Horsy matters

I once had a case about a dead horse. As I discovered, they can be worth far more than dead people, for whom bereavement damages are modest: £12, 980, last time I looked. But this was a valuable competition horse, which had been long-listed for dressage at the 2012 Olympics.

I forget his name now, but he was a Dutch warmblood gelding. His owner bought him because she had previously had a very serious riding accident, and so needed a very gentle and biddable mount. She was interested in dressage because it is a  stylised and controlled form of riding, without jumping or fast gallops, so the rider is less likely to come a cropper.

It became quickly apparent that this horse had a real talent for dressage. Soon he had acquired both a professional rider and trainer, and started appearing successfully in competitions. He became known as a horse to watch. 

Then disaster struck. He suffered colic, a potentially life-threatening condition in a horse, and needed surgery. He was fortunate to be cared for by a leading veterinary hospital, which operated on him successfully. 

This is no mean feat with such a large animal: equine patients have to be anaesthetised and then slung upside down by their legs, before surgery can take place. Remarkably, this horse made such a complete recovery that before you know it, he was back competing professionally again. 

Then another problem arose. He was thought to be a little stiff when trotting in the “warm-up” required before professional dressage competitions. His owner was advised to have his bones scanned, to see if the cause of this stiffness could be identified. 

So back he went to the same veterinary hospital. He was injected with a radioactive substance, and the plan was to do the scan a bit later. He obviously did not like the siting of a veneflon (?) in his neck, which he started rubbing. His owner requested the nurse to put up bars on his stable door, to discourage this rubbing. She was assured this would be done.

Some thirty minutes later, as the owner was on her way home, she received a phone call from the hospital, with the dreadful news that her beloved horse was dead. The nurse had found him collapsed in his stall.  Obviously, this was a massive shock, both for the owner and for the hospital staff, who were all very upset. 

To make matters worse, the radioactive substance in his system meant that he could not be examined for a number of days. Thus, when a post-mortem was eventually carried out three days later, decomposition had begun, and it was not possible to identify the cause of death.

However, being a leading veterinary hospital, the professional consensus was that he had probably suffered an air embolism, after dislodging the needle in his neck. Air embolisms are rare in horses, and not usually fatal. This was little comfort to the owner, of course. The veterinary hospital even redesigned its veneflons, to try and avert a similar tragedy in future.

Eventually litigation ensued, and various experts opined about liability, and the horse’s market value. As is usually the case with High Court damages actions, the case was settled without a trial.

I sometimes wonder if keeping horses in may contribute to various problems of lameness, and so on. Horses are herd animals, traditionally accustomed to roaming in groups over wide open spaces. Keeping them in individual stables or stalls – which usually prevents them from having physical contact with each other – is highly artificial. Horses are social creatures, not solitary animals. They enjoy being able to stand alongside each other, and to gently scratch each other in a mutual “grooming” session.

They also need to stretch their legs and run around, leap even (not too much, please), and roll and roll, so as to keep their large muscular-skeletal structures in good working order.  I have sometimes wondered whether instead of stables, they should be kept in large indoor schools, so they can congregate together, and have a bit of a run-around.

No one who has watched the video clips on the inspirational Twitter feed of West Yorkshire Police’s Mounted Section @WYPHorses  can doubt the sheer joie de vivre that horses experience, when turned out into their paddocks.

The late Paddy Mullins was a leading racehorse trainer who allowed his charges different régimes, according to what they would tolerate. One racehorse really did not like being stabled, so he lived out with the mares and foals. Another could not tolerate stable life without a companion: so, he had one, a pony who was so small he could walk underneath the horse!

The dilemma for any owner of a valuable horse, however, is that horses when turned out can hurt themselves – sometimes fatally. The legendary retired racehorse Kauto Star was put down in 2015, after suffering serious injuries in his paddock. 

According to a report in the Daily Express of 30 June, it seems he tried to jump something and broke three bones in his pelvis and fractured the base of his neck, leaving him unable to stand. I have seen a 19yo horse named Kojak break his pelvis out hunting, when attempting to jump a wall. It was a deeply upsetting sight: in that case, again, euthanasia was the only option.

You cannot prevent all risks.

Up-dated at 23.39.