Visiting Hours-A Bruno Story

Bruno in his surgical stall.

Bruno in his surgical stall. Red and green buckets for the holidays?

We made the trek up to Texas A&M Vet hospital to see Bruno today.  Dr. Marsh had let us know that Bruno had a pretty good day yesterday as his first post-operative day.  The doctor had been concerned about how well he would deal with the pain.  But Bruno was tough, strong and had a real good day.  Today they were holding his pain with a couple of grams of bute, which horse owners know is a pretty low dose. 

When we got back to the surgical stalls, he was bright-eyed and walking with a minimal limp. We were not allowed in his stall without special foot covers, so we fed Bruno treats through the door.  We had brought him horse treats and carrots.  He absolutely love carrots-like he can devour a package in moments flat if you allow him.  We were telling this to Sherre, his old owner, and she told us this story of when he first came to her in Texas. 

Bruno was not a pet, he was a race horse in training and apparently had never had a carrot.  Sherre tried to get him to eat carrots but he had  yet to acquire a taste for them.  Finally, she bought the carrots with the green tops still attached.  Bruno ate his way through the greenery and suddenly was eating carrots-the orange part.  He has learned the “I love carrots” thing well! 

They had sedated him earlier to clean out the wound and then to get a shoe on his foot to give him support and protect it from infection.  You do not think of a hoof and blood.  We have all watched the farrier trim hooves and they do not bleed.  But think about cutting too much of your nail off and how that hurts and bleeds.  Well, Bruno’s hoof was definitely bleeding.

Bruno's bandaged hoof-and yes, that is blood seeping the bottom.

Bruno’s bandaged hoof-and yes, that is blood seeping through to the bottom.

The doctor said he can probably come home after Christmas (the 26-27th?) so that is our plan.  We will have to learn to clean and bandage the hoof.  We will also have to come up with something to keep Bruno from running and playing until his hoof can stand it.  That will require some prayers and drugs.  Maybe not in that order.

The vet student, Lisa, that was assigned to Bruno said that he thankfully did not act like his breed (thoroughbred) or his age (five).  I am again grateful for his even temperament and good training.

I kind of freaked myself out yesterday.  I got overwhelmed with the prospect of the many months of care this big horse will need.  I wondered if I was not the biggest fool ever to take this horse then agree to do surgery on his foot.  But then last night, Lauren and I looked up many of Bruno’s relatives.  He is definitely bred from the best.  We looked at pictures of two triple crown winners (Seattle Slew, Secretariat), Breeder’s Cup winners ( AP Indy) and of course, way back,  my favorite horses Bold Ruler and Man O’War.  I guess if I have to pick a horse to bet the farm on, this one is not a bad choice. Bruno is big, brave and tough.  I suspect he has that special ingredient, “heart” as well. 

Day three of recovery is done and we are one day closer to getting him well.

Day One-Starts Now!-A Bruno Story

Mimi is a 13 hand Welsh pony.  Bruno is big.

Mimi is a 13 hand Welsh pony. Bruno is big.

It has been a long day waiting for the call from Dr. Marsh.  The surgery was scheduled for 1:00 pm.  I had been watching the clock all day.  Two o’clock came and went as did three and four.  When 5:00 rolled around, I tried to call the vet hospital knowing it was unlikely I would get cell reception once I got out in the country near my home.  A polite receptionist told me Dr. Marsh was not available.

Finally, the call came in.  Dr. Marsh reported that the surgery had gone well.  He had said yesterday that he doubted the infection would go to the bone, although Dr. Criner had felt it was involved from the start.  The infection did go up through his hoof directly into the coffin bone.   There was abnormal tissue, pus and other signs of infection along the way.  They were successful in totally cleaning all the infection out of the area leaving clean, healthy bone in its place.  So, more of the hoof got cut away than we had hoped but all the infection is now gone and we can go forward with new, healthy tissue. 

Due to the way the hoof was cut, it will be possible to get a special shoe on him, one with a treatment plate that unscrews off the bottom so we can dress and treat the hoof but keep it protected as well. 

Dr. Marsh said Bruno was a trooper.  He handled the anesthesia and the surgery well and was resting comfortably now in a big stall.  He did say tomorrow might be a little rougher for him. 

Just like at the people hospitals, Dr. Marsh was urging Bruno’s release as soon as he could handle it.  Maybe Sunday or Monday, we will see how he is doing and what the bill is so far and then decide if it is time for him to come home. 

As far as I am concerned, I am marking this as day one of his recovery and his road to the show ring.  Maybe my Christmas present next year will be seeing him soundly walk, trot and canter.  That would be pretty terrific!

The Wait is On!

The beautiful (and momentarily spotless) hallways of the Large Animal Hospital at TAMU.  Lauren and I were awaiting Bruno to be x-rayed.

The beautiful (and momentarily spotless) hallways of the Large Animal Hospital at TAMU. Lauren and I were awaiting Bruno to be x-rayed.

We headed out for the 100+ mile trip to Texas A&M at 8 am this morning.  It is a cross-country jaunt for us with no major highways.  We pulled in right at 10 am.  We were quickly checked in and a tech went to the trailer with us to get Bruno.  It had been cold when we left our place but Bruno had worked up a good sweat under his blanket by the time we got there.  Kudos to his prior trainers and handlers, as a huge and young OTTB, he could have been dragging us all over, but he was obedient and calm. 

Dr. Chad Marsh was on hand to start the evaluation.  He had seen the previous films but wanted to evaluate the horse himself.  He got down on the treatment floor to take many photos of the hoof and then we went outside to have the tech trot him in hand on both the concrete and in the grass.  Since loosing his shoe on the bad hoof earlier this week, Bruno was showing signs of lameness when trotting on the hard pavement.  He actually moved fairly well in the grass for as bad as his hoof was-all of which was recorded on the camera. 

Lauren and I waited in the beautiful facility as Bruno’s hoof was x-rayed once again.  If you look closely at the picture above you will see the pharmacy off to left about halfway up the picture.  We noted it had metal barriers across both sides of the entrance.  I guess if a horse got loose and crazy running through the halls he would be stopped short of running through the pharmacy.  Probably a good architectural detail (especially if you work in the pharmacy!). 

Dr. Marsh kneeling down and working on the hoof-Bruno was an all-star!

Dr. Marsh kneeling down and working on the hoof-Bruno was an all-star!

Once the x-rays were complete we followed Bruno, Dr. Marsh, a league of other doctors, fourth year students, the A&M top farrier and several techs to cut away at the hoof and see what we could find.  Immediately it was clear- ending all speculation on the behalf of the vets here in Houston or perhaps even in New York, this horse’s hoof was infected.  First, you could smell it.  Second, you could see it.  Using a dremel tool, they cut away some of the hoof to expose the infection.  It is not clear if the infection goes to the coffin bone or not, but I was gratified to see that Dr. Lynn Criner had made a superb catch on the problem with this horse’s hoof.  For at least 20 months, this hoof has been cracked and has not healed.  It has not healed because the infection will continue to destroy the hoof wall until it is removed and healed.  Dr. Marsh said he was not worried about the crack itself.  He will do surgery tomorrow, clean out the infection and depending on how much hoof got cut away in the process, would depend on how long this boy would be out of work but probably many months to a year.   I am okay with that, he is only five-years old and we have plenty of time to let him recover.

Then Dr. Marsh turned to me with a smile on his face and asked, “what if I get him good enough to get back on the track?”  I paused (pretty much horrified with the suggestion-I wanted him at my barn learning to be a jumper not going back to be a race horse) but Lauren didn’t miss a step, telling the doctor, he can race around the jumper course-that would be just fine.

So, tomorrow he will go into surgery.  We will get updates out as we get results.  Thanks to all of you, including so many old and new friends, that have a taken a moment to send well wishes to our big Bruno.  As always, thank you for riding along with us, especially now-your comments and well wishes mean the world to us!

My favorite picture of Bruno and Lauren!

My favorite picture of Bruno and Lauren!


Bruno-off to Texas A&M-a Bruno Story

The majestic Fiddlers Pilgrim, aka Bruno.

The majestic Fiddler’s Pilgrim, aka Bruno.

I can just hear my daddy repeating one of his frequent sayings, “Ain’t no such thing as a free horse.”  And I certainly know that but when you are working with my budget to try to produce quality show horses, sometimes someone’s else problem can be your ticket to the big time. 

In fact, with the exception of paying for Mimi, the grey pony, all the horses in my barn are rescues of one type or another.  Starting with my horse Kid, with his ownership, I signed a document stating I would never barrel race him again.  He was done.  He was free to be a pleasure horse for me but his racing days were over.  Then came Mickey, even with Sarah’s hard work at the rescue it would be years before he reliably bridled, loaded or wasn’t a fool (okay, that still happens but we do our best).  Snowboy, also from the rescue and later the ASPCA, has had his issues but settled into being a top-notch schooling pony.  Even beautiful Feather has some anatomical issues that will prevent her from ever winning a halter class but should be no issue for her in the jumping ring.  Feather had some psychological issues to overcome as well. Not one of these horses could I afford to own if I had bought them for what their true value was (either previously or in the future).  I got all of them because they had “issues” and we have been good at dealing with issues.

When I heard about Bruno, an off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) from our trainer Dev, he freely told Lauren that he was feeding into “your mother’s addiction issues” (those of rescuing the unwanted horses) but I don’t know if I would have agreed if I had known what I know now.  Bruno was reportedly having a hoof issue that had caused cracking of his foot.  This is not uncommon in horses but just like your fingernails or hair, new hoof takes awhile to grow.  I have had success in the past helping horses grow hooves that needed repair and thought I could handle this, no problem.

Once our vet, Lynn Criner started looking at the x-rays, she only wanted more information.  She did not think this was a simple hoof crack (of course not) and with help from Bruno’s former owner Sherre, we tracked down older x-rays of the same hoof that showed clearly that the coffin bone (major bone in the hoof) was infected or had some other issues causing deterioration of the bone.  Dr. Criner consulted with vets here in Houston who concurred with her diagnosis and then moved on to the big daddy of vet hospitals in Texas, The Texas A&M University Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.  Chad Marsh, DVM, an Assistant Clinical Professor at TAMU School of Veterinary Medicine, specializing in Equine Surgery, Sports Medicine, & Imaging also agreed with Dr. Criner’s diagnosis and recommended surgery to clean the infection from the coffin bone to allow the hoof to heal. 

So, obviously as my dad had told me so many times, not a free horse, but with this surgery, IF (and I fully understand that it might not be successful) it is successful this horse may be able to carry Lauren to new heights (literally).  And honestly, the price of this surgery while not cheap, is way cheaper than I would have paid for a horse of a fraction of Bruno’s caliber. It seems like a good gamble to take.

Am I nervous?  Yes, I am almost in tears just writing this.  This big guy has fully and completely integrated himself into both Lauren and my hearts.  But I feel there is no point of trying to let the hoof heal on its own.  For over 20 months (if not longer) this crack has been present.  I can see through online race records, that in March of 2011, Bruno ran to second place at Belmont Park in New York (note that this at Belmont not to be confused with running in the Belmont).  Apparently it was not bothering him much that day!

Today Bruno, having thrown his special shoe off in a pasture romp spent his last day of freedom, splashing and rolling in the mud and running through deep water.   Lauren gave him a good bath, removed all the dirt and mud, polished his black coat and cleaned his feet.  Tomorrow we will trailer him to A&M.  Surgery is scheduled for Wednesday.  It is expected that a large portion of his hoof will be removed.  It may be eight months before he is able to ridden again.

I honestly don’t know how this story will end, or to put it another way, if the Bruno and Lauren story will ever get to begin.  I am making the best decision I can, to do the right thing for a beautiful, proud thoroughbred.  I hope one day he runs freely and majestically as he did Saturday.  I hope one day he is whole again.

p.s.  Bruno has a new OTTB saddle pad (fresh from which I sure hope this great guy gets to wear.