Posts Tagged ‘Horse’

I was on a ranch in the Badlands of North Dakota to castrate fourteen wild stallions rounded up by a rancher friend, John, and two of his neighbors, brothers who were professional rodeo cowboys. They roped each of the wild horses from horseback, around the neck and hind legs then stretched them out. My friend John pulled them down to the ground by their tail then grabbed their head pulling it to his chest to control the animal while astride its neck. The brother on horseback who had roped the hind legs kept tension on them also controlling the patient.


I dismounted from the top rail of the corral with two buckets, one with instruments in water and disinfectant, the other with syringes and medications. The first testicle came off cleanly, although the horse grunted and struggled when I applied the emasculator. As I made the second cut the animal the cowboys had dubbed Pig-eye went berserk throwing John off his neck and almost got away from Ed who backed his horse up pulling Pig-eye through the dirt and dust by the hind legs. Ed’s brother quickly backed his horse to put back tension in the rope around Pig-eye’s neck.


When John went airborne, I retreated towards the fence, both buckets in hand. After everyone got back in position, I returned to the fray. I got the second testicle dissected and placed the emasculator. As I clamped down Pig-eye again came off the ground but that time I kept my hold on the emasculator as it tore off the spermatic cord and I joined John sitting on our butts in the dirt. After the brothers regained control John and I rejoined the action, John bit down on the Pig-eye’s ear while holding the horse’s head up against his chest. I leaned over to get a look. Blood was spurting out of the wound, forming a red pudding in the powdered dirt.


“#@$%^&,” I exclaimed! “He’s bleeding like a stuck pig. Hold onto him, I have to go fishing for that artery.”

I found one of the hemostats in the bucket, leaned over, opened up the wound with my left hand, and reached in as far as I could. After three tries, I found the cord, pulled it out far enough to see what I was doing and clamped it with the hemostat. The bleeding stopped. While hunting for the second hemostat in the bucket, now full of dirty, bloody water, I cut my thumb on the scalpel blade. I finally isolated the spermatic artery and clamped it.


John nodded that he understood the danger I was in leaning over the horse’s back and bit down harder on Pig-eye’s ear and blood from the ear oozed out of the corners of John’s mouth.


I shook my head, reached into my shirt pocket with my left hand and extracted a packet of catgut. Ripping the packet open with my teeth, I tied a tight ligature around the artery and removed the hemostats. Pig-eye struggled but there were only a few drops of blood. I rinsed off my hands, filled the syringe and administered the antibiotics.


They released him and Pig-eye jumped to his feet, kicking out with both hind hooves. Blood dripped from the injured ear, now hanging at a ninety-degree angle from his head. Only a few drops of blood fell from his scrotum.


Remembering these events after fifty years I marvel at the apparent cruelty and disregard for the animals we displayed, but we had limited options. Local anesthetics were of no use in these wild animals. The tranquilizers and sedatives available then had little or no effect on excited animals. We had succinylcholine chloride, a muscle-paralyzing agent that immobilized a horse but could also cause paralysis of the respiratory muscles and left the animal conscious and able to perceive pain. Finally, we had a combination of chloral hydrate, pentobarbital and magnesium chloride, called Equithesin. It had to be infused, to effect intravenously, an almost impossible task in an excited wild animal, and it left the animals anesthetized and immobilized for a couple of hours or more lying in a thick layer of dirt and manure.


Despite the romanticized tales of feral horses running free, these horses lead a difficult life. There are few natural predators of wild horses and the number of animals tends to multiply quickly resulting in overgrazing and the threat of starvation. Half of the foals are males so competition and fighting amongst the adult males accounts for a high rate of injuries that go untreated. The mustangs are subject to bad weather, drought, starvation, high parasite loads and injury. Compare this to a life of good care provided by humans who want to keep the animals healthy and working productively, or just functioning as pets.

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This behavior is known as “cribbing”. There is evidence that cribbing releases chemicals in the brain known as endorphins. Some horses learn to arch their neck and swallow air without needing to grasp an object with their teeth, but this is rare. Some horses will also get into a habit of chewing wood.

Cribbing can result in several unhealthy outcomes. Grasping and pulling on hard objects can wear down the teeth or damage them. The pulling motion, if frequent and intense, can result in abnormal neck muscle development. Some claim that pain (from colic or ulcers) causes cribbing. Horses that crib do seem to have a higher frequency of colic and ulcers than the normal horse population. However, research suggests that horses fed grain rather than pasture and/or those fed 1 or 2 times per day rather than multiple times, are more likely to get ulcers or colic. I believe colic does not cause cribbing and cribbing does not cause colic, but both can be the result of unnatural feeding.

Cribbing is a compulsive habit, probably the result of boredom and/or anxiety. Not all bored or anxious horses will develop this habit but is most common in horses kept in their stalls, or small enclosures, for long periods without adequate mental stimulation. If a horse cribs, other horses may copy the behavior. Once the habit becomes ingrained, it can be difficult to correct. Because cribbing releases endorphins in the brain, it is, effectively, a drug addiction. As with any drug addiction, kicking the habit is hard. Here are some recommended treatments:

1) Provide mental stimulation, additional exercise, training, etc. Occupy more of the horse’s time.

2) Remove the horse to a more enjoyable environment such as a pasture with other horses. Providing pasture time will usually reduce the frequency and intensity of cribbing, but may not stop it.

3) Paint the objects that the horse grabs with something that tastes unpleasant. This is most effective when combined with providing lots of pasture time. There are a number of products designed for this purpose as well as many home made recipes. Make sure that what you use is not poisonous.

4) If your horse cribs on fences, putting an electric wire along the top of the rails might work.

5) Fit the horse with a cribbing strap. This collar will prevent, or make it uncomfortable for the horse to swell its neck to suck in air.

6) Calming medication, usually anti-depressants, but I don’t support behavior modification with drugs.

7) Fit the horse with a special muzzle that allows it to eat but not to grasp with his front teeth. I have seen something like this but have no idea where to find one.

8) A last resort is surgery to cut the muscles used to arch the neck.

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