My beautiful young gelding was hanging in his stall by his hind leg. Was he broken beyond healing?

- By Wendee Walker, owner

At 2:15 a.m. on April 20, 2020---during the early, uncertain days of the pandemic---a violent banging noise woke me. The sound was coming from our stable, just down the hill from our house.

I was accustomed to hearing the occasional clunking of hooves, snorting and other noises that are inevitable when horses live together, so I didn’t think much of it. Soon all was quiet, and I drifted back to sleep. But before long I was jolted awake again by a series of banging noises. I sat upright in bed, threw off the covers and told my sleeping husband, Mike, that something was wrong.

As I rushed down the path to the stable, I glanced up at the starry sky and tried to remember how to tie ropes to a horse’s lower legs to help him roll over if he is “cast”---stuck too close to the wall.

I saw the silhouette of my Mustang, Yogi, watching me from his corral as I rushed toward the heavy barn doors. I heard grunts and a prolonged groan, then more banging. All was dark in the stable as I entered and reached for the light switch.

With the breezeway flooded in light, I looked into the stalls and saw Arteiro, my 4-year-old buckskin Lusitano gelding, collapsed on the floor with his hind leg trapped up high, through the bars of the iron stall divider. His body was hanging by his delicate hind fetlock.

I squeezed my eyes shut. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Arteiro has big hooves, and the stall bar space is narrow. It made no sense.



Arteiro groaned and twisted his head to look at me. Blood trickled from his mouth and sweat darkened his golden neck.

I wanted to rush in to help but knew that I had to stay away from his legs and his huge head, even as he rested. At any moment he could start thrashing again. I grabbed a towel and covered his eyes, hoping that would help him relax.

I searched my phone for the veterinari­an’s emergency numbers, while Arteiro intermitte­ntly fought by launching his body side to side and kicking the wall with his other legs. His trapped leg was fully extended upward as he pushed away from the wall. He twisted and pulled but could not free himself. The heel-bulb and fetlock, anchoring his 1,110-pound body, dripped blood down both sides of the wall. I tried pushing his foot through from the other side of the bar, but I couldn’t. Helpless, I adjusted the towel covering his eyes. “It’s okay, easy, it’s going to be okay,” I murmured, trying to calm him. I could only hope he’d be still.

With the phone to my ear, I flew up the path and rousted my groggy husband, telling him I needed his help. I knew we may be on our own---many veterinari­ans were unavailabl­e at that point of the pandemic.

There was no improvemen­t in the situation when we got back to the barn a few minutes later. Arteiro had shrugged off the towel I had placed over his eyes and he continued to sweat.

I slathered his stuck hoof with Vaseline and tried pushing again from the other side of the stall divider. His hoof is bigger than the space it had squeezed through. With tremendous force, Arteiro must have kicked upward, pointing his toe, and then tilted and rotated at just the right angle to slide through the bars.

I could picture him giving Yogi, his neighbor and friend, a playful look then shaking his mane, kicking out, and finding himself

on three legs with the fourth trapped up high.

Arteiro must have wondered what had happened, lost his balance, and then folded down to the floor. Since then, he had alternated between thrashing and resting, thrashing and resting.

I told Mike that we’d most likely have to end this misery. His trapped leg must be broken.


I had left messages with the emergency line at my regular veterinary service---Napa Valley Equine---and the office of another veterinari­an, Peter Ahern, DVM, over on the Sonoma side of our mountain. Both were a good 40-minute drive, at best. I texted them and called again.

Certain my beautiful Arteiro was broken beyond healing, I begged them, “Please come quick. This is an emergency. You may have to euthanize.” I was on the phone with the emergency veterinari­an when Ahern called back, saying he was on the way. Both veterinari­ans could hear Arteiro thrashing and groaning in the background.

The wait seemed impossibly long. We tried to think of solutions, though my heart was breaking. While I comforted Arteiro, Mike gathered tools from his workbench, and tried sawing the steel bars. Then he pried from various angles using a crowbar. Nothing worked. I massaged Arteiro’s ears and neck and comforted in a soothing tone: “I’m sorry, Arteiro. We are here. Easy…”

When Ahern arrived, he gave the gelding a sedative, which calmed him. Next, Ahern set about trying to free the trapped hoof. He repeated things Mike had tried---saw and crowbar. No luck. Then he and Mike tried two-by-four wood wedges with the crowbar to get more leverage. That didn’t work either. It felt hopeless.

Finally, with a sheer burst of determinat­ion, Ahern hoisted the sledgehamm­er and swung it into the bar trapping the hoof ---Bang! Blang! Bang! He aimed just above Arteiro’s trapped fetlock joint---Clang! Bang! Bang! I flinched with each impact, sure if entrapment didn’t break Arteiro’s leg, the heavy sledgehamm­er would. The bars vibrated and spread just enough to let me push the hoof free, blood dripping from my wrists.


With a thud, Arteiro’s freed leg fell to where it belonged. I noticed his labored breathing. We waited. He folded his legs, then rocked his body until he had his knees underneath, and with a giant grunt, he was standing! Gingerly he tested his right hind. Three humans stood by observing his primal instinct to survive. He balanced on three legs, holding the hoof aloft.

Ahern examined and palpated Arteiro’s ravaged leg and body but didn’t say a word. My mind raced as he worked. Was this kind man trying to find a way to gently tell me my horse was a goner? Was he making a mental list of all the horrible damage he was feeling with his experience­d hands?

With a deep sigh and shake of his head, Ahern finally said, “I don’t feel anything broken.” He recommende­d 10 days of stall rest, topical antibiotic and an oral anti-inflammato­ry.

As we watched, Arteiro stepped carefully outside to his water trough and drank deeply, then hobbled inside to chew a bite of hay.

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