Willow Needs All Your Well Wishes

Willow the Draft Horse Beauty

Willow is a Wonder Woman

3 years into her extraordinary Sanctuary life, Willow is facing her toughest days yet. After 5 years pulling tractors, dropped off broken and infected at the sale barn, with badly damaged tendons in both back legs and pastern bones dropped nearly horizontal -- she has surprised us all. On paper, this is a horse who wouldn't be walking. A horse who would be feeling so much pain she simply wouldn't want to exist. Yet with Equioxx anti inflammatory pills, she is up all night wandering the many acres and has been as happy as we can judge, comparing pain face charts, measuring heart rate, and watching for signs of discomfort.

But she's suffered big setbacks in recent weeks. First, when she began biting at her right back (good) hoof. We thought it was an abscess because the rains have been torrential in Texas. And sure enough - a "coronary band abscess blowout" 3 inches wide and 1 inch tall -- we'd never seen anything like it. Infection was oozing out that you could smell from several barns away. An abscess is the most painful experience for a horse. For Willow, who's back left lymphoedema leg is already in bad shape, putting weight on an abscessed weight-bearing hoof is unimaginably painful. She can barely hold herself up.

Coronary band blowout abscess in draft horse Willow

We built her a back room in big open area, with 20 bags of shavings to lay down. We soaked her hoof daily, and wrapped poultice pads during the day, getting her moving in the pasture to push the abscess out. 

Then another blow. She came in dragging her bad left lymphoedema leg, with a hole the size of golf ball above her hock. What we thought was a routine vet visit to heal a wound, became the realization that she may have irreversibly blown out her tendon, and her days are numbered.

Tendon blowout in draft horse

We're Here to Fight For Her Best Life

We are not giving up on Willow. We are also not going to let her suffer. When we bring an animal to the Sanctuary we sign up to be their advocate in life. We always ask ourselves, if this was my brother, my sister, my mother, what would I ask the doctor? What specialists can we ask? When do we say when? She cannot speak for herself, but she gives us subtle clues:
- Walking up the hill
- Always out in the pasture eating
- Subtle weight shifts (even with this injury) she stands firmly, with little shifting

Exploring Options with a Trauma Specialist

We know the odds of recovery are slim for her, but we simply could not live with ourselves to not find the most specialized doctor we can. So we reached out to Dr. Vlahos, from Yellowstone Equine in Wyoming who specializes in severe traumatic injuries - he is one of the most sought after veterinarians (even for million dollar horses) - who repairs catastrophic injuries. He flew in, and spent a day with Willow evaluating her condition, and confirming much of what is already known by our other incredible local vet teams - she arrived to us with the odds stacked against her. And she now has a life-threatening infection.

There IS a glimmer of hope: a non-invasive surgery for horses that targets suspensory tendon damage. It was developed by the Mayo Clinic, and it's a surgery Dr. V can perform.  But she is badly damaged from her years of abuse and overuse, and she is only a candidate if we can get her infection-free. The medicines used to clear infections like this can cause death in horses. The threat is real. 

With the use of a surgical gel recommended by Dr. V, her big wound is healing remarkably fast in just 2 days.  We were re-trained on handling sterilized EVERYTHING. "Pass me the scissors."  "Change your gloves." Everything that comes in contact with her leg is sterile because a tiny cut can take her life.

To our surprise, she is active. More than we've seen her in years. She is walking everywhere, as if she doesn't know anything has changed, and almost like a second wind is sweeping her forward. While we wait for a biopsy report that may help identify the specific infection, so we can treat her accordingly, and cautiously... we are holding out hope that we can get her through this... and that she will be a candidate for a surgery that *may* give her additional years ahead. But we will only do this if she continues to show us at each stage that she actually wants this for herself. The signs are subtle, but we are vigilantly watching this Wonder Woman.