The Big Horse Race

D. E. Larsen, DVM

I purchased Judy the summer following my sixth grade. It took a lot of chitum peeling to come up with the purchase price.

She was a light palomino and had a big scar on the back of her neck like she had been bitten by another horse when younger.

Our neighbor trimmed her hooves and shod her for me. He would not take any money for the chore.

I rode Judy everywhere. She required a strong hand on the reins to make her do what the rider wanted. Judy was barn sour. She was uncomfortable away from the barn. When we would turn toward the barn, and I let her have her head, I knew I had better hang on tight.

One afternoon, Dana Watson and I rode Judy down the creek to Herman’s new barn. We met Jack and Larry Herman there and rode the horses up their hill a bit. The Herman horses made Judy look like a pony. Both were outfitted with full saddles, while Dana and I were riding bareback and double on Judy.

When we got back to the barn, we tied the horses and looked over the barn and the haymow. 

“Why did you buy such a small horse?” Jack asked.

“I really wasn’t looking for a horse,” I said. “My cousin Peggy had a friend selling her, and the price was something that I could afford.”

“She doesn’t look like much of a horse,” Jack said.

“She might not look like much, but she is the fastest horse I have seen,” I said. “I have been horses a lot, and I don’t think I know a horse that could outrun her.”

“Our horses are quarter horses, and they are pretty fast, too,” Jack said. “And they are so much bigger than that little thing, I don’t think she could begin to keep up with them.”

“Well, the only way to know is with a horse race,” I said. “What do you think, Dana. Do you want to ride with me?” 

“Sure, those big horses are all weighed down with saddles and everything,” Dana said.

“Okay,” Jack said. “We will start on the road here, race down across the creek and up the field to where it starts uphill. Do you want to do this, Larry?”

“Sure, I have wanted to see which one of these horses is the fastest for a long time,” Larry said. “The only problem will be if Dad sees us. He will be furious. You know he does like us to gallop the horses.”

“He is in town,” Jack said. “We will be able to get these horses cooled down and turned out before he gets home.”

I jumped up on Judy, and Dana got up behind me. We rode out to the road where the race was going to start. I had to hold a tight rein on Judy because we were pointed at her barn. 

“You have to hold on tight, Dana,” I said. “Judy is barn sour, and when she is headed home, she runs like the wind. These Herman horses are going to be left in her dust.”

Jack and Larry pulled their horses up beside us. I was holding a tight rein on Judy, and I could hear her heavy breathing. She was excited to be headed home and had no concept of a race.

I looked up at Jack. For the first time, I realized just how much taller their horses were. 

“You say the word,” I said. “Something like ready, set, go.”

“Go,” Jack said as he and Larry spurred their mounts.

I released my grip on Judy’s reins and let her have her head. I leaned forward with my head against her neck and took a firm grip on her mane. Dana leaned forward and tightened his grip around my midsection.

I looked back, and the Herman horses were thundering along on our left, but they were a least two lengths behind. Judy was headed home, and nothing was going to slow her down.

The creek was approaching. This time of the summer, there was only a trickle of water that ran between the deeper holes. The road crossed the creek, but there was a substantial bank on this side and a rocky creek bottom before going up on the other bank and then out into the field.

Judy flew down the bank and did not slow across the rocks. The downward force when she hit the creek bed caused Dana and me to slip. We were off Judy’s back and hanging on her left side. I still had my grip on her mane, and we were both desperately holding on with our right legs still over her back. I looked back, Larry’s horse had slowed at the creek, but Jack was spurring his horse, trying to catch up with us. If we fell, there would be no way his horse could avoid running over us.

Judy did not slow with our slippage. She was up the far bank and turned up the field. Her barn was in view, and I felt a surge in her speed. Dana was able to pull himself back up on Judy’s back first, and with a bit of tug, he helped me right myself. Judy was oblivious to our struggle to remain mounted.

Once back in a normal position, I looked back. Jack’s horse had faded a bit, and Larry’s horse was abreast with him. The distance at this point was probably a half-mile, and the quarter horses had spent their best energy. Judy continued at her wicked pace. My only problem was going to be in stopping her when we reached the hill.

When we came to the hill, I sat up and pulled back on Judy’s reins.

“Whoa, whoa,” I said as I pulled her to a stop.

Jack and Larry pulled their horses up beside us.

“You guys should join the circus,” Jack said. “How did you get up on her back?”

“I had enough of a grip with my right leg that I was able to pull myself up and then help Dave,” Dana said. “I thought we were goners.”

“Ha,” I said. “I was just looking at your horse’s hooves that would be running over us.”

“Well, you were right about how fast that horse of yours is, and she didn’t slow down a bit,” Larry said. “Our horses just about were done for when we got halfway up this field.”

“I have to admit, it would have been a different race if we were going the other direction,” I said. “Judy is barn sour, and when she is going home, she goes like the wind.”

“Maybe so,” Jack said. “It sure would have been a different race if you guys hit the ground.”

Photo by Zachariah Smith on Unsplash

From the Archives, one year ago

The Coffee Shop Doctors, link:

Leg of Lamb

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Larry carefully laid the lamb on the exam table, being watchful of an obvious broken hind leg.

“I know that this lamb isn’t worth much,” Larry said. “But I have a couple of little girls who are really upset.”

“Do we know how this leg was broken?” I asked. “Or at least, when it happened?”

“We have no idea how it happened, but I know this lamb was fine this morning when we let it out of the barn,” Larry said. “If we don’t put them up every night, we just end up feeding the coyotes.”

“This is a mid-shaft fracture of the femur,” I said. “That makes a splint almost impossible. Plus, these lambs grow so fast, an external splint is not practical. We would be changing and adjusting the splint every week. That would add up to a lot of dollars.”

“I just can’t put this lamb to sleep,” Larry said. “Is there any way you can fix it without me having to sell the farm?”

“The best way to repair this fracture is with an Intramedullary pin. Last year I repaired a similar fracture in a newborn calf with an IM pin,” I said. “That turned out great, but that calf was worth a lot more than a lamb when it reached market weight. The best medical decision is often not the best financial decision.”

“I don’t know if I can justify spending several hundred dollars on a market lamb,” Larry said. “I say market lamb, but if you fix him, he will probably be a forever pet.”

“Larry, if we cut a few corners, I can probably put a pin in this leg for hundred dollars,” I said as I palpated the leg carefully. “This guy is small enough that it will be an easy repair. Did you give him a tetanus shot when you banded him?”

“I can swing a hundred dollars,” Larry said. “Thanks a lot for trying. And I didn’t give him a tetanus shot. I didn’t know that was something that was needed.”

“Most of the time, we don’t worry about tetanus in a banded lamb,” I said. “But we do lose one every once in a while. The numbers lost probably don’t justify the cost of the vaccine. But when we are going to put a hundred dollars into this guy, he’s going to get a tetanus shot.”

“When are you going to do this?” Larry asked.

“We are going to do him right away,” I said. “I have one more appointment this morning before surgery. We will just put him first on the surgery schedule. I would guess that he will be ready to go home by one or two this afternoon. He should be up and around. It would be best if you could keep him and his mom in a small pen for a couple of weeks.”

It did not take long to get the lamb under anesthesia with a gas anesthetic via a mask. We clipped and prepped the leg and draped it for surgery. 

I made a short incision over the fracture site. This lamb was young enough that he has limited muscle mass, and exposing the fracture site was a simple process. I almost wondered if I could have done this entire procedure as a closed reduction. 

Once the fracture site was exposed, I place the IM pin in a retrograde manner. Quickly reducing the fracture site, I held the fractured ends of the bone together with my fingers as I seated the IM pin into the distal fragment. 

This was a simple repair, and the fracture site was very stable once the pin was in place. 

“This guy is going to running around the field by the time we get the sutures out.”

When I cut the pin off at the top of the bone, I left it a little long. Not so long that I could not close the skin over the end of the pin at the hip, but I hoped that it was long enough that I would be able to remove it at six weeks after surgery. These lambs grow so fast, I doubted that I would be able to remove the pin.

The lamb recovered rapidly from anesthesia, and true to my prediction, he was up and looking for mom. We gave him a tetanus shot and a dose of long-acting penicillin. Then I gave Larry a call.

“Surgery is done, and this lamb is up and looking for lunch,” I said. “I think the sooner you pick him up, the better. Like I said earlier, keeping him and his mother in a small pen for a couple of weeks would be ideal. But, I tell you what, this guy is using his leg like nothing is wrong with it. Two weeks might be overkill.”

Larry came to the clinic right after my call.

“His mother is going to be happy to see him,” Larry said. “She has been calling for him all morning.”

Larry paid the bill and scooped up the lamb. The lamb was sucking on the collar of his shirt as he headed out the door.

“I think you are right,” Larry said. “He is looking for lunch, and I am not sure he cares much where it comes from.”

“I need to see him in two weeks for a check-up and suture removal,” I said. “Then we will check him at six weeks in the hope of removing that pin. There is a good chance he will grow enough that the pin will be completely inside of bone by then. That is not a problem, as long as the butcher doesn’t try to cut the leg with ban saw.”

“I am guessing that his little guy will end up being a pet and will never see the butcher,” Larry said. “By the time the girls get done with pampering him, he will be part of the family. Hopefully, that doesn’t mean he will be in the house.”


“I kept him in a small pin for three days,” Larry said. “He was bouncing around so much at that time that I just turned them out with the others. You can’t tell there is anything wrong with him. He doesn’t limp, and it hasn’t slowed him down a bit.”

“Let’s get these sutures out. This incision is well healed,” I said. “I can’t feel the end of the pin. It is probably inside the bone already. It will definitely be by six weeks, but I would like to get a look at him if it is not too much trouble.”


“Larry’s on the phone about that lamb,” Sandy said. “I think he wants to skip the recheck.”

“Larry, how is the lamb doing?” I asked.

“Doc, I don’t think we need to do a recheck,” Larry said. “For one thing, I’m not sure I can catch this guy. And if I would catch him, bringing him into the clinic would be a real struggle. He is as normal as any of our lambs.”

“That’s fine, Larry,” I said. “I’m glad that he healed up so well. Just remember what I said about warning the butcher about that pin in the bone.”

“I’ll remember, but like I said earlier, I’m sure this guy is never going to leave the place.”

Photo by Bill Fairs on Unsplash.

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