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A Miracle Recovery for Snookie

Angie Porter was happy to have horses back in her life. A friend’s uncle was downsizing his herd, and Porter was “approved” to take home one horse simply known as “the filly” or “the mare” and her pasture-mate Dan. “The filly had not been ridden in five years, so I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Porter. “Uncle Snook saddled her up, rode her around a bit, and then I jumped on. She was very calm – she was perfect. Even with just a reining bridle and no bit.”

Porter named the mare Snookie’s Surprise, for her friend’s uncle, and settled Snookie and Dan into their new home. Little did she imagine that, three days later, Snookie would be fighting for her life. “Snookie came to us after being kicked by another horse out in the pasture only three days after her new owner got her!” said Dr. Ellison Aldrich, a surgical resident, who is a member of Snookie’s veterinary team. “Her regular vet was suspicious that she had an olecranon fracture (broken elbow).”

A Life-Threatening Injury

When Snookie got to the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Equine Medicine and Surgery Service, X-rays confirmed the diagnosis. The olecranon, the part of the ulna that forms the point of the elbow, was fractured into multiple pieces and also had an open wound. In horses, this is a life-threatening injury, because surgery and recovery are so difficult. But Porter wanted to give Snookie a chance.

“When horses fracture their olecranon, they lose all function and ability to use the leg, since the triceps muscle becomes dysfunctional,” said Dr. Laurie Goodrich, who is an associate professor of orthopaedics in the Department of Clinical Sciences and an equine surgeon.

The elbow drops, noted Goodrich, and the horse must place all of its weight on the opposite limb. Not only does this cause extreme fatigue, but it can increase the horse’s chance of support-limb laminitis.

“We took Snookie to surgery to repair the fracture,” said Goodrich. “One small piece of bone that was displaced into the joint was removed, and the remaining fragments were put back into alignment and secured using a locking plate and screws, contoured to fit the bone.”

Out of Surgery and on Her Feet

While many animals can recover from a broken leg, horses are usually the exception. A broken leg in a horse can lead to complications, including laminitis, as the horse shifts its weight to its other legs to bear weight. In 2006, Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke his leg shortly after the start of the Preakness Stakes. The resulting injury, though surgically treated, led to Barbaro’s death after he developed complications during his post-operative recovery. Snookie faced the same risks, but Porter had faith in her horse.

“She just had this great attitude and did whatever was asked of her,” said Porter. “She came out of anesthesia without damaging her surgical repair, and that was a big step to recovery.”

Snookie made it past the critical postoperative period and was sent home with Porter 10 days after surgery for six months of stall rest. Porter, who is a nurse and was formerly a veterinary technician, has worked diligently to ensure Snookie’s recovery is smooth. She keeps Snookie busy in her stall by brushing her, braiding her tail, providing plenty of grass hay, and giving her a clear view of everyone coming and going from the barn. She even gets regular visits from the barn cat and Porter’s dog.

Excellence in Equine Surgery

Equine medicine and surgery at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital gave Snookie a second chance at life through innovative surgical techniques and dedicated patient care.

“It was incredible to look at the X-rays and see how they rebuilt Snookie’s leg,” said Porter. “It was true artistry.”

Thanks to technological advances such as locking plates (a plate and screw system that “locks” the plate to the bone), orthopaedic surgery for horses has been revolutionized. Implants are more stable and can withstand the forces of a 1,000-pound horse that is recovering from anesthesia and must immediately walk following surgery.

“In addition to the cutting-edge orthopaedic care we can offer, we have talented board-certified anesthesiologists and wonderful anesthesia nurses who monitor induction, maintain a safe plane of anesthesia, and carefully assist with rope recoveries to minimize risks associated with getting up with a newly repaired bone,” said Goodrich.

Snookie continues to surprise both Porter and her veterinary team with her smooth recovery and patience with stall rest. At her three-month checkup, Snookie had healed well enough to earn some much-needed time outside with permission to take daily, five-minute walks.

“Three months following surgery we got to see Snookie for her checkup, and we were pleased to see her surgical incision had healed completely and she was walking well, thanks in part to all of Angie’s hard work at home,” said Aldrich. “Her radiographs show the fracture is healing nicely. We expect Snookie to continue to have an excellent recovery.”


 

Snookie’s surgical team included Drs. Laurie Goodrich, Valerie Moorman, Britta Leise, Ellison Aldrich, and Alexander Daniel. To learn more about equine services at the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital, visit https://advancing.colostate.edu/CVMBS/VTH. To learn how you can support research, teaching, and excellent equine care at Colorado State University, contact the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Office of Advancement, at (970) 491-7446.

Editor’s note: Snookie had her six-month checkup on June 17 and has almost completely healed her broken olecranon. Goodrich is allowing Porter to turn Snookie out into the paddock and then the pasture in a graduated time schedule. Remodeling of the bone will continue to advance, particularly as Snookie begins to exercise more.