He’s just three years old, with a sparkle in his eyes; we instantly adored him. We’d borrowed a float (that’s a trailer for my UK friends), and driven three hours to Canberra to collect him.
Arriving back to 70 acres of lush grass and three other playful horses, Joe's in horsey heaven. We spent a glorious evening showing him around the land, the creeks (didn’t want to get his feet wet) and introducing him to the other inmates!
Noel woke me up early on Sunday morning, ‘Joe’s hurt.’
On the front of Joe’s back leg a nasty gash gaped at me.
‘I have to call the vet.’
The vet could stick her entire finger into the wound (once Joe was sedated). Bega vet’s don’t have the facilities for this, the vet had said. So off we went back to Canberra – to the Equine Hospital.
Joe looked around as I urged him back onto the float. He didn’t want to leave and I could feel his distress with being asked to go.
After numerous x-rays we could see that by some miracle the wound had missed his joint my about one millimeter – that would have been a very different story, but we still had a long way to go. With umpteen injections (I lost count) a good clean and a few stitches, we headed home the same day.
There was nothing on our land when we purchased it – we’d only just erected a caravan and container; there’ no stables, no fenced paddocks, nothing to keep a young horse still for several weeks of recuperation.
Joe’s face lit up when we backed him out of the trailer/float. Pumped full of pain-killers and seeing he was back in horsey heaven I could feel his excitement.
By tractor head-light we built a small coral for Joe, putting Dom with him for company.
To hell and back
Two weeks of hell ensued. All Joe knew of us is that we hurt him every single day with three injections. The muscle ones were easier than the vein jab. But each time we approached him he tensed, his muscles became rigid and he began to hate us.
With eight days of jabs in total, at day five we needed help and called the vet. Joe had bitten Noel just through desperation. I wondered if he’d ever forgive us. Would we ruin a gentle horse, turn him into an angry beast?
I whispered to him every day, 'I promise, it’ll stop soon, we’re trying to help you.'
I rang the specialist on the 6th day and she said that we could stop injecting him. The full course would be better but six days of heavy duty drugs should be enough.
The relief was all encompassing. For all of us. Strung out and emotional Noel and I now hoped we could start bonding with Joe.
Two weeks later the stitches were removed. It had been a struggle to keep a young horse from moving too much. But by this time he was still fed-up with us and the vet sedated him in order to remove his bandages.
Just two hours after they were removed the wound opened up. I fell apart, imagining the entire process starting again. With the bills starting to come in, I wasn’t sure we could do it.
The vet wasn’t surprised and said that the deepest part would have healed, ‘antibacterial spray it twice a day, he’ll be fine.’
We couldn’t treat Joe’s wound. He’d lash out violently with his back leg. There was some close calls. I watched as a hoof whizzed close-by to my head. But he could have got us if he wanted to, these were warning shots so far. He’d simply had enough.
I spent the night worrying, it was up to me to save this horse now. I had to clean his wound.
With determination, patience and hope, I spent eight hours with Joe, with regular breaks.
I spoke to him, rubbed his legs one by one. Every time he didn’t pull back, every time he relaxed, I stopped. This is called desensitizing.
Eventually I could lift each of his feet, something we’d not been able to do since the jabs. Finally, I could rest my hand over his cut. Just proving I was there to help him heal not hurt him.
He sighed a lot, he threatened occasionally, but after a very long, gentle, quiet and exhausting day for us both – I felt I’d made progress.
Joe let me treat his wound twice a day without any bother and without having to tie him up. At last we’d bonded and he learned to trust me.
His cut is almost healed and he gallops around the paddocks every day with head tosses and bucks of glee.
Joe’s a city horse and is startled by the rolling hills, copious grass, freedom and fun he’s having. But he’s not crossed water before and to stay with the herd and drink, he needs to be familiar with them – that is our next huge challenge.