by Elisha & Rodney McCulloh
The passing of an old friend
Like much of the country, we’ve had a long, snowy, bone chillingly cold winter here at Achaius Ranch. The herd has made it through in excellent health with the exception of poor old Scooter who, at the ripe old age of 33, lost his fight with cancer. He was a lovely, calm, dependable unflappable horse and on a cold Sunday afternoon in January we buried him close to the barn. That was a sad day with tears shed at the end. But the snow and the cold continue and it’s for the best that Scooter no longer has to struggle against this long winter. We are so thankful for the time we had with Scooter!
Welcoming a new friend
Unbeknownst to us, only a few miles away, another horse was waging a mighty struggle of her own. A year ago, a mare and her two-year-old colt suffered the terror and tragedy of their barn catching fire. In desperation, the mare, with intense heat badly burning the entire length of her back, kicked through the wall of the barn and barely escaped the flames; sadly her colt did not.
Her owner did not have the resources to seek professional treatment for her injuries. He took care of her as best he could with home remedies and hoped for a new home for her, where she might be able to heal and recover. The poor mare then endured the long hot summer with no shelter to shield her burned back from the sun and heat. Amazingly she survived the summer only to now endure one of the coldest winters in memory. How she survived through all this with her unhealed wounds seems a miracle!
We are very thankful that a mutual acquaintance finally connected us to this horse’s owner! Liberty, a 12 year old paint mare, came to Achaius Ranch on February 21, 2014, wearing a bedraggled wool blanket as protection against the unrelenting cold.
Upon her arrival at Achaius Ranch, our vet used the word, “amazing” several times as he examined her. Amazing that she survived the fire, that infection had not set in, and that she was in very good condition, overall. Her back had healed to some extent but there is a large area about the size of a saddle that has not healed and clearly needs treatment, surrounded by skin that has the appearance of a peeling sunburn.
A few days later we were able to have Liberty admitted to the Purdue University Large Animal Hospital in West Lafayette, IN. A team of vets and students examined her and helped us make a treatment plan. Their first step was to biopsy the wound to check for squamous cell carcinoma (a kind of cancer that can develop in burnt skin), and while sedated, to thoroughly clean the area and sprinkle antibiotic powder on it. We are awaiting the results of the biopsy.
Another important step was checking to see how she handles being tied for extended periods of time, as that will be necessary to her recovery. The wonderful team at Purdue calls at least daily with updates. So far, they report that she handles being tied for long stretches of time quite well. In fact, she is handling every aspect of her treatment beautifully and has a good appetite. She seems to really enjoy being taken for walks and seeing the other horses at the hospital. This is delightful news but not surprising; we had observed her valiant, sweet and trusting personality immediately.
As soon as she and her treatment team are ready, the skin grafting process will take place. The option chosen involves taking “plugs” of skin from various parts of her body (which will be closed with sutures and should heal quickly), and placing them on the top of her back, where they should take hold and then grow together. The vet explained that without grafting, she has healed about as much as she possibly can as there is not enough healthy skin on her back to stretch and grow over the entire damaged area. We chose to do the plug grafts instead of one big graft after weighing the pros and cons of each option, including cost.
We are optimistic about her recovery but it’s far too early to know everything that lies ahead and just what all is possible for her in the future. We do know, however, that even if all goes well, we should expect it to take at least a year for her to heal as much as she can, and that it will be necessary to keep her from rolling for several months until the grafts have healed sufficiently. This means she will have to be kept tied so that she cannot lie down. Also we will be applying various things (like essential oils, Aloe, Vitamin E, and sunscreen) to her back to help relieve the itching associated with healing skin, and to prevent sunburn since she has no hair on her back to protect her.
Many people have expressed interest in Liberty’s story. We welcome your involvement in her recovery and we will provide updates on our Facebook page. Please feel free to ask if you have any questions about this wonderful mare, and if you or anyone you know might wish to help out, please let us know! From making a financial donation toward the vet bill (no amount is too small!) to taking her for a walk around the ranch, or simply grooming and loving on her! And as always, your prayers are so important!
Liberty has endured so much over this past year and still has much to endure. But, her lonely days are behind her! We can’t wait for her to come home from Purdue and make friends with her new herd.