money to try to rehabilitate a horse with a broken leg, which most do not, there are few vets and facilities that can handle that situation. While racehorses may have the benefit of being surrounded by vets and other professionals, few horse owners live anywhere near equine vets or facilities that can handle injuries.
- Humane Euthanasia --The amount of pain and time that the horse has to be locked up in a small space to recover from a bad break is considered by many to be inhumane. If the horse is kept off the leg, the injury may heal, but the other legs can develop complications, as was the case with Barbaro. Often the only humane option is to euthanize a horse when they break a leg. Sometimes, it is the only choice, when a break is so severe or multiple legs are broken ( such as the case with Eight Belles).
Here are our before and after photos of our Chester...
Chester came to us so malnurished that his growth was inhibited, he had worms and lice (left) and was in terrible shape.
He healed inside and out at Serenity and became a sweet gelding who was healthy and happy, and that is how we will remember him. Rest in peace, our sweet friend.