Cowboy Changed Me – Healing

In September of 2020, during the Covid pandemic, I bought a Horse. Though I only spent just over a year with this older ex-ranch horse, the red roan gelding taught me so much during my time with him.

This is that story

At this point, after being introduced to Cowboy, I had owned him for 11 months. He was projected as a crazy horse that was uncontrollable when the farrier was working on him and randomly bucked people off in a violent way. I had spent 5 months with basic ground work and eventually got on his back. He had been exhibiting calming behavior, was good with the farrier, and was excellent under saddle until the second day we trotted. While in a relaxed, loose reign Cowboy exploded into a violent buck. I started him back at square one after that with ground work, then he was coming along again until he exploded with just the halter and saddle on. It was an easy day after his first jump experience with no one on him. During that 40 minutes of explosion, Cowboy injured himself with a puncture wound to the inside of his left hock, and some scrapes around it.


There is a touch of divinity even in brutes, and a special halo about a horse, that should forever exempt him from indignities.

Herman Melville

Conversations with Veterinarians

On August 3, 2021 Donna arrived late afternoon the day that Cowboy exploded to give him his regularly scheduled massage. This time I had him at the wash rack by the arena since I was scrubbing his wound. I am sure that after to 40 minutes of him bucking around the arena and the walk/trot/canter and bending exercises I still had him do after, did a number on his muscles. She worked him over, and we talked about his behavior. Donna mentioned an animal communicator to help me with my relationship with Cowboy, as she was concerned that we weren’t connecting. I was open to the idea, but wasn’t sure if our connection had anything to do with how he was behaving, but more related to something going on with the saddle. It had to be either in his head because of some trauma, or something physical even though the Veterinarian had repeatedly found nothing wrong. Donna looked at his leg and was worried that it looked worse than what I was thinking. It looked bad to me, but I had seen worse. I had been through wound care many times when I worked at the large animal Veterinarian out of High School (30 years ago). Audrey was wrapping up her day with the other horses and came over to talk with Donna and I. She told me a story about a horse that had a joint infection and almost had to be put down. I began to feel a bit of panic for Cowboy and worried that he could be that bad. Audrey went into her supplies and brought out a syringe and injected a dilution of Chlorhexidine 2% for Horses directly into the hole. She told me that I should wrap it before putting him away.

Most of my vet supplies were from 10 years ago when my off track Thoroughbred injured himself in the pasture. The wound salve was greasy, bandages were dirty and the bandage wrap was gooey and caked with dirt. I am not a fan of wrapping wounds too often as I feel they need the room to drain and the air to help them heal over. His hock was especially difficult to bandage. I added a bit of the clean cotton I could find and wrapped his hock with a polo wrap (since that’s all that I had on hand) just as Audrey said to. I wrapped and rewrapped it a few times (similar to what is shown in this video) but it just didn’t feel like it was going to stay (especially since it was wrapped with a polo wrap and not Vetrap). I went home that evening and ordered Self Adhesive Bandage Wrap, Cast Padding, cotton leg wrap, Vet cream, and wound repair on Amazon to be delivered in two days.

I woke up to a text from Audrey on August 5, 2021 (the next day) that his wrap had fallen off. I was worried about that happening, and knew then I would just need to go to the barn 2-3 times a day and scrub his wound good while it healed rather than trying to wrap it. I ordered more Betadine scrub, and Saline solution to dilute the Chlorhexidine with. Since I work from home, I blocked out morning, afternoon and evening times for me to go to the barn and scrub Cowboy’s wound to keep it clean. Audrey insisted (again) that I wrap the hock, saying “If it were my horse I would have wrapped it.”. She grabbed me some cotton and Vetrap that she had in her supplies. I wrapped his leg with it, but it slipped down again later that evening.

The morning and early evening of August 6, 2021 I walked Cowboy down to the wash rack at the arena and hosed his leg off. I scrubbed it with the Tiger’s Tongue scrubber and diluted Chlorhexidine then flushed the puncture hole using a small syringe. Around 8pm that evening I changed into my evening clothes (ok… it was my pajamas, don’t judge) and was climbing into bed when my phone rang. It was Alyce calling me. Alyce doesn’t call me, she always texts, so I was worried that something could be wrong. I answered “Hey” in a sort of quiet (slightly frantic) voice and she immediately said “Jenn, It’s Alyce. Gaelen is colicking and Dr. Thorn is on his way. Shelly said that Cowboy is down too and has been all day.” Shelly is the woman that lives where I board Cowboy and Moe. She is also Shawna’s friend that was bucked off the other horse when Shawna tried Cowboy out before buying him. Because of this, Shelly had a place in her heart for Cowboy. I said “OK, I’m on my way.” and hung up.

I threw my clothes back on and slipped on my boots then raced to the barn. I drove up and Rumor (Alyce’s Daughter) was walking her horse Gaelen. Alyce told me about how Gaelan was acting funny that day and didn’t want to go into his stall that evening. When they came back later he was laying down and stuck against the wall of his stall. They helped him get out and called Dr. Thorn, the semi-retired Veterinarian that lived on the Island part of the time. I talked to Alyce, Beth, Justin (who lives on the property and manages the supply store there) for a bit and then decided to try to get Cowboy down the hill.

I walked up to Cowboy’s barn to see what situation he was in. On my way up there, I walked past Rumor with Gaelen and saw the terrified worried look on her face. I recognized that look all too well from my days at the Vet. So many times people brought their colicking horse in, and by that point it was often too late. That terrified, worried look that later turned into sadness as the reality of loosing their horses would set in. I too felt that fear when my Thoroughbred got colic. My only experience with colic up to that point was with the horses that came to the clinic when I worked there. By then, it was too late for them and it was just a matter of keeping them comfortable, or attempt a major surgery that still had no guaranteed outcome. I later learned, with my Thoroughbred, that colic is common and horses get through it very often. They key was to catch it early and treat. I knew that Gaelen would pull through this. I looked at Rumor and said “He will be OK.” she looked like she was holding back tears as I added “You caught it in time. Just keep walking him and he will be fine. Trust me.” and I continued up the hill to Cowboy.

Cowboy was laying down in the covered part of his paddock just outside of his stall. It was a sight I had seen too many times at the clinic. There were signs of his legs thrashing around next to where he was laying and he was giving no signs of wanting to get up. I took a photo of him in case I would need it for reference later, and then grabbed his halter.

I walked up to him (while he was still laying down) and put the halter on him. He resisted me as I asked him to “come come” and gave him a little tug. I did it again with a little more tug and he still didn’t want to move. I said “Come on buddy, you have to get up.” and gave him a few short tugs to encourage him. He brought his front feet in front of him, grunted and settled back down. I tugged again “Come on buddy you can do it. You HAVE to do this.”

He rocked onto his front feet and pushed up with his hind end to a stand. His left hind leg was swollen up like a balloon animal all dimply and bumpy like someone tried to make something a few times and gave up. I gave him a good rub down on his face and then encouraged him forward to see if he could walk. He put some pressure on the swollen leg and used it to step forward.

When I could see that he was walking, I encouraged him through the little barn door and down the hill to where Alyce, Rumor, her horse Gaelen, and some of the other folks at the barn were. Dr. Thorn arrived while we were talking and while Alyce was telling him what was going on, he looked over Gaelen. When they were done talking, I asked him if he would mind looking at Cowboy when he was finished with Gaelen. He said that he didn’t have time for wound care that night. I coerced him to check Cowboy’s belly since he was down and showing signs of possible colic as well.

As the sun went down, Audrey showed up and Beth had left. We waited patiently for a while as Dr. Thorn treated Gaelen for his colic. I chatted with Audrey and Justin as Cowboy rested his head on my good shoulder (and I happily held him up). When Dr. Thorn finished up with Gaelen and walked over, the sun had gone down completely. Audrey headed into the barn saying “Let’s bring him into the barn.”. She flipped the lights on and went to check on Rumor and Alyce with Gaelen. Dr. Thorn looked at Cowboy’s leg and immediately said “Oh, that doesn’t look good.” then added “I’m sorry I said I didn’t have time, I didn’t’ realize how bad this was.” I told him that I understood and not to worry about it. He was looking at him now, and that’s all that I cared about.

I told him the story of Cowboy putting his leg through the wall after 40 mins of bucking around the arena. Audrey walked by at that moment and said “He probably has some wood in that wound.”. Dr. Thorn got his utensils ready to gently inspect the wound. He looked at me and said “I see the puncture wound here and this surface wound next to it.” then added “I’m going to have to give him a local and see if I can dig anything out.”

He injected around the wound and asked me “Didn’t you live in Nepal for a while?” and I answered “Yes, I worked with the horses there and owned a shop for a bit.” He then said “I think last time I saw you I was treating your Thoroughbred.” I responded “Yes, I think it was when he colicked.” and we reminisced about Henry (my OTTB). I told him about how I sold him to a young lady on the Island who was showing him Dressage and Jumping. As he dug around Cowboy’s wound, I told him that I still had Moe, 27 years old, up on the hill with Cowboy. He stopped, looked up at me with his headlamp on “Well, I can’t find any pieces of wood in there.” he added “I am concerned, however, of him getting an infection in the joint.” He injected Amikason and saline into the joint to give Cowboy a chance to start fighting the infection. He told me that I should call one of the other off-Island Vets or possibly get him to Pilchuck, the emergency Veterinarian in Snohomish (that’s 50 miles away).

Audrey walked up to us to see how he’s doing and I said “Well, I’m only going to say this once and you’ll never hear it from me again… you were right.” She laughed and asked “He has a joint infection?” then Dr. Thorn said “Well, that’s my concern, but I think if she can keep it clean and get someone here to flush it properly then he might be ok.” I told him about trying to wrap it, but it just wasn’t staying. He agreed with letting it breath and drain. He said that being on the hock, it’s so tough to keep it wrapped especially when he had room to walk around in the paddock. He gave me 3 doses of Nexcel to follow-up and said that Cowboy most likely needed a daily joint flush, and wanted me to keep scrubbing it as I have been but see what the other Veterinarian would want to do.

We wrapped up with Dr. Thorn and I put Cowboy away. At this point it was around 10pm and Beth and Audrey were gone. All who were left was Justin in the corner of the arena with the chairs chatting with Alyce as Rumor walked Gaelen under the old flood lights that lit up the covered space. I told them what Dr. Thorn said and chatted with them about Gaelen for a bit. I took Cowboy back up to his little barn on the hill and came back down to give them all company for a while. I got more of the story from Justin about the place where Shawna had bought Cowboy from. I said to Justin “I wonder if Cowboy was started as a saddle bronc but didn’t cut it in the Rodeo so they made him a ranch horse and then sold to Shawna as a trail horse.” I know it’s been done before, and just recently found this forum where some people are talking about doing this successfully. In all my wracking my brain trying to figure out what was going that caused him to explode with the saddle, it’s one of the theories that could make sense.

Getting to Pilchuck

The next morning (August 7, 2021) I contacted Dr. Perkins to get her to the Island and look at Cowboy but she said she wasn’t coming for a few weeks. I spoke with Tacoma Equine in the morning while I was scrubbing and flushing out Cowboy’s wound and after answering some questions and texting some photos the Vet there told me I needed to get to Pilchuck and get him a daily joint flush ASAP.

It was Sunday, August 8, 2021 when I called Pilchuck to get him scheduled to go in. The office told me I should talk to the Veterinarian there and they would have her call me back. Late that morning, when I was finishing up cleaning up Cowboy’s wound and talking with Alyce about Gaelan’s recovery, I got a call back from the Veterinarian at Pilchuck. I talked her through what Cowboy did, what Dr. Thorn had worked on and what Tacoma Equine said to do. The Vet at Pilchuck said that I needed to get him there the next day. The longer we would wait, the more risk there was of the infection developing and getting worse, and therefore less likely he’ll survive it.

I put Cowboy away and stopped at the shop there on the property on my way home. Justin was inside and asked me how Cowboy was doing. I told him what was going on and that I needed to find someone with a truck and trailer to help me get Cowboy to Snohomish from the Island, so he gave me some names and numbers to call.

When I got home, I immediately sat down on my couch and began to call the numbers Justin had given me. I also texted a few friends that I knew had trailers. At 1pm, I wasn’t able to get a hold of anyone, and was really starting to panic. I posted on our local Island Facebook group that I needed help. Around that time one of the ladies I had contacted (from Justin’s list) returned my call. She said she had a truck and trailer, but that she wasn’t sure her truck could make it that far as there were some problems with it. She said that she was getting it serviced the next day so she could do it Tuesday if everything was fixed on her truck by then. I asked her to keep her Tuesday open and plan on helping me, but that I would keep trying to find someone else.

I had gotten calls back from the other people on Justin’s list. Not one of them could make the trip the next day. Alyce responded that she couldn’t cause her truck’s ABS light was on and she wanted to change the brake pads before a trip like that. There just wasn’t time for her to do that by then.

Around 2:45 pm I texted this guy Rich who owns the construction company that had done some odd jobs for me around the house. He mentioned to me (in passing once) that he worked on a ranch and we talked horses for a bit. He had some trucks, employed some people, and knew just about everyone on the Island. I thought if I could at least get a hold of a trailer, that he could use one of his trucks to help me, or at least rent me a truck and get one of his guys to drive us. Rich responded with “Fuck it sure”. He said that he had a party to go to at 5pm where there would be lots of horse people he could ask for a trailer.

Still not hearing back from my two friends at this point, I started panicking even more and called Pilchuck to see if they knew anyone in the area heading their way that I could hitch a ride. They gave me a number of a hauling company. I hung up and I quickly called them. I told the woman at the hauling company that I needed to get Cowboy hauled the next day. She said it was getting late in the day to be finding someone but that she would do her best and call me back.

For 45 minutes I sat on my couch where I planted myself as soon as I got home that morning. I hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t drank anything. I hadn’t moved other than dialing the phone and tapping on the screen to text people. I just stared out the window into the garden in front of my house. My mind was racing trying to come up with ideas and options. The phone rang at 4:45 pm. It was the hauling company again. “I have someone for you tomorrow. She can get there first thing in the morning and get you and your horse to Pilchuck in Snohomish that afternoon.” she said.

“Oh thank you so much!” I exclaimed.

She added “It will be $788 total with the gas charges, ferry fare and hauling fees.”

At this point I didn’t care and told her it was good for me. I got off the phone with her and texted Rich to let him know I found someone. He replied “ok I would have hauled him for ya.” The cost of the hauling set in with me and I was worried that if Rich or I could get a hold of a trailer then it might be better. I replied “I’m still looking for a trailer for you. If not, I’ll use the expensive lady”. He replied back that he was heading to the party and would ask around. At that moment I texted Alyce and asked her if we could borrow her trailer since her truck was out of commission. Soon after that she responded that I most certainly could. Just as I was texting Rich to tell him I got us a trailer, he texted me that he found a trailer. I let Alyce know that we’re good, called the hauling company and cancelled and let the other lady know that I wouldn’t need her Tuesday after all. It was settled, and I was feeling a little bit relieved. It was 6:45 pm before I finally got off the couch that day.

Rich and his brother Dave showed up at the barn early the next morning. I finished up scrubbing Cowboy’s leg and gave him the last shot of antibiotics that Dr. Thorn had left me. I hobbled him over to the trailer and while I walked him up he stepped in with his front feet and tried to hop up, but just couldn’t do it. He pulled back on me when I tried a second time. He just wasn’t going to be able to hop up into the trailer. Dave, Rich and I decided to move the trailer to the small incline and position it so that Cowboy could walk down the incline and into the trailer. Once the trailer was moved, Cowboy walked in no problem. I gave him some rubs and a treat, tied him up and locked the divider in. I hopped into the passenger seat of the truck with my backpack of snacks and my water for the day, and we drove off.

Cowboy’s Week at the Vet

After a good 2 hour drive (including ferry wait time and the 15 minute crossing) Dave and I arrived at Pilchuck to check Cowboy in. I pulled him out of the trailer and he hopped out no problem. I then handed his lead to the Vet assistant and talked to her about what happened to him before she took him into the clinic. As Cowboy walked away, he acted as if there was nothing wrong with his leg. Dave and I both laughed at this horse that showed no pain. I was hoping that was a good sign. Due to Covid they couldn’t allow us to wait inside, so Dave and I sat outside on the bench. Dr. Richardson came outside after a while to talk to me. She presented the expensive and invasive option, while in my head I am thinking “I can’t even ride this horse.” When she was finished, I said to her “Here’s the thing. This horse isn’t ridable” and proceeded to give her the quick version of how I got Cowboy, the work I had been putting in, and violent bucking he did out of nowhere. She said “I can tell he has had a lot of ground work.”, I continued by telling her how I was “sucker bucked”, followed with him bucking while tied up and then the 40 minutes of bucking around the arena that got us where we were that day. She said “Ok” and presented a different option of a less invasive surgery that followed with daily joint flushes for the remainder of the week. We worked out a plan together that would give him his best shot and hope that he could pull through it on his own from there. I left that day with my hopes up but also preparing for the worst.

The next day I went back to work sitting on the same couch I sat in while desperately trying to find a way to get Cowboy to Pilchuck. I tend to throw myself into my work in times of stress (which probably exlains why I am so far in my career). I was so busy the entire day that I didn’t realize I hadn’t heard from the Vet yet. I looked at the clock and saw that it was after their closing time of 7pm. The next morning I called them in-between my meetings. I spoke with the woman at the front desk and she assured me that Cowboy was doing well and that Dr. Richardson would call me when she was finished with surgery.

Wood from Cowboy's leg
This photo was shot of the wood taken out of his leg was taken after I picked Cowboy up.

The evening of August 11, 2021 (two days after I dropped Cowboy off and 8 days after Cowboy injured his leg) I received a phone call from Dr. Richardson. She said that Cowboy’s surgery went well the day before and he was a very good boy. She said that both wounds had appeared to have been healing up nicely, but she had to cut them open again. The puncture wound did not connect with the joint, but the test result did show faint signs of infection in the joint fluid. She added that she dug around through the scrape next to the puncture wound and found some small bits of wood lodged deep in there. When she continued to dig through deeper, she found a very large chunk embedded in his leg. She said that she followed up with a regional limb perfusion of antibiotics and injected the joint with Amikacin. In addition, he had been given antimicrobials and anti-inflammatories. The bandage was changed that morning and after the wound was lavaged, the joint was injected with Amakacin again.

I was glad to hear that Cowboy was doing better than the worse case scenario I was preparing for. Though we weren’t entirely out of the woods quite yet.

Dr. Richardson continued with changing Cowboy’s bandage. She lavaged and injected the joint with Amikacin again on August 12th.

I picked Cowboy up on August 13th after they changed his bandage, lavaged and injected his joint again. They had also added a dose of Excede. I was instructed that I would need to have another Veterinarian follow-up with the second dose on the 16th.

She directed me to change the bandage when needed, scrub the wounds (as I had been doing before) and keep Cowboy on stall rest for the next week or so while walking him a bit more each day to keep his leg moving.

Bringing him home

Finding a ride to get Cowboy home was a lot less stressful this time around since I had the week to figure it out. Alyce was so nice to take the time off of work on Friday (8/13) afternoon using her trailer and the truck that Rich let Dave use on Monday.

You probably already figured at this point that, yes, it was Friday the 13th when I brought Cowboy home. It was, for me, the luckiest day ever.

While picking Cowboy up, I asked if there was anything I could have done to prevent the join infection. She told me that I went above and beyond. That Cowboy was doing so well because of the higher level of care that I provided for him. We talked about the wood pieces, and she assured me that there was no way I could have known they were there. She reminded me that Dr. Thorn tried to find them, and he wasn’t even able to see anything. It took the surgery to be able to get it all. The wound care I had done up until then, and getting him there in time, was what was giving him a fighting chance.

I felt a little bit more at ease, but still felt I could have done more somehow.

Healing

On the way home, Alyce and I (with Cowboy in tow) sat in the ferry line to get back on the Island for a few hours (Friday evening at 5pm is generally not a good time to try to catch the ferry). I pulled out all of the paperwork from the Vet and proceeded to go through it all. Alyce and I looked over the description the Vet typed out on what she had done. We were looking words up in Google and trying to figure stuff out (like we were some sort of Veterinarians or something). Just as we were getting on the boat finally, I started reading the aftercare instructions. All of a sudden it donned on me to let Audrey know (ok, well maybe it was Alyce that thought of it and told me).

I called Audrey from the ferry on the way home to talk about how we would work out his stall rest. Cowboy’s paddock had a stall, but it opened up into his paddock and Audrey was also worried about getting him up the hill, so she moved her little lesson horse to be Moe’s neighbor and Cowboy would take her stall.

We pulled up and Audrey rushed to get the stall ready as I pulled Cowboy out of the trailer. She put a hay net in there for him and instructed Alyce (since Alyce’s Daughter Rumor cleaned and fed the horses) that we would need to clean the stall throughout the day. He was to also have hay in front of him at all times. She told me (since she was on a roll) to check Cowboy’s temperature 2x a day. Following with a stern “You are going to have to be here more.” because she knows my work schedule doesn’t always allow for it.

The next few days seemed like an eternity. I blocked time out from my meetings to go to the barn 3x a day the first few days. Dr. Thorn was scheduled for Cowboy’s follow-up on the 16th. I logged Cowboy’s temp every morning and every evening. I cleaned the stall when it looked dirty and bought extra bails of shavings to give him a lot of padding to lay down in. I took photos and posted on his Instagram account. When I cleaned his wound and replaced the bandage I posted updates. I even took videos of the few minutes of running cold water on the wound to keep it soft to avoid any proud flesh developing.

Cowboy seemed to handle being in his stall full time pretty well. He especially enjoyed it as the other boarders gave him some pets through the bars. I kept Shawna (Cowboy’s previous owner) updated through text, and met up with her a couple of times. She stopped by his stall and gave him a talking to. She texted me to say “I told him how lucky he was to have you, among many other things… and make it clear he had done this to himself 😂”

Cowboy’s Daily Temps:

  • 8/14 8:44 am 98.7°
  • 8/14 8:04 pm 99.4°
  • 8/15 11:30 am 98.1°
  • 8/15 7:05 pm 99.0°
  • 8/16 7:57 am 98.8°
  • 8/16 7:09 pm 99.2°
  • 8/17 8:29 am 97.9°
  • 8/17 7:19 pm 98.1°
  • 8/18 8:13 am 97.5°
  • 8/18 7:32 pm 98.2°

The summer days were long in daylight, and long for both Cowboy and I as I checked his temperature and scrubbed and dressed his wounds daily. I was hanging around the larger barn a lot more than usual. I got to know more of the other boarders and people in lessons there. I introduced myself to unfamiliar faces, and answered questions for those who were curious about how he was doing. As most horse people know, the chit chat that goes around the barn tends to be a bit more intense than in most situations. At least, that’s been my experience. However, I am not one to engage in it and generally stay away from the conversations. Unfortunately, being the center of the talk that summer didn’t allow me to avoid the conversations. Some of the chatter was positive, which was uplifting, but some was negative. I had heard that people were impressed with how I had done so much for Cowboy but in the same breath was hearing that people were saying it was my fault he was in the situation. There were murmurings that I hadn’t cleaned the wound properly or spent enough time with him after he was injured. There was even criticism for not owning a truck and trailer forcing me to rely on other people to haul my horse for me.

This strong, confident and chill girl was not feeling her usual self in the weeks that followed. It could have been the stress during those weeks from Cowboy being injured was maybe leaving me ill equipped to handle the negativity. Alternatively, the things being said coming back to me could have just been hitting me hard. Regardless of what was going on, I was most definitely beginning to wear down.

One Response to “Cowboy Changed Me – Healing

  • Synthia
    1 month ago

    That’s awful that people were saying such horrible things about you. You did everything you could and I’m pretty certain none of them would do any better.
    Be strong.
    I love your story.
    Keep posting.
    I’m excited to hear what happens next.

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