A Day for Surgery

Belgian horse:

Draft horses are beautiful, but it is no understatement- they are BIG.

I was asked to a farmer’s home to anesthetize a yearly draft horse so an Amish man could perform a castration surgery. This was a little irregular, but I understood. Amish are skilled at certain tasks, however, they have no way of obtaining medications for anesthesia. This owner wanted my help for this.

It was the first time  I was asked to drop a horse in a stall – what we refer to as giving anesthesia and laying the horse on the ground. I usually chose to do the surgery on large grassy areas or in open indoor arenas with soft, dry footing – my reasons for doing so are these areas are easier to work in as well as if the horse falls on the ‘right’ side, they can be flipped to the ‘left’ side by grabbing the hooves and all at once, flipping him. The ‘side’ the horse falls on is important because if the surgeon is right handed, the instruments come into the scrotal area from behind and any possible injury to the genitals is avoided.

I estimated the weight of the yearly colt to be approximately 2,200 pounds and administered my sedation medication followed by short acting anesthetic medication. As bad luck would have it, he proceeded to drop on his right side and could not be flipped in the small stall. The Amish man was as uncomfortable about the horse being on his right side as I am, so he and the owner asked me to complete the castration.

Immediately I ran to my truck and quickly opened the compartments, grabbed my bucket and emasculator (the tool used to castrate the horse), some soap and sponges, a blade, gloves, and some water and ran back to the horse. I prepped the skin of the scrotum and began surgery. I made my first incision over the right testicle but when I tried to remove it, the muscle that raises and lowers the testicle in the scrotum was pulling harder than I was able to pull. I pulled with all my strength and couldn’t remove that testicle. Since this wasn’t working, I had the not so bright idea to try removing the other testicle. I couldn’t remove that one either. I could only imagine what the two men watching were thinking.

I quit trying, leaned up against the stall wall, and told the owner I needed to let him stand and give him a second dose of anesthesia. Luckily, he fell on his left side this time and as I began to castrate him, I saw the wood shavings used as bedding in his stall covering the incisions I made earlier. I hesitated for a moment and thought ‘fabulous,’ tried to clean as much of the shavings off as I could, and continued the surgery, ignoring for the moment this complication that could lead to infection.

After struggling to remove those testicles, I finally finished the surgery. I stood, exhausted and shaking. The owner was sweet and smiled as he patted me on the shoulder, and said,  “You did it!” I was certainly glad it was over and I am sure he was too.

The colt’s surgery was on Thursday. When I arrived back at work the following Monday, during our morning reports to the boss, my fellow vet said he ran into a horse owner on Saturday who said he just came from a horse funeral – a recently castrated Belgian yearly. I sat speechless and sure I had misunderstood. The color drained from my face and I think my heart almost stopped. My fellow vet was unable to keep a straight face and then said, ‘He said to tell her (me) he was just kidding – and tell Teri she did a great job.’ I was relieved to know the horse was okay, but not as amused as the men. They thought they were very funny. I probably would have thought it was all pretty funny too if it happened to someone else. Funny how that is sometimes.

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