So you know that something is wrong, very wrong with your precious beast. Not anything that you can see, not lame, but a strange noise when cantering and galloping. No lack of scope when completing a cross-country course, no wobbles at the end, still galloping but no acceleration left. We put it down to nerves and tension.
But you just know, don’t you that there is something fundamentally wrong.
Speaking to Richard Bandey from Plantation Farm, I showed him a video. He said “wind, Claire. Not sure what but you need to get him to Ben Brain in Lower Slaughter to find out”.
Enough said. I booked the appointment and took Stretch to meet Ben, Victoria his wife and the team up in Cheltenham. Now Mr Stretch is a very sensitive piece of horse, despite his strapping 18 hands (probably more but I dare not find out), he does not like strange things especially a piece of black pipe going anywhere near his nose. Despite his objections, Ben and his ultra-efficient team managed to get the camera where they needed it to reveal the problem. A collapsed larynx on the left side (right in the picture), even a layman can see the issue. Now I understood why the noise level and that my boy was having a hard time getting enough air into his lungs. I have to say that I was completely shocked by what the scan revealed.
Ben took me to the office whilst I left Stretch investigating his surroundings. Typical boy. Ben took me through the anatomical structures of the horse, in brief the left side is the weakest and in big horses this type of collapse is not uncommon.
THE QUESTION IS WHAT TO DO?
Well of course you could do nothing but for a 9 year old who loves his job, it would mean that he would be under duress every time we went out.
The least invasive and risky is a hobday. Today this can be done under local anaesthetic and using lasers but in the case of Stretch and his sensitivity he would have to be the traditional way of a General anaesthetic, cutting a hole and going in the manual way.
As with all procedures there is an element of risk but my biggest problem was an emotional one, he would lose his voice.
The next step would be a tieback, where the larynx is effectively tied back. What this does is to leave the larynx open, a potential issue when eating as it cannot snap shut as nature intended and food can go down the wrong way. In some horses, especially sensitive ones it can also lead to continual coughing and the operation needs to be reversed.
Much food for thought. Ben and I agreed that I should take him home, take him out over a BE Course and see what happened, in other words if he could make it or if he needed to be pulled up or if he was wobbly at the end.
I spoke to a lot of people about my decision. In fact before my run I booked him in on the 2nd May for a hobday thinking I would do Sapey, Hambleden and Withington first. It was not to be – breaking my hand at Sapey in the showjumping (another story), I still went out XC and happy to report we finished, the tank was not empty and there was no wobbliness at all.
Breaking my hand meant I was out of action so we brought forward Stretch’s op to the 20th April.
The wonderful Tracey Freeman was able to be my driver and groom for the day. With Stretch loaded we set off for Lower Slaughter. I can’t tell you how nervous I was, trying to put a bold face on but inside my guts were churning, with all the things that had gone wrong so far in 2017 I was worried. With Tracey in the cab she kept me entertained the entire way, I didn’t think about the op or the fact that someone else was driving my precious lorry. Thanks, Tracey, I owe you.
POINT OF NO RETURN
On arrival, Stretch went into a box to get his legs back and to be administered with his pre-meds. This was it, no turning back. Victoria was extremely efficient and did help to calm my nerves. The girls were great, chatting away , it was just another day at the office for them. I just stood there speaking to my boy, that all was going to be fine, that this would help him run like a stag with no more fighting for breath. I am sure they all thought me nuts, well I am probably am, but this big chap of mine is so very precious that I couldn’t bear anything happening to him over a decision I had made. If this hobday doesn’t do the job then I have already made the decision that we will be simply do dressage and show jumping – no tiebacks for my boy.
Ben, then came and had a chat, “We can do this in the clean room (the padded black cell) or we can do this in the barn, as the operation doesn’t require a sterile environment, your choice”. Knowing the sensitivity of my dude, I felt the best choice was to have him in natural surroundings, straw and a big open space.
So off we went. I can’t tell you too much about the operation itself as I just couldn’t bring myself to watch. Not because I am squeamish, just because...
It was text book. All went swimmingly, a very neat job according to Ben. Now he just had to get up.
My heart was in my mouth, just watching him lying there but then I spied a lucky omen, the black cat sitting on top of the bales, she hadn’t moved an inch during the entire procedure. “He needs to be down 10 minutes, Claire, if he gets up well all the signs point to a great recovery” was Ben’s parting shot and he departed for his next hobday! Ten minutes became 15, but I could see those ears twitching as the Stretch man listened to my voice telling how good he was and all the other idiotic things you say when you feel guilty.
At 18 minutes, we had life. He lifted his head and body up and calmly stayed like that for another 7 minutes. Then he was up, a little shaky in the hindlegs but no panic, totally serene. I cannot describe the relief to see my boy on his legs.
Ben came and checked him, we had to muzzle him to stop him eating straw!! Within an hour he was completely solid and able to munch hay. Now I am not going to tell you that there wasn’t a lot of blood, there was. The hole is left open to heal naturally which is a bit of a daunting sight and yes by the time I got him on the box to go home I looked like I had been an extra in the Texas Chainsaw massacre.
ON THE ROAD HOME IN LESS THAN 4 HOURS
Tracey had been a star and swept the entire box out, not a sign of a single grass seed anywhere to be seen. The road home was even more hilarious than the way there, something to do with being giddy with relief.
We made Plantation Farm and the security of Richard and Kate Bandey’s care by 5.45 where Stretch is going to recuperate in the safest of hands.