As I’ve said before, I grew to love surgery throughout my externship. Surgery was something that I never thought I’d have such a strong interest in throughout vet school. It always looked so stressful and meticulous with little room for error. My clinic was really generous in giving me many surgeries to tackle, supervised and eventually on my own. These moments really gave me the exposure and experience that made me quite fond of holding the scalpel and needle. When we think of surgery, we often picture a bright and clean surgery room which is equipped with everything you might need in the moment of any surgery. However, when it comes to certain surgeries on horses, the story is a little bit different.
Gelding a horse can be like an Olympic event compared to some other medical procedures. It encompasses the literal definition of field surgery, as you are often performing right in the pasture. If you’re lucky, the weather is just right: a bright sun as your surgical light and a slight breeze to keep flies away. You walk out into the field to find a flat and dry spot, dub it your surgical table and bring out all the supplies you need, ready to go. Next the client brings out the patient: a young stallion who may or may not have his handling manners figured out. In this case, my patient was a very well-bred young horse, so the pressure was on to do a good job. After successfully injecting the moving target of his vein, the colt slowly relaxes into his sedation. Once he’s feeling the full effects of the sedation, the induction agent is administered, and we wait for him to lay down on his own as he slips under anesthetic.
As he lays down on the ground, the veterinary team springs into action since we only have 15 minutes before the anesthetic wears off. He is rolled onto his back to expose the inguinal (groin) surgical site, a towel is placed over his head to protect his eyes from the sun, the surgical tools are laid on his belly as a temporary table, and I start scrubbing his scrotum. Five minutes pass and we rinse off the scrubbed skin as I quickly put on my gloves, leaving me 10 minutes to start and finish the castration before this young horse starts to wake up. Once both testicles are removed, it’s time to move to the head and extract any wolf teeth (residual sharp premolars used for fighting in the wild) while under anesthetic. With just a few minutes to spare, the clamps are removed while watching for excess bleeding, the incisions are left open to drain, and the horse is rolled into a lateral position. Anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and vaccines are administered, and in this case, he receives the breeder’s brand while still under anesthetic. The towel is kept over his face to reduce stimulation as anesthetic wears off so that he stays calm and hopefully sleeps a bit more, and we clear away all the supplies while keeping a watchful eye on him. He eventually wakes up, rolls into sternal on his own and snoozes a few minutes longer before springing up. After standing and balancing himself for a few moments, the now gelding starts to graze as if nothing ever happened and with that, the surgery and recovery is complete.
Although an organized and constant surgical room is lovely to work in, the adrenalin rush of equine field surgery has its own flair to it. This added challenge of making each farm environment work as your “veterinary clinic” makes mobile equine practice unique and exciting every day. Often enough, the clients or farm or ranch hands like to assist which also creates dynamic team atmospheres everywhere you practice. Mobile practice is addicting to me just for this reason, and the ability to perform certain surgeries in the field is the cherry on top!
(Photo: Lisa administers an anti-inflammatory while the horse is under sedation.)