Several weeks ago, when the sun was scorching the grass and the ponies were spending long, lazy days warming their backs, Finn, our big bruiser of a horse came in from the field with a swollen ankle. Well, fetlock, but you know what I mean…

Horses are complicated creatures and a swollen fetlock could be caused by a myriad things – something in the foot, an abscess or an infected injury. Finn was bitten by an adder a few years ago, so we had to add that to the list of possibilities too.

Overnight the swelling grew worse but in his field the following morning it seemed to improve. He was putting weight on his foot, which was a good sign. Over the next few days we cold hosed the area to help with the swelling and shaved his leg to inspect it. We didn’t find so much as a pinprick and poor Finn was left looking like he’d forgotten to put one of his socks on. It was time to call the vet.

She suspected he’d twisted or pulled something and recommended we continue the cold hosing and give him bute (a kind of ibruprofen for horses). If he didn’t improve, we’d need to get his leg scanned.

Sadly, the leg didn’t improve, and when the farrier came last week it was obvious Finn’s high pain threshold had masked a more serious problem. He didn’t cope well while being shod and we called the vet back with a scanner.

The vet arrived armed with sedative and the mobile scanning machine. He asked what sort of work Finn does. “None really,” I told him. “He’s just a light hack, but he hasn’t even done that since before lockdown. He’s mostly an overgrown lawnmower and manure machine. He’s a high-maintenance gentle giant, but we love him.”

As Finn dozed the vet scanned his leg. He looked concerned. “He’s torn the suspensory ligament and he’s made a thorough job of it. I’m afraid it’s torn on both sides.”

He showed us the images. It was as though Finn had run a spoon through the ligament and scooped some out. Surgery wasn’t an option and, the vet explained, although there is a stem-cell type treatment available, it wouldn’t work for Finn. His problem was probably a degenerative issue, partly because of the way he moves and his unusual conformation. He’s a heavy horse who should have “lots of bone” (strong, thick legs). Yet his legs are a little fine for his size and, unlike many large horses with feet like dinner plates, his are more side-plate sized.

Poor Finn. He’s a gorgeous boy, despite his unique looks. He was a surprise love child out of my first horse, Nugget (the strumpet). We never knew who his father was. His mother arrived in foal in 2003 and on May 31, 2004, Finn was born; a handsome and very tall black and white colt with a spotty bottom.

I took a breath. “What’s the prognosis?”

“Well… he has a reasonable chance of recovery but it’s going to take many months of care and management.”

“You’re going to say box rest aren’t you?”

“I’m afraid so.” I groaned and pointed to two holes made by his front feet in the matting inside the stable door. “He hates being in when the others are out. He gets very stressed and pushes against the door. The whole of the front wall moves.”

“OK. As well as the painkillers, I’ll give you some sedative. Let him have some before you turn the others out to help calm him until he gets used to his new regime.” I had an idea. “As he is going to be indoors for a while would it be a good idea to break down the wall and give him a double stable?”

The vet agreed. Thankfully, we have builders at home and within an hour the wall was gone and the stable door had been swapped
to the new room.

Finn had his first ice pack on his leg and recovered from his sedative to find Musca staring lovingly at him from his old stable. Max will move into the room next door, so Finn will have a companion either side.

It’s a shame a horse can’t use a walking stick or take doctor’s advice. It would make recovery far easier. Instead, we have to do all we can to help him and hope by Christmas he’ll be liberated.

His hacking days might be over but I’m sure Max will show him there’s still fun to be had in retirement – even with a poorly ankle.

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