Bunny's Amazing Story

Western Australian Quarter Horse breeders Brian and Lena Rasmussen thought they had seen every type of horse injury imaginable.

That was until the morning feeding ritual was interrupted when Brian decided to check on some mares that were uncommonly agitated and running the boundary fence-line.  He soon discovered the reason for their unrest when he came upon their yearling filly lying bloodied and tangled in the ring lock fencing. The Newdegate area has experienced a severe storm the night before, and with the accompanying thunder and lightening it seemed the filly had panicked and run blindly through the fencing. She was motionless, and Brian thought she had died from her injuries, but as he turned to head back for tools to remove her he noticed weak movements amid the tangled mess. He raced back to the stables to get what he needed to free her and called to Lena that ‘Bunny’ had been injured. This time in the ute, he arrived back at her side to untangle her and to his amazement she made attempts to stand, and after a few stumbling tries was eventually upright.   

Lena had followed on foot and even with Brian’s hasty description of the injury, Lena says that she was so shocked at the sight she anticipated a trip back to the homestead to gather the gun, sadly acknowledging that their location sometimes meant having to resort to these measures when injured stock were beyond intervention or would not survive the wait for vet assistance. But Brian ever the optimist, convinced Lena to take the filly back to the confines of their stables, keep her comfortable and wait for the vet to arrive.  The wait gave them time to go over possible options, and contemplate every horse owner’s nightmare – having to destroy one of their horses.  The yearling filly, the last by their West Australian bred and USA exported stallion Metallic Oak, out of one of their stud foundation mares Delkara Honey Bars, was to be Lena’s pride in the show ring, later joining the ranks of their broodmare band.  But now, standing quietly in the stable together, it seemed that this injury would not only claim that dream but the life of the filly as well. 

On arrival their vet Celeste Howatson was surprised to find the filly remarkably bright despite the shocking injury and obvious trauma. On inspection she found that the yearling had stripped the entire front of her forearm from the crease of the elbow right down to the knee, removing vital muscle, tendons, and exposing much of the bone.  She had lost a considerable amount of blood and was suffering from shock, but as luck would have it vital nerves and blood vessels situated on the inside of the leg were still protected by tissue, although they too had lost some skin covering.   

After intravenous sedation the vet went about removing dead tissue and trimming some skin edges away to allow easier cleaning.  What followed was Penicillin for infection, Bute for pain and swelling and a hefty dose of reality in the form of a pessimistic outcome.  While not usually one’s to let emotions ride roughshod over common sense, the three cautiously decided to give the filly just a few days of treatment, keep her comfortable, under close supervision and constantly assess her during that time.  Dressings needed to be changed three times daily with application of Septicide cream, Melolin pads and finishing the bandaging with Combine dressing and Elastoplast. 

Day two saw the only setback in the filly’s treatment, on removing the dressing they found that the wound had become flyblown, had developed a smell and was oozing quiet badly. The vet flushed with water and used expired hospital intravenous fluids to repeatedly rinse the delicate surface of the radius.  Knowing that the fragile membranes sitting atop the bone surface were susceptible to toxic or abrasive medication, Solisite gel was applied to the bone and more skin was cut away and smeared with Septicide cream.   Melolin pads and dressing followed again along with further instructions on keeping the wound clean and the filly mobile.  Interestingly Bunny had learnt to walk by flicking the foreleg out in front of her then moving forward.  She continued to eat and drink, was bright and sociable, and exhibited no rise in temperature that is usually associated with the first signs of infection.    

The combined dedication of Brian and Lena, and the ease with which the filly accepted her treatment, meant that progress was noticed almost daily.  Most of us know that injuries like this more often than not end unfavourably, regardless of vigilance or level of care, but to Brian and Lena’s utter amazement the filly not only survived the early stages of her injury, but she has astounded her vet with her remarkable progress.  

Thursday, 2 weeks post injury saw the filly eating well although she had lost some weight, with meticulous cleansing the wound was clean and dead tissues had sloughed away.  Granulation was beginning and thanks to the Sepicide cream flies had not been a problem.  The bone surface had developed a few isolated greyish-brown areas that meant the periosteum had died and the vet was concerned as to whether the living bone underneath would also die.  This would have left portions of dead bone that could cause draining wounds and osteomyelitis later on.  The proud flesh was excessive around the knee area but the filly was still bright, walking with her throw out leg action and eating well.  At this time dressing options were changed to include the use of ‘Horse Honey’ (purchased some time ago from a stall at the Newdegate Machinery Field Day) directly over both bone and tissue, and because of its marvellous antibiotic properties and mild astringent action it meant that they could now stop using the expensive Solosite Gel and Melolin pads.  Penicillin and Bute on a daily basis were however still necessary to keep the filly infection free and comfortable. 

A further two weeks saw the removal of proud flesh that was developing around the knee area.  After sedation, roughly an orange sized piece of granulation was removed and it was noticed that patches of good tissue were appearing as fish-net type blood vessels on parts of the exposed bone.  The bone colour was less yellow and small bumps like sand grains also appeared on the surface of the bone.  These bumps were actually proud flesh that had started to form a covering over the bone. While completely occupied with the treatment of the wound, Brian and Lena were constantly amazed at the efficiencies of nature when it comes to healing.  

Seven weeks post injury still saw the filly improving at an amazing rate.  Her appetite was still healthy, she was maintaining her weight, and the granulation tissue had nearly covered the bone.  A few small flakes of periosteum peeled off but other than that things were looking very bright indeed.  While the knee maintained some swelling and it was affecting her walking, they kept up the same routine of daily walks, and added a faster pace, massage of tissue and surrounding skin with baby cream to keep the skin soft and pliable to allow for stretch, and used walker size baby nappies as dressings.  The use of softening agents is vital to keep the skin from shrinking and pulling in, as it would restrict further movement and in turn decrease circulation.  So this regime has become an important part of her rehabilitation, and has meant that long outings are reduced to zero, and the filly has taken over as number one family priority. 

At 8 weeks post injury Bunny was doing well.  She had even begun to show a keen interest in one of the resident stallions!  The exposed bone that so horrified her owners was now covered.  She has been taken on increasingly longer walks and has incorporated walking up and down the banks of the dam.  She has learnt to favour her bad leg less, and is stretching out more all the time.  With the tendon gone from the shoulder to the knee (it had contracted from the knee to the fetlock) it has created a slightly bent look, and with the lost muscle is a little lopsided at this point in time.  However, once she returns to a larger paddock and is using her leg more those muscles should build to a point where she looks a little more balanced.  Knowing that she’ll never return to the broodmare herd where she just may find life more difficult, Lena has decided that Bunny will be a ‘life companion’ for one of the stallions.  That way she will be in one of the house paddocks under the watchful eye of the entire household.  Considering the way Bunny had been making moon-eyes at the stallion, they are all sure that when the time comes she’ll approve of her new status. 

In the 10 weeks of committed treatment, never once has the filly demonstrated anything other than a quiet acceptance.  She could have understandably decided enough was enough and become tired of the constant injections and dressing changes.  But Bunny decided that to live she would have to accept.  It was Brian who delivered the encouragement to start and treatment. But it has been the tenacity of all concerned that delivered this filly back to health.  This is a story against all odds, and knowing the wonderful bloodlines of this filly it is not surprising that she showed such strength of character and tenacity.  In fact, the same could be said for Lena, whose Russian heritage probably makes her a prime candidate for taking on, however reluctantly, what some would call a “hopeless case”, it’s also a testament to dedication and wonderful vet care, and of course we can’t forget it was all because Brian stubbornly refused to let there be any other outcome!   

Article by friend Belinda Camarda