Rio’s Road To Recovery

The thing about Rio is that his antics in the past have always been hugely amusing due to his ability to add drama to most situations.  It’s made detailing his Wiley Coyote exploits a lot fun.  Possibly my favorite of these was when he managed to insert a rather large dog clip into his tear duct (a small hole situated inside the nostril) literally ramming it so far into the cartilage that sedation and a vet was required.  It was hilarious watching him play with it until help arrived, amusing yet revolting….

His last one though was definitely his best.  Nose piercing can look quite fashionable (?), eye piercing, definitely not.  It’s not funny, no humor here and I apologize for my lack of it in this article.

In November last year, Rio put a hole in his eye. How, we have no idea.  He made a real mess of it though and it required 5 operations, 5 months off and now after 5 months of work he is back on track.

Eye injuries can be sinister, evil little sods.  You should take them very seriously.  I have experienced the odd ulcer here and there, that cleared up relatively easily with some Bute, eye ointment and a patch.  This one seemed like a small scratch on Saturday night, and by 7am Sunday morning, it looked like Mt Fuji.  We did a hasty trip to the Newcastle Equine Centre and he was put in the expert care of the Vets there, Patrick and Paddy.  It was a serious injury, but the good news was that it hadn’t penetrated through to the “lost cause” area.  The hole was large enough that a graft was required.  Skin was cut from under the eye-lid and sewn into the eye, leaving it attached initially so the graft has a blood supply.  Once the graft has taken it was then detached.   Unfortunately complications followed, but the vets did a great job, and after huge efforts on their behalf they saved the eye. He came home in January and then it was up to us.

I have to say that we were apprehensive as it had been such an up and down process with the graft.  We were really worried we didn’t know the eye well enough to keep a handle on it. We became fanatical, well even more so……  The first thing we would do each morning, and the last thing at night, and countless times during the day was to stare into his eye to check for any change.  Rio received 4 types of medication 3 times daily into the eye which we administered through a treatment tube that was sewn into the bottom eyelid.  Atropine was used to keep the pupil dilated, so he had to be stabled 24 hours a day with a mask on that had a blacked out patch sewn into it.

We knew Rio was going to be stabled for a long period of time, and so his diet was ultra important.  This is where my super sponsors MITAVITE came in.  They helped me plan a balanced diet to help speed his recovery, and to prevent the problems often found in stabled horses.  Rio is a thelwell pony in the body of a 16.3hh thoroughbred.  He loves to eat and is prone to fat.  I needed to provide him with his nutritional requirements without weight gain.  It was important to keep his gut active and to help to prevent the common problem of ulcers in stabled horses, so we had to feed him regularly He wasn’t getting any exercise so we were going to have to really be careful. The Super Amino 66 protein supplement was ideal for this as it is the most concentrated high-protein feed supplement available. It is ideal for horses recovering from trauma or sickness. The Mitavite Performa 3 oil was used to improve circulation and oxygen delivery by improving red blood cell function.  I also think it’s really important to use grass or meadow hay instead of Lucerne in these situations.  You can feed more of it without the weight gain and energy increase, so again you keep the gut active for longer periods of time.

Rio adapted very comfortably to stabled life.  We chose him a lovely young mare to live beside him. He received constant food and attention, and the fact that he isn’t a naturally active creature made things a lot easier.

The other thing to consider was his physical state when he was stabled for such a long period of time.  We had unfortunately just returned our borrowed and beloved Equissage, and were just dreaming of a walking machine.  He really needed in hand walking of a night time but it would be preferable to lead a grizzly bear than Rio at night, and we didn’t want surges of adrenalin in his system, or ours.

The treatment tube was removed when Rio decided to get rid of it, and fortunately we got the thumbs up to move onto standard eye ointment.  When his pupil had returned to a stage that would allow evening light, we couldn’t wait to get him out.  This is such a dangerous stage in a horse’s recovery.  After being locked up for 4 months even the most reasonable horse would explode out of the stable, and we have never accused Rio of being reasonable.  No point having 2 good eyes but a broken leg.  To avoid this we administered some Sedazine paste which lightly sedates the horse and using his stable buddy as a lead pony we led him out to his paddock.  We quietly led him around the small paddock for 10 minutes and then returned him to the stable.  We repeated this for a few days until he was sensible enough to embark on the adventure “cold” and just with the help of his buddy “Priscilla”.  He thoroughly enjoyed his return to the paddock and grass!  We then began to leave him outside for the night and returned him to the stable before it became light.  We continued to only feed him in the stable to ensure he wanted to come in every day.  You can just imagine how we (and especially Sian, who had to bring him in at 5.00 every morning), were just dying to leave him outside.  Gradually, over a period of a few weeks, we extended the time spent outside and let his eye get used to adjusting to the sunlight.  He now lives outside permanently.  The next step was to down-grade the darkness of the patch on his fly-veil, until it returned to normal.  We did this over a period of 4 months.

We were very lucky, the injury was at the back of the eye and it doesn’t affect him in anyway.  The pinkness of the graft has browned over and the eye looks completely normal.  It has in a funny way made him a better horse.  He truly was a pain in the neck to do anything with before this ordeal but now he is more tolerant.  Everyone agrees that he is much better he is to handle, and although he will always be just that little bit odd, he is a lot closer to normal.

I confess that when the time came to start riding again, the nana part of me decided to put him on the lunge.  Nothing wrong with lunging (I can be a big fan at times, especially if they have had time off), but Rio seriously is the least likely horse to ever buck you off.  It would be the equivalent to lunging and 18 year old school pony.  He trotted half a circle, and faced me with a very confused look.  How embarrassing! I quickly jumped on before anyone saw, hoping to be reassured by an awesome ride that I had spent all that money for good reason.  It was terrible, I felt like I was riding a dinosaur.  Not a cute little agile one either, but a great big lumbering brontosaurus.  The last time I remember walking feeling like that much like hard work was when I last rode Groover.

He was amazingly, awfully weak.  Even though his body was physically undamaged he had lost so much strength.  I was obviously expecting to go very slowly, but I hadn’t anticipated what that much time in the stable does to such a big horse.

So we began the very slow road back to fitness.  Sally did most of the work; she weighs about 30 kilo’s so he had it easy.

Again, I spoke to Mitavite about his feed.  We decided to keep him on Super Amino and up the feed gradually.  When his energy requirements increased we moved him back to the Pro-Sport as that has always worked so well with him.

When Rio’s workload started to increase we began to notice a change in his eating pattern so our veterinary adviser at Mitavite, Dr Ray Biffin suggested we put him on some Anazolic.  This improved his appetite immensely.  He had been on a lot of medication including cortisone, and was stabled for such a long period of time that I was relieved to get through it without any colic or founder issues.

I guess the test for me was always going to be whether the eye affected his jumping.  His sight was normal and the vets assured me he was fine.  It was a little, irrational thing that I was a bit stuck on.  Rio thinks Dressage should be an elective subject, but he loves to jump.  I worked on our gymnastics at home, and he seemed ok.  Lots of canter work later and we were ready to head over to our show-jumping coach Jamie Coman’s for a test run.  He was just awesome, but we can talk about that next month.

I would like to thank all the people that were involved in his recovery, especially Patrick, Paddy and Natalie at the Newcastle Equine Centre.  Mitavite,  Colin Price and Dr Ray Biffin.  Sally Rostron, whose horse care and dedication is amazing, and Sian Hendry who pulled some seriously long hours without complaint for months.

Rio injured himself in November, I started riding him in March and he competed at his first competition in May.  He was properly fit again by mid June, and he did his first 1* in July. He is showing all the signs of becoming a very good horse.  In hindsight, I just can’t help thinking, how lucky am I?

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