In early January, my mom and I spent 3 days traveling a 5 hour round trip to spend time supporting land defenders at the police blockade on the way up to Unist’ot’en Camp, where members of our neighbouring First Nation, the Wet’suwet’en, were being forcibly removed from their traditional lands by militarized RCMP in a tragic and re-traumatizing show of Canadian colonialism. It’s a long and complex story not relevant to this one, but suffice to say it kept us physically, mentally and emotionally absent from the farm that week. Which is, of course, when the drama breaks out.
We were heading home down the logging road towards the highway one night, and when we hit cell service again my phone buzzed with a note from my husband. “Chores done, Mr Chako had jumped the fence or something and was in the yard. Got him back through the gate easily enough. Falcon looks to have a cut on his belly. Though no longer bleeding. The horses had also broke through the electric fence. Gave them treats but not able to get them the other side of it and fix the fence.” When we got home, he assured me everyone was calm, moving normally, on the corect side of the perimeter fence, and had access to water and food. We thought maybe a bear had come in the barnyard? Seemed extremely unlikely as the horses have kept bears away since the summer we moved here. Maybe a particularly bad scrap between the boys? It was -20 that night, dark, and late, so I judged it okay to sleep on it, but couldn’t imagine what might have happened.
The next morning, I found the electric down and the horses milling about as Tim had described. Falcon indeed had a sickeningly deep gash on his barrel that was no longer bleeding, but Amalia had a similar, even longer injury high on her hind leg. And Firefly had blood down her leg from a small hole above a hind hock. Their blood was frozen in stalagmites down their long winter coats, but nobody was actively bleeding. The pig gates were also open.
As I looked around the barnyard and weighed all the evidence, I realized that the most likely scenario was that the boar had gotten loose and, most likely, cornered the horses in the barnyard, which they have free access to for the winter. Unless they had somehow all sliced themselves cleanly on the fence, I had to deduce that he, even with his heavy frame and short tusks, had likely lunged up and gored all three of them as they slammed up against the fences. Again, this seemed unlikely, given how docile he usually is. But – he does occasionally enjoy chasing the horses when we let him out for a romp, so this was possibly just a perfect storm – us away, him loose, horses in the far corner away from the gate, sow in heat, hormonal madness…
It was a violent and shocking scene I was imagining, but the horses were oddly calm. Worried most acutely about Falcon’s gut wound, I asked him to come into a pen on his own. He would not let me touch it, but I could see clean through to a pulsing muscle layer. I should mention now that we do not have easy access to a vet – we are 80 kilometers from the nearest clinic, and they’re small animal vets. There is no horse vet in our region, that I know of. This means calling a vet (if we can even find one that will come) is a last resort, not a first response.
My brain moved quickly – he was not bleeding anymore, he was not obviously dying, and I could not see anything that looked like organs though the hole was nearly a thumb-length deep. Most importantly, he was dead calm and asking not to be touched – and when I checked in with my awareness of him below my anxiety and worry, I knew beyond a doubt that he was okay. I took him water, hay and supplements and, after checking in again with him, left him there while leaving access open for the herd to stay close by. Here’s what the wounds looked like that morning (gore disclaimer, it’s all grisly wound pictures from here on out!):
Active bleeding has stopped all around.
Falcon‘s gash is at least 1 inch deep and 3 inches long, and I can see the muscle underneath moving as he breathes.
Amalia‘s gash is about 6 inches long, maybe 3/4 inch deep.
Firefly has a puncture/stab wound, 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch.
Throughout the day, we watched the herd linger close to Falcon – I’d spread out hay so they wouldn’t have to leave him. The girls seemed to stay closest to him while Nechako and Spero mostly stood apart – so the three injured horses formed a little hub and the two uninjured horses contained them. There was something ceremonial about it, in the way we have seen the cows gather together silently after a big scare. While none of the horses seemed distraught or concerned, there was a palpable energy between them that seemed almost sweet – this is a herd that is tightly bonded and gets along, but not always graceful – or peaceful – about it. I wondered if, when we got through all this, their dynamic would be different.
But I digress from the blood and gore. At this point, all I had given them was oral homeopathic Arnica for trauma – I put the pellets on my hand and let them pick it off with their teeth. All three told me, otherwise, to leave them alone, not intervene, and mind my own business. This is usually their directive when it comes to tending them, but it is incredibly hard to do when there’s blood or extreme lameness! I knew I could try oil of oregano, diluted, in a spray, but I also had a jar of raw local honey – and honey is a beautiful, gentle, powerful treatment for wounds and infections. So I melted it in a water bath so as not to damage the enzymes, filled a syringe, and offered to dress the wounds. All three told me in no uncertain terms to eff off and die. So that was a no to the honey.
Interestingly, they all refesed to eat it, too. That was my next resort, to get some kind of healing substances into them internally, but only the two boys who were not injured wanted to eat the honey!
We followed up the Arnica by offering Calendula and Hypericum. The horses all picked what they wanted, and after a couple days started refusing the homeopathic remedies as well. I consulted with many of you via our Facebook page and got loads of great tips and treatments, but this time the herd sincerely wanted me to let them handle this on their own. What follows is a timeline of the wounds’ progress over a month…
Not-great photos as it gets dark at feeding time.
Falcon has cleared all the dried and frozen blood, presumably with his own mouth as he can reach it by bending. Can still see through the layers of flesh and fat, but mostly he is excreting a yellowish goop directly on the wound. He is moving stiffly and there is swelling gathering below the wound in his belly flesh.
Amalia‘s wound continues to weep a little. The discharge at the wound is foamy. The flesh on the tail side of the wound is bunched up and I really want to find a way to smooth it out, but she would happily crush my skull before allowing that.
Firefly‘s wound appears to be healing quickly, so I don’t document.
Falcon‘s swelling below the wound has increased. He finally lets me touch him and I am surprised to find the swelling hard; not collected fluid in the way I had imagined. He is also asking me to carefully scratch around the open flesh – healing is itchy!! His wound is knitting together from the inside out. The yellow layer is, I think, fat – and we can see it zipping shut. I worry about his flesh drying out but he shows me he can lick it – and does, regularly – to keep it moist.
Amalia must not have let me take photos this day, and Firefly was progressing normally. At this point I texted the second photo to 2 vets I have worked with before. They both said “no stitches – antibiotics if you’re worried about contamination”.With zero sign of infection (cold weather and no bugs were a huge bonus) and wounds progressing nicely, we opted to wait this one out without drugs. I concocted a spray of flax oil and essential oils to help keep bad guys away, and the horses all inhaled the oils deeply but declined the spray.
Falcon keeps zipping himself up from the inside. That red dot in the middle is a scab – I thought it was a leaf a few days before and pulled it off without him objecting, but the next day it had reformed so, of course, I left it.
Amalia‘s wound is still oozing a foamy substance, skin still puckered, chances of doing anything about it slim-to-negative.
Colour is extra intense from the flash
Falcon’s belly-swelling is reducing and the red scab in the middle is gone – now the fat layer is complete and all you can see when looking into the wound. Wound depth has decreased by half.
Amalia is finally forming scabs around the edges, but also still weeping the foamy substance.
Falcon has now covered the yellow fat layer with new pink flesh and the wound is much more narrow. He continues to keep it moist and clean.
Amalia‘s wound has swollen a bit, but the foamy substance is getting more solid. Her wound is appearing more and more complex, compared to Falcon’s, which has been more straightforward in healing. Because her skin is bunched up on the left, she isn’t able to just knit the two flaps together. She’ll have to let that extra skin die and form new flesh.
Firefly‘s puncture has started to ooze the same kind of foam; I offer her a spray of healing oils; she is deeply offended.
The horses have been galloping around and rolling in the hay, directly on their wounds.
Falcon has been especially spunky after weeks of being reserved and careful. I take this to mean he is feeling a lot better. The swelling is nearly gone.
Amalia‘s wound is covered over with hay stuck to it and my obsessive scab-picking nature wants to grab the hay when she walks by and rip it off! She knows what I’m thinking and tells me not to dare. She also indicates that when she’s ready, she can rub it off herself, taking with it the necrotic tissue I’ve been worried about. I also realize that had I been able to close the flap of skin over her wound, I might have trapped pathogens in there and complicated matters.
The herd kicking up their heels for the first time since the incident – Falcon is the one running circles around everyone else!
Falcon is no longer moistening the wound and it has put flesh on nearly up to the height of his skin.
Amalia‘s wound has finally stopped oozing; the hay has indeed pulled off much of the necrotic skin and the exposed part now looks less like a gash that needs to heal together and more like a chunk of skin that needs to be regenerated.
Amalia may be developing proud flesh (I have never seen it, so I can’t be sure – it looks lumpy and raised and isn’t healing very fast) but we’re not too concerned about that, since by now she’s got us well informed that we can’t do much about anything so we might as well stop worrying! Still, it would feel like more of a self-healing “victory” if she could avoid the proud flesh altogether… but that’s not what this is about (I remind myself)! I re-read Montaro’s story of directing his own healing, and of abrading his own wound to avoid proud flesh. He was able to reach his wound with his mouth – she doesn’t have that option…
Hold the friggin phone. We’ve had 2 days of snow and extreme cold. All the horses have wandered off to dig for hay in the snow; Amalia has stayed behind and is getting a good scratch on the gate post. I wonder if… I run to grab my camera and screw on the “stalker lens” – from the back room of the house I can zoom in tight and get a better look at what she’s up to. Sure enough, she is purposefully rubbing her wound against the post! She’s abrading her own wound like Montaro did – which, we know now, is exactly the right thing to do to prevent the development of proud flesh! The video I caught is below:
And here are the wounds – Falcon’s is basically a non-issue, a little scab at this point. Amalia’s has been visibly scraped and the wound looks clean now – you can see the edges of the skin. It is no longer raised and puffy – it’s just a shallow flesh wound. This is a big difference from a week ago, when I couldn’t make heads or tails of what was happening when looking at it.
It’s been a long month of watching and hoping I’m not a complete idiot for not intervening, but at this point it’s really amazing to see how well everything has healed.
Falcon has only a sliver of scab left, and the bare skin where the wound once was is already growing a bit of chestnut peach fuzz. In a month he’s closed and regenerated a two-inch deep gash in his belly with very little to show for it.
Amalia’s wound has taken a long time to sort itself out but is finally on the home stretch. Today she even asked me to itch the skin around it for her, something she has not trusted me to do until now. Her repair job, though in a less vital location, has been much more complex than Falcon’s but it’s amazing to see what was a mess of skin flaps, blood, foamy ooze and matted fur evolve into this little scab.
Firefly’s wound has taken just as long as the others to heal despite being so much less serious, and I wonder if actually it has had a slow time healing because it’s a puncture wound without much acess to the air. In any case, it’s also on its way.
The body is a miraculous thing. How do the cells remember the shape they their collective self should be? How do they know to make their way back to that shape, step by step? It has been hair-raising, and then humbling, to witness this process without interfering. I trust the horses to tell me what they want and need, but I want to know I left no stone unturned in case I miss something I should have done for them. As our own Mary Walby assured me in a conversation about this, observation can be action – doing nothing does not have to be neglect. I love this – counting observation as “doing”, if only to soothe our action-oriented minds. If the wounds had ever looked infected, if they were re-opening or not progressing, I may have had to “do” something. Instead, I was treated to an incredible view of what the body is designed to do – heal.
The more I listen, the less I do. The choice of the horse is paramount not only out of principle, but also because the more I let go, the more I trust their decisions, because of course they truly know better than anyone else what they need.
And meanwhile, the herd has changed. Somehow, going through this trauma and healing together has shifted their herd dynamics subtly. They seem knit together more closely; they share feed more now, they are gentler with each other. It’s kind of incredible, to see this come from a terrible incident. I’m amazed to witness all that they show me. And I’m really grateful that they’re all still thriving.