Equine Wounds Equal Job Security
Dec 9, 2011From the Recovery RoomRyan Rothenbuhler, DVM , MSDiplomate ACVS
If you have been around horses long enough, you have experienced both minor and major wounds. Horses are naturally inquisitive animals. They have an innate ability to run or flee when frightened leading to the majority of equine wounds. We have created an environment for horses to get injured, whether it is in their stall or out in pasture. Sure horses can get hurt on 1000 acres of pasture, but I promise you the incidence of wounds are higher on 1 acre. Horses wake up every day looking to put their leg through something or ram their eye into something. If you have been around cows and horses you probably have seen the difference. A cow with a leg through the wire will act like she is caught and restrained. She will continue to graze the grass that she can reach and wait for someone to come get her out. You can almost judge how long they have been in the wire, by how much grass they have grazed. I once saw a cow that had eaten every bit of grass within reach down to the roots because she had been in the fence so long. On the other hand a horse trapped in the fence thinks the world has officially come to an end and it is on the first train out. It will pull, jerk, and run to try to save its life, ripping the fence and barn down trying to escape. This leads to catastrophic wounds on horses and superficial abrasions on cows.
I don't care if you think you have the most "Horse Safe" fence on the market, a horse will find a way to put or wrap it's leg through it. Due to economics, owners frequently use high tensile wire. It used to be called New Zealand wire. I like to call it the "New Zealand Death Wire" (Figure 1). Some people will buy plastic coated high tensile wire because it is advertised as safer. I have seen many horses wrap their leg around both types of wire and frankly the wounds appear the same. I have had horses cut through all of the soft tissues and groove the bone with high tensile wire. It cuts just like a knife. I am sure if you have followed me on the web or read our website, you know about Sargent Bogo. Bogo was pastured in a "Horse Safe" fence. He had managed to put his leg through the wire and deglove the skin all the way around the cannon bone (Figure 2).
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The key to making a horse safe fence is to be smart. Give them enough space and forage so that they are not inclined to be up against the fence all of the time. Don't put horses on both sides of the fence. Use a fence that is adequate strength and size for horses. A single strand electric fence will do very little to contain a horse that has ambition to get to the other side. One of my favorite stories as a young vet was a client who called with two horses that had both lacerated their hind limbs. The owner had purchased a new horse and she knew not to put them together because they would kick and try to hurt the each other while establishing the pecking order. So she just put the new horse in the paddock next to the other horses. By now you have figured out that the horses both kicked at each other and got their limbs wrapped up in the wire fence degloving both horses' hind limbs. One of my favorite cases as an intern was a story of an adopted mustang which lived in a single strand electric fence pasture. I was called out to evaluate him for a swollen leg. When I arrived he had a hind limb which was very swollen and had a 360 degree laceration around the pastern through the tendon sheath and tendons. After radiographing the limb I identified a wire that was completely wrapped around the leg and broken off next to the bone (Figure 3,4).
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When asking the owner about the wire and the fence she responded with, "I wondered why there was 100 feet of wire stretched back to the run-in shed a few days ago". To keep a long story short, we treated the horse with oral antibiotics and the horse healed amazingly well.
What have I learned over the years of dealing with fence injuries?
1. Be smart when pasturing you animals. Just because it is labeled "Horse Safe" doesn't necessarily mean that it is. Always be on the lookout for the next thing your horse is going to injure itself on.
2. Single strand electric fence is inadequate for fencing and cuts like a knife when wrapped around a limb.
3. High tensile wire keeps me in the wound treating business more than any other fence type.
4. For every type of fence out there, where someone says it is safer, I will give you a case that says they can get injured with it.
5. When pairing similar cases, adopted wild mustangs will heal without problems and anything else, where significant money has been spent, will suffer complications. (This is by no means backed with scientific analysis, just a casual observation)
So the next time you are going to fence a new pasture or build a new barn and you have questions, please feel free to call and ask us. With the collective years of practice between everyone here at Conley and Koontz Equine Hospital, we know which situations are most likely to lead to injuries.