This is my Trail Horse: Cisco’s Will to Survive

By Shawn Wallace

In 2007 fate brought me what has become my best friend with four legs. I was at the vet’s office with a family member’s horse when a man approached me asking if I would be interested in a free gelding.  What horse person can pass up a free horse? The only thing was that the gelding had an injury to his leg that had been seen by a vet and was being treated with daily antibiotics, didn’t sound so bad, so I got the man’s address and agreed to go by and take a look at the gelding.

An hour later I pulled into the man’s yard and made my way back to the barn.  I found Cisco in a 30×40 pen that was 5″ deep in slick mud with no water. His “leg injury” was a grossly infected rear hoof that had so much swelling and proud flesh protruding from the coronet band that you could barely see the hoof itself. He was so skittish that I had to corner him to catch him so that I could get a better look at him.  My initial impression was that his injuries were far above my level of expertise to take care of and that it would be better if I found him a home. I put him back in his pen and decided I had to at least give him some water before I left. As I was filling up the water this little gelding that only minutes before I had to corner to catch, now was standing next to me nuzzling my hair. That was it, I was done.

I headed home but couldn’t think of anything else other than this little gelding.  We no sooner made it home with Cisco when we received a phone call from an Ag deputy that had been assigned to investigate Cisco’s case and she informed me that the man had not had permission to give Cisco away and that she would need to approve our home before allowing me to keep him.  The next day the deputy came out and cleared us to keep him provided we update her after the vet and farrier came out the following week.

The following week the vet and farrier came out to evaluate Cisco’s injuries.  We were all shocked when they discovered a piece of wood 4″ long had impaled Cisco’s hoof thru the top of the coronet band and had become lodged in the center. According to the cruelty investigation, the wood had been in there for over a month.

The center of his hoof was almost completely rotted and had to be cut away and flushed. Over the next year we watched as the hoof slowly grew out, but always having a small weak spot in the top of the hoof near the coronet band where the stick had pierced. This once timid, shy gelding had now grown into a puppy dog, following me around everywhere. By now we had even begun to do some light trail riding.

Two years later, Cisco was having reoccurring abscesses so I called the vet out to do some more x-rays. As he developed the film he commented how he didn’t know how this horse was moving let alone going on trail rides. As he showed me the x-ray, he pointed out where one of the bones in his hoof had been fractured. He estimated that the damage had been done when the stick went through the hoof. The prognosis was that eventually the bone would give way and that Cisco would have to be euthanized within two years.

Over the next year I tried my best to retire Cisco so that I could have him around as long as possible. He started having more abscesses from the injured hoof, I was afraid the time was coming that I would have to put him down. I called the vet back out to take more x-rays. When the vet finished with the x-rays he was shocked and pleased to show me that the cause of the abscesses was an empty pocket left from the wood that, for whatever reason, had not filled in as the hoof grew. It had been allowing bacteria to settle in, and that in fact the fractured bone had actually calcified over and healed itself.

With the great news of Cisco’s bone healing, my farrier tried a more aggressive procedure and cut the majority of the front of his hoof off and burned the tissue to kill any left over bacteria. Two years later the hoof is almost completely grown out, only leaving a small indention on the bottom to prove it was ever there.

We have been on trail rides from Florida to North Carolina and even in Virginia. We have come upon black bear, turkey, deer and the only thing I’ve found him to shy away from is gray rocks and gray armadillo!  This horse, that at one time had to be cornered to catch, is the one I trust to go through anything.  Given his spirit and will to survive, I’m sure we’ll be enjoying trails together for many years to come.  We have even entered our first ACTHA ride to be held next month!  He is not just a trail horse, he is my best friend, confidant, shoulder to cry on, therapist and my most patient teacher.
Many thanks to Durvet Apple Wormer for sponsoring “This is my Trail Horse”.  Cisco will receive a gift from Durvet.

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