Jen and Sandra started taking morning rides together. Most every weekday morning they would meet for coffee at Jen’s house after which they headed to the stables and checked on the sugar gliders making sure they were fed and watered. Also, it was just fun to play with them.
With the sugar gliders attended to the women gathered halters and lead ropes. Jen’s favorite ride was Candybar the quarter horse mare who was Rory's love as well. Sandra rode an eight-year-old black gelding named Mozart. They saddled the horses and traveled down Jack Creek using one of two main routes. The easiest way was to drop right down into the canyon and head north towards the cemetery. The other way was a shortcut going south along Jack Creek. It went past Victoria’s house and stable.
Victoria’s pastures were adjacent to Jen’s paddocks, and the horses often had snorting and pawing episodes across the fence line when one of them was feeling crabby.
Today they took the route past the neighbor's house. “Hello, Victoria?” Jen called out.
But there was no response. “Hmm, I was going to introduce you. She is usually out with the horses. Maybe tomorrow. I’ll give her a call later today.”
They continued past the house and dropped into the canyon at a leisurely walk. It allowed the girls to enjoy the warm sunny morning.
Sandra pointed to the sky. “Do you see those jet trails?” she asked.
Jen looked up. She saw six or seven white trails way up in the sky, contrails or vapor tracks left by the passenger jets on their morning routes between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“Yes, I see them.”
“Did you know that contrails contain chemicals?”
“Chemicals for what?”
“It's a government conspiracy,” Sandra said in a serious tone. “Chemicals are added to the jet fuel by the government!”
“Why would the government want to poison us?”
“Because they want to make us stupid. That way we won’t question their authority.”
“You’re kidding! Aren’t you? That’s paranoid, don’t you think?”
Just then Mozart stopped, whinnied, pulled both front feet out of the muck, and backed up onto the dry area of the bank. As he stepped back, he was limping badly.
“It looks like he hurt his right front foot on something,” Jen said.
“Should we keep going? Should I get off?”
“Not yet, let’s see if he walks out of it. Just go forward four or five steps.” Jen said. “Okay now push him further into a trot. See if you can feel a lopsidedness in the gait.”
When Sandra prodded him, he lifted his head quickly stepping on his left front foot to lessen any pain he was feeling in the other foot.
“Okay, stop and dismount, Sandra. I'm going to check it out; maybe he picked up a rock or something.”
Sandra bent down right next to Jen, real close.
“Make sure you keep hold of his reins, Sandra, otherwise he’ll leave your ass, and we’ll have to ride double.”
“What do you see?’
“Nothing unusual. Just tender spots here on the inside bulb of the heel and here on the medial side of the frog on the bottom.”
“They have frogs?”
“Yeah, the bottom of the hoof has a vee-shape, see?”
“Well, that’s called the frog. He’s probably bruised his foot, that’s why he’s so tender.” She pressed the sore spot a final time causing the horse to pull his leg back. “I think we should call the ride off. We’re just going to make it worse.”
They walked the horses home to make it easier on Mozart. After unsaddling them Jen cleaned his hoof but could see no obvious lesions. Deciding to let the horses rest for a day she gave him Bute paste, an oral anti-inflammatory. If he bruised his sole a few days rest was all he needed.
“What’s the plan?”
“We'll wait and see. If he’s still limping tomorrow, I’ll call Rory out.”
The next morning, he was no better, so Jen called Sandra. “Hi Sandra, this is Jen. Mozart’s worse today and I think we should cancel our ride.”
“Do you want help with the gliders?”
“Naw let’s take a break. Doc should be here any minute, but I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Jen went to the barn and entered Mozart's stall. He was holding the affected foot up in the air now and hopping on the other three legs. It hurt too much to put any weight at all on the sore foot. Jen haltered him and tied him outside. Finding a black rubber tub, she filled it with warm water and added Epsom Salts and Betadine liquid. She was holding his foot down in the warm, soothing solution when Rory pulled up.
“Oh, you’re already soaking his foot. That’s good.”
She laughed. “I knew you were going to want that Doc.”
Rory walked up next to Mozart and leaned into him. Starting at Mozart’s shoulder, he ran his hands down the upper leg feeling the elbow and continuing down the foreleg to the knee joint. After palpating the cannon bone above the ankle, he moved lower down to the hoof while squeezing the bones to find any sensitive areas and check for possible fractures. He manipulated the joints, the elbow, and the fetlock, flexing and extending each to see if this was where the pain was. He also felt for heat, an indicator of inflammation.
“Oh, here’s something interesting,” he said when his hand dropped below the fetlock onto the pastern area just above the hoof. Placing his fingers on the backside of the pastern he felt a stronger than normal pulse coming from the posterior digital artery. It was throbbing noticeably. “It’s in the hoof,” he surmised “probably on the inside because that's where I feel the pulse and the heat coming from the foot.”
“So, what do heat, tenderness and a throbbing pulse add up to Doc?”
“Usually it's a cut or puncture in the sole.”
He stood up, straightened his back, and went to his truck. Rummaging through the vet pack, he returned with a handful of tools. He laid them on the ground and picked up what looked like a vice grip with a large circular mouth at the end of it. It was a hoof tester. Jen saw it before; a modified pliers with a large, circular, six-inch bite that allowed Rory to squeeze separate parts of the sole selectively. Mozart flinched when Rory hit the sore spots showing him the problem area.
“This helps me diagnose hoof abscesses, laminitis, and navicular disease. See how Mozart responds by pulling his foot from me when I squeeze this one place?” He said as he applied the calipers between the sole and the side of the hoof. The horse immediately flinched and pulled the leg away.
“What is that telling you Doc?”
“Navicular disease causes a horse to flinch when I squeeze the back of the hoof walls, and it may be laminitis if it's tender when I squeeze between the hoof wall and the sole. This is so localized I suspect there either is an abscess or the coffin bone inside the hoof is fractured.”
“How can you tell the difference between a bone fracture and an infection?”
“By using a hoof knife. A nice sharp hoof knife will allow me to dig into the sole to look for a puncture hole. If I can’t find an abscess, then I’ll x-ray it to see if the coffin bone is fractured.” Rory squatted down and started digging the round tip of his hoof knife into the painful part of the sole.
“Ah here comes something,” he said when the blade exposed a crack in the bottom. As Rory continued to dig, the crack started to ooze a putrid smelling fluid. He kept going further until blood began flowing and no more pus came out.
“Yep, it's a simple abscess.”
“Then why did Mozart act like he broke his leg?” Jen asked.
“The puncture causes an infection which leads to a throbbing abscess. The hoof wall and sole act like a fingernail barrier. When you hit your thumb with a hammer, the blood builds up under the nail. It's the pressure of the buildup that causes the pain and it won't stop until a way is opened to allow the ooze to come out. It hurts like hell until I carve a relief pathway through the sole.”
“What causes the pus buildup in the first place?”
“When Mozart stepped on the object it left bacteria inside leading to an accumulation of white cells to fight off the bacteria. However, so many white cells come that the liquid inside the abscess expands and gets very painful.”
“And soaking helps pull the pus out?”
“Yeah as long as you open an exit hole with a knife.” Rory went to the antibiotic drawer in his truck. Dropping some large pills into a brown bottle, he handed it to Jen. “Here Give Mozart twelve of these pills in his grain morning and night and continue soaking his foot for thirty minutes twice a day.” To get the healing off to a fast start he gave the horse an antibiotic injection and a tetanus vaccination.
“Can you bill me, Rory?” Jen asked.
“No problem. Oh, just so you know, Katie, and I will be out of town for a couple of days. We’re going out of town for a few days. I’m driving her to Davis; her classes begin next week. Dr. Osborne will cover my calls in case you need him.”
“Okay,” Jen smiled. “Have a good time on your little vacation.”