Barnyard Basics: Remarkable comeback after surgery

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of two parts about an endurance horse’s recovery.

Mike Maul, an endurance rider in Texas, has been campaigning a horse named Rroc (Rroco-My-Sol) for many years, with more than 11,000 career miles on endurance rides.

At one point, however, this horse had a life-threatening emergency.

“In 2004, we were headed out from Houston for a ride west of El Paso in New Mexico,” Maul says. “We got out in the middle of nowhere in west Texas and I stopped the pickup because Rroc was biting at his side and wanting to roll. So I found the closest vet, in a very small town.”

That vet had a mobile practice and gave Rroc the standard medications. These didn’t help, so Maul took Rroc to the nearest vet clinic. That veterinarian worked on Rroc from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m.

“He wasn’t making any progress so he recommended we head for Texas A&M for colic surgery. I left my other horse there, loaded Rroc and drove 350 miles to Texas A&M, getting there about 5 in the morning,” recalls Maul.

Surgery was performed at 9:30 a.m. and the surgeon discovered part of the large intestine had flopped over, creating a total blockage.

“They flopped that part of the intestine back into proper position, sewed him up, and I picked him up three days later to take him home,” Maul says.

Rroc made an excellent recovery, and did a 5-mile endurance ride 90 days after the colic surgery, then went on to do 8,500 competition miles after that.

For a short while after surgery, Maul made sure Rroc didn’t do anything strenuous, until the incision started healing. Then he started gradually back into work.

“I have two endurance horses, and I simply led Rroc from my other horse, as soon as the vet said it was OK for him to exercise,” Maul says. “At first, I led him in small pastures around our farm, then longer trips along the bayous. I gradually worked him back into shape and started riding him again after 65 days.”

Rroc had good conditioning prior to surgery, so it didn’t take long for him to get back in shape.

If a person has to lay a horse off for medical reasons, Maul recommends doing what your vet tells you, regarding when and how to put the horse gradually back to work.

“If you are an endurance rider, however, consult a vet who understands endurance and the things you do with the horse,” Maul says.

At Texas A&M, the vet who did the surgery was very conservative about Rroc’s prognosis.

“She said I probably should not compete him again. But the colic problem did not require removal of part of the intestine. That would have meant longer recuperation, and possibly not being able to return to competition,” Maul says.

“In this case, however, the intestine was simply out of place. So I decided to play it by ear and see how Rroc performed after recovery,” he says. “I have many friends who are endurance vets and also riders, and their opinions were more positive.”

This gave Maul confidence to go ahead with a reconditioning program to see what the horse could do.

This could vary greatly from case to case, and what that horse’s normal job might be. Jumping, for example, might put different strain on the limbs and how the horse lands, compared with an endurance horse that just trots steadily. A horse that works off its hindquarters, such as reining and cutting, might have different guidelines for rehab after a hind-leg injury.

“Much of what you might do also depends on characteristics of the horse. Rroc is calm and doesn’t go nuts and race around the pasture. Some horses need to be confined after an injury, to make sure they won’t hurt themselves doing too much too soon. Keeping my horse with a buddy he gets along with helps if I have to confine him in a small area,” Maul says.

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