On the morning of July 30th, 2021 Cindy was found down in the pasture unwilling to get up. It was a warm summer night the previous evening so she was left outside with 2 other horses in the pasture to be brought in during the day to avoid the heat.
At first it was thought that she might be colicing and the veterinarian was called. By the time the vet got to the farm she was up, but unable to use her right front leg. With one person leading her and another placing her leg for her Cindy was able to hobble her way back up to the barn. No obvious injuries were found and radiographs of her leg were taken. No bony abnormalities were found in her leg.
It was determined through the process of elimination that Cindy somehow damaged her Brachial Plexus which is the big bundle of nerves that come out of the spinal cord underneath your shoulder blade to innervate your arm. Without healthy nerves to your muscles you are unable to contract muscles preventing you from moving your own limb.
She was also found to have no feelings/sensations from the leg, supporting a severe soft tissue/nervous system injury. A horse's nerves are the brain's communication to the rest of your body. You can not know where a horse's body parts are or move them without a healthy nervous system. When a horse's nerves are only mildly damaged it is extremely painful, but when the injury becomes too severe and no signals are passing at all between the limbs and your brain you feel nothing. Cindy’s injury was so severe that she felt nothing and had no control over her limb.
Nerves typically have a minimal amount of blood supply to them making them slow to heal and injuries of the nervous system are given a poor prognosis for return to function. The debate to put Cindy down began, but it was decided to give her a chance so intensive pain management and physical therapy was started right away.
Her treatment regimen involved oral anti-inflammatory medication with passive range of motion and message multiple times a day along with acupuncture every 3rd day. Cindy started to respond after the second day with the return of some sensations but no ability to move the leg independently.
After 5 days Cindy was showing increased sensations with the ability to twitch her leg but not move it yet. Unfortunately, Cindy started to acquire pressure sores on her left forelimb from laying down and having to rise in an unusual manner. A homemade sling was attempted to help get some weight off of her supporting limb, but Cindy would not stand for it.
Since she was showing promise for a recovery Cindy was hauled down to Ohio State for more supportive care and if a sling was needed, they would be able to provide that as well. Her physical therapy was continued down in Columbus with the addition of laser therapy between acupuncture sessions. More radiographs were taken at the college and still no bony injuries were found. Soft ride boots were placed over her hooves with a splint applied to her right front limb to take some of the weight off of her left limb.
After a week down at Ohio State Cindy was able to voluntarily move her limb forward to some degree and walk a few steps before losing control again. Now that she could stand on her left front limb and rise more appropriately she was sent home with soft rides to continue her recovery back at home.
Once back at home, Cindy’s physical therapy continued with massage, limited walking (only what she could do without losing function), acupuncture, and chiropractic added to continue healing the nervous system and keep maximum blood flow. Slowly but surely, Cindy continued to improve and her physical therapy changed as she continued to improve. Acupuncture and chiropractic treatments were moved from every 3rd day to once weekly, biweekly, and then monthly as she continued to recover.
Some permanent nerve damage is present in Cindy which can be seen by loss of muscle mass in her right cranial pectorals, biceps, deltoids, and infraspinatus muscles. To compensate her trapezius has gotten bigger along with several other muscles to give Cindy the ability to move her leg and be stable even without those muscles. When muscles lose their innervation/stimulation they atrophy, or die permanently, losing their function. Without constant signaling from the brain to keep individual muscle cells healthy they slowly die, permanently losing function.
Over a year later in August of 2022, Cindy is still recovering but able to take a young rider walking and trotting safely over varied terrain for short periods.
We have recently just started including cart work to further strengthen her leg and safely improve her stamina, keeping with regular acupuncture and chiropractic treatments to continue to improve both health and function of all of Cindy’s cells. It will be interesting to see how far Cindy can go since she’s still getting stronger every day.