She seized the man by
his arm and flung him
to the ground. I rushed
to his aid, but the mare
lunged at my back.
Olin peered at me from
underneath the mare’s
shining barrel. Sensing me
inspecting her baby, Bijou’s
ears pinned flat, the whites
of her eyes gleaming. The
owner took his attention
away from her to reach
into his pocket for a horse
cookie, and Bijou struck
like a snake.
She seized the man by
his arm and flung him to the ground. I
rushed to his aid, but the mare lunged
at my back, knocking me sideways.
I was able to scramble through the
partially opened stall door and banged
it shut as she crashed against it.
Shaking, I climbed to my feet,
realized I was unharmed, and peered
cautiously through the bars of the stall.
The owner was huddled under the
automatic waterer, his arm bleeding.
“Help,” he said quietly.
Bijou had her back to us, swishing
her tail furiously. The baby blundered
against her hind legs, and when she
caught a glimpse of me, she spun and
lunged again, her teeth clattering on
the metal bars.
A Desperate Plea
I looked frantically around the barn
and caught sight of a small, dark-haired man mucking a stall. He didn’t
speak any English, but had no trouble
understanding my frantic pointing and
jabbering, and trotted quickly down
the barn aisle. He snatched a chain
lead from the wall, and before I could
stop him, he’d entered Bijou’s stall.
The little man marched straight to
her head, lecturing sharply in Spanish.
Bijou, ears still pinned, whipped her
head threateningly. Olin scrambled
behind her, distracting her, and the
little man swiftly darted forward.
With rapid movements, he
threaded the chain over her nose and
secured it to her halter, dodging her
attempts to bite him. She bared her
teeth and tried rearing but he just
popped the chain firmly and barked more
orders in Spanish, then turned to me and
jerked his head at Olin.
The owner had emerged from his hiding
place cradling his arm and waved me away
when I tried to look at the injury. He was
more worried about Olin. Bijou sulked as we
pounced on her baby and I quickly assessed
his legs, which were definitely crooked.
She shifted quickly once and stomped
a huge hoof, but froze at another flood of
words from the little man. I was able to take X-rays of Olin’s legs and measure
the deformity in his knees, although I watched Bijou out of the corner of my eye,
my hands still shaking a little.
Straightening Out the Problem
Olin had a limb problem referred to as a valgus deformity. The medial side of the
radius, the long bone above the knee, was outgrowing the lateral aspect, causing the
legs to take on a knock-kneed appearance.
I called a farrier that I worked closely with and he was able to come right out
and trim the foal’s feet, then glue on some hoof extensions to help bring the legs
into the correct position. Bijou and her handler stood quietly in the corner as the
farrier worked on Olin, and I learned that the man’s name was Miguel.
A week later, we were all back with Miguel, Bijou and Olin, who had improved,
but still had a long way to go. I sedated the foal lightly and performed a simple
procedure to stimulate the sluggish growth plate on the outside of his knees.
Bijou seemed to be in a trance as Miguel muttered to her and, there was no
more bad behavior from her. The sleepy foal returned to his mother with bandages
on both legs and fell asleep trying to nurse.
Four weeks later, Olin was dramatically better, and again, Miguel expertly managed Bijou as the owner and I inspected the foal. Miguel was smiling as I took
more X-rays, and I thanked him for keeping us safe. He might not have understood my words, but he knew what I meant, and his smile deepened as he gave
Bijou a rough head rub.
Three months later, I leaned on the paddock fence with the owner as Olin and
Bijou ran a race in the field, the colt’s legs perfectly straight and beautiful. The
owner had some scars on his arm, but he never took his eyes off Olin, who eventually lived up to everyone’s expectations, successfully competing in dressage at the
Grand Prix level in Europe and America.
Miguel, the unsung hero, worked at the barn for many more years, emerging
quietly from the shadows to handle difficult horses for many more veterinarians. I
never learned where he came from or what his background was, but he routinely
turned frightening and potentially dangerous horses into well-controlled and quiet
animals, and kept numerous people safe.
Maybe I was the vet who got to be great once by straightening a valuable foal’s legs,
but if it weren’t for Miguel, who was great every day, it wouldn’t have been possible.
COURTNEY S. DIEHL, DVM, has been an equine veterinarian since 2000. She resides in Steamboat
Springs, Colo., where she is in private practice. Her first book, Horse Vet, Chroniclesofa Mobile Veterinarian, was published in 2014. She is currently at work on her second book.