Buddy the Belgian found himself in a precarious situation on an atypically warm day for early December. First, let me tell you a little about Buddy. Buddy is a retired draft horse gelding in his late teens, early twenties with an arthritic right front knee. He is a pasture mate to another horse Blue, both owned by Wayne Christiansen and cared for by Wayne's son Mike and daughter in law Donna on the old Christiansen homestead north of Fort Collins. Buddy gets around on his arthritic knee fairly well and only occasionally needs a little "bute" to get by.
Buddy was out on pasture and did not come up for his breakfast that warm Saturday morning of December 6th 2003. That worried Donna for that was not like Buddy not to be up for breakfast. Donna went out and found dear Buddy lying in the creek bottom that runs through the pasture, on his side, under a large cottonwood tree unable to get up. The unthinkable thoughts of Buddy possibly colicing or worse, having a broken leg, went through Donna's mind. That is when Donna called Equine Medical Service and paged myself Dr. Landes, the doctor on call for the weekend. When I arrived Buddy was lying calmly in a marshy area of the creek bottom. Donna, Mike and myself assessed the situation to see what we could do to get Buddy out.
Buddy was on his left side, feet pointing to a high embankment where the cottonwood tree stood. On the other side of Buddy about 10 feet away was a three-foot wide, one-foot deep channel of water and beyond that 20 to 30 yards of expanse of dried cattail marsh. Not much water was flowing in the creek, but enough was soaking in to create a sticky situation where Buddy was lying now. All but his left hind leg could be seen and it was presumed that it was folded underneath Buddy. Having seen many older horses down in the mud before, most just need to be rolled over from one side to the other and prodded to stand up. It seems that when a horse lays for a long period of time on one side that their legs go to sleep much like ours and rolling them onto their other side helps them regain their feet. After several unsuccessful attempts to roll Buddy over, I figured that we just could not break the suction of a 1500-pound horse from the mud. When other mechanical means could not budge him, it was decided that we would have to pull him out of his mired mess.
We attached a rope from Buddy's front legs and attempted to pull him free with Mike's truck. All we could do was turn Buddy's body 90°, but could not free him or "find" his left hind leg. It was time to call for backup, for it was going to take more than the three of us to free Buddy. Dr. Altman was my backup and was soon on the scene. We promptly placed Buddy under general anesthesia, worked to free up Buddy's left hind limb which was buried about five feet deep in mud. Then with Mike driving his farm tractor, using multiple ropes for assistance we pulled Buddy free across the 30 yards of dried marsh onto the opposite creek bank.
The story of Buddy's rescue does not end there. Now we must recover the horse from anesthesia and get him to shelter for the next week or two to recuperate. Unfortunately his pen was about ½ a mile away and back across the creek. We would have to follow the creek downstream and away from the pen to cross a bridge and then follow an incline back towards the pen. Having his hind leg buried in the mud for a few hours, possibly longer and having it torqued around getting him un-mired he was sure to suffer some sort of nerve and/or muscle damage. With his already arthritic knee and a possibly useless hind leg, Buddy would be as stable as a three-legged table with one leg missing. After about an hour of attempting to get up Buddy was on all four feet, sort of.
I steadied his head while Mike propped him up on the right side, while Dr. Altman did the same on the left side. Now to move Buddy, I would coax him with a bucket of grain to move his front legs and right hind leg and Dr. Altman would advance his weak and almost paralyzed left hind leg with a rope around his pastern. Once his foot was placed, he could bear a slight amount of weight on it to advance his other feet. Buddy could only move three to four steps that way without having to rest a few minutes.
With perseverance and a lot of encouragement we were able to get Buddy from the creek bottom to his pen within an hour. Buddy was then treated for all his ills and left in good hands to start recuperating from his experience. The next day Buddy's attitude was great and he was moving around a little bit primarily by dragging his left hind leg. Each day Buddy progressively got better and better. With a little medicine, a lot of good hay and a lot of TLC, Buddy is walking quite well today.
To see Buddy doing this well, reminds me of that Master Card commercial, "Bucket of grain: $1.50, replacing work boots ruined in the mud: $99.95, seeing Buddy walking on his own: priceless."