DICKINSON — A grassy lawn under a few shade trees is not the ideal place to amputate a horse’s leg.
Dr. Ric Redden, a world-renowned veterinarian who has specialized on horse’s feet, knew this, but he also knew that you do what you can with what you have.
“A lot of things can happen,” Redden said. “But if you worry about all the things that can go wrong, you’d never get started.”
A group of nearly 20 curious veterinarians, veterinary students, farriers and horse enthusiasts stood Monday in the shade provided by trees at the Equine Recovery Center, 12326 Second Street, in Dickinson.
In the middle of the group was Redden, in a blue scrubs top and Wrangler jeans, and nearby was a 16-year-old quarter horse named Indio.
The stallion was a bit woozy and unstable — from the drugs and from the fact that he was missing his back left hoof and part of his leg. In its place was a black cast.
The horse was only moments from going to the ground, and Redden wanted all those who were there to watch and help to know the ground rules.
Once the procedure started, he wanted everyone to be completely quite, he said.
No side conversations or chatting.
“I want to be totally concentrated on what I’m doing,” Redden said.
‘Think fast but move slow’
The horse, Indio, had kicked through a stall wall weeks before and severely damaged his left rear leg. The hoof was already gone, and Indio was walking on a cast. Redden said he planned to remove one of the lower leg bones, possibly take a piece of a healthy hoof frog, the piece of the hoof that acts as a cushion and shock absorber, to graft onto the remaining stump and then drill two pins into the cannon bone that the cast, and then the prosthetic leg, will be built around.
But Redden knew that once the cast came off, there were plenty of things that could go wrong.
This was the 55th time in his nearly 40-year career that he would perform this type of operation, he said. When he first started attaching prosthetics to horses, he was one of the pioneers in the field. Many of the techniques and tools used, Redden invented and modified.
He started working with horses as a farrier, changing the shoes on his own horse when he didn’t have the money to hire someone else. He would eventually work his way through veterinary school as a farrier. Based out of his practice in Kentucky, Redden has traveled the world working on horses’ feet and has written a book on laminitis in horses.
Before the operation begins, the gauze, scalpels, drills and various other tools are laid out on tables.
“Think fast but move slow,” he tells the group of veterinarians and students who will be helping. “Because if you really get in a hurry doing this stuff, sometimes it can get real hairy. I can tell you some real hairy stories.”
Another 14 years
After giving his instructions to the group, Redden begins going over the details of the surgery with Dennis Jenkins, a veterinarian from Santa Fe who primarily treats horses and has been looking after Indio since his injury.
At only 16 years of age, it is possible Indio could live another 14 years, Jenkins said.
Jenkins said the horse, along with having good bloodlines and value as a stud, has sentimental value to its owners.
Redden is the go-to guy when it comes to hoofs and lower legs, and Jenkins said he was overjoyed when Redden offered to come do the surgery.
Once the horse is down, Redden works efficiently and quietly.
The cast comes off to reveal the end of Indio’s leg.
The hoof was indeed gone, and Redden, scalpel in his gloved hand, removed the second phalanx bone. He decided to leave the grafting of the frog hoof tissue for another day and instead proceeded to insert the pins needed for the cast and prosthesis.
Redden, who said he is about ready to retire from veterinarian work to focus on teaching, also explained parts of the procedure to the younger vets eagerly crowded around.
“You don’t want to crack on it,” he said as he was inserting the pins in the horse’s leg. “That will put pressure on the pins.”
By the time the cast was being applied, Redden and the group around him began to relax. He had a metal prosthesis that he fitted and modified on the spot.
The entire procedure took about an hour.
“That went pretty good,” said Redden as he stood up.
A short time later, Indio stood up as well. Indio was a bit uneasy with his new prosthetic, but Redden said he believed the horse would do well.
Indio was a healthy horse with a good disposition, Redden said.
“A lot of it is about the patient,” he said. “If you have a nut case, you don’t have no chance.”
And despite the less than ideal settings and the possibility of an untold number of things fouling up the proceedings, it all went well, he said.
“My dad taught me many years ago, a wolf has to hunt with the teeth he’s got,” Redden said. “You take what you got and you do the very best with it that you can and you don’t complain.”