Hundreds of horses pass through the gates of Habitat for Horses in any given year, each of them holding a special story and each deserving the love and attention so willingly given by our foster homes. Working with law enforcement, our equine cruelty investigators are trained to show little emotion when investigating abuse and neglect cases, but there are special moments that grab the heart so strongly that the tears come easily. Such was the case when a court ordered us to seize almost 30 horses, most of them suffering from severe starvation, and one of our volunteers placed a halter on a mare that looked as if she had a broken leg.
Within hours she was at a foster home, receiving the first real food she had seen in ages. Horses in this condition must be rehabilitated at a very specific rate, but Twizzle’s condition spoke of more special needs than normal. A vet visit told us that the leg was not broken, but had been deformed since birth. Our first job was to help her regain her health.
With a little help, I’ll let Twizzle tell her own story
Hi, I’m Twizzle! And my foster mommy tells me I am the absolute sweetest, most kindest mare in the world!! I was lucky enough to come into foster care with Habitat for Horses, Inc. At that point I was pretty much skin and bones…but look at me now!! (My foster mommy also says I’m very pretty.)
I am a very happy girl….I am currently babysitting two yearlings that were seized with me (Abbott and Costello). I take my job as a caretaker very seriously (they are learning about herd hierarchy), but since they had such a poor start in life, I love to share my alfalfa with them! My people family gets a kick out of seeing us all three eat one flake together…then go to the next…and then the next! I personally just think it tastes better that way.
As you can see I have a knee problem that my friend Dr. Underwood, at Elgin Vet Clinic, wants to help me with. I was born with a crooked knee, and if it had been taken care of when I was little, I wouldn’t have a problem now. It hurts when I walk, and x-rays have shown that I have already gotten a lot of arthritis in the joint. The tendons and ligaments don’t support the joint at all, making it dangerous for me to even walk around. My knee sits at about a 45-degree angle and I have been told that if I step crooked, it could easily break. Dr. Underwood doesn’t want this to happen to me—and she, along with Dr. Lewis, have offered a solution! It’s called a “carpal arthrodesis”, where they basically fuse my knee so my leg is permanently straight. They said I can learn to not only walk…but trot and maybe run on it!!! I think it would be scary to have a straight leg at first, but it’s even MORE scary to think of what will happen if this is not done. I’m only 4 years old, and Habitat for Horses and my doctors think this is the best possible thing for me.
The surgery is usually very, very expensive….sometimes 7-8 thousand dollars. I’m told that would buy a whole bunch of alfalfa. But guess what? Dr. Underwood and the other vets have talked it over and said that they will be able to do this for THREE thousand!! I’m told that would still buy a lot of alfalfa, but my foster Mom and Dr. Underwood know that my safety and well being is worth that!!!
If my rescuers can’t raise the money for my surgery, the only thing that will be safe for me is to let the doctors help me across the Rainbow Bridge. Nobody wants to see me take one little wrong step or slip in the mud and have my knee break, and be in terrible pain, which is very likely to happen. Also, as I get older, the arthritis will be a lot more painful, and this kinda scares me.
Can you help me? Please?
Twizzle was x-rayed and diagnosed with a severely deformed leg, a condition that could have been easily repaired at birth; instead she was left in the pastures to hobble around and fend for herself for years. One wrong turn would have doomed her to a painful death. When the volunteer approached her during the seizure, she lowered her head, ready to take the halter; ready to accept whatever help this organization could give.
Linda A, a volunteer foster home, took Twizzle to the vet for an evaluation. We were surprised to learn that an operation could be performed and that, if everything worked as planned, Twizzle would become a “perfect horse.”
The vet clinic discounted the operation from $8,000 down to $3,000. We were still looking at a big “IF” however – would it hold, would it be a success? On an average, it costs around $1,000 to rehabilitate a severely starved horse and prepare it for adoption. Were we making the right decision? One look into Twizzle’s eyes told us that we could not do otherwise. She wanted to live, and she was counting on us to perform a miracle that would give her a chance at life.
The operation was performed at the Elgin Vet Clinic. This x-ray shows how extensive the bone had to be restructured and reinforced with plates and screws. There was a chance that she would founder on the other front leg, so it too had to be supported, and weeks of stall rest, with as little movement as possible, laid before her.
Weeks later, the cast was removed. The miracle worked! Twizzle stood straight and bold on her new leg, and her other legs did just fine.
A Note From Twizzle:
Dr. Lewis does these surgeries on very special, very expensive brood mares….and he said that my surgery is probably one of the best that’s ever been done. (I think it’s probably because I’m so smart.) When my foster mommy got to see the x-rays, she said there are enough screws and bolts and metal plates in there to build a battleship! Actually, they all say it looks better on these pictures than Barbaro’s!
I’m eating and drinking water well and I have trained all of the people working there that when I nicker at them it means to PLEASE OPEN THE CAN OF TREATS HANGING ON THE OUTSIDE OF MY STALL. In three days, I’ve tricked them into giving me about four pounds of cookies, but I think they are starting to catch on and they’re probably going to start limiting them!!!
I’m still on some heavy-duty antibiotic shots (I do NOT like those) for five days…then I get to start on oral medicine (thank heavens). I’ve been told I am the most perfect patient…I have a very positive attitude…I don’t get scared of things….and I’m an attention hog. The other thing I’ve heard the vets say, is that they really wish that the people who had me as a baby had taken care of my leg, as I would be an awesome show horse. You know what? I wouldn’t have wanted to be in shows….I just want someone to love me and to brush me….that’s all. It wouldn’t have been fair to the other horses if I did shows. I’m too pretty. Though, it would have been easier if all of my legs worked from the beginning. That’s ok though…..I have friends like all of you who believed in me, and in my heart, and in my strengths, and gave me have this chance at a life free of pain and fear. I won’t tell many people, but I was really afraid my knee would break. After they saw the bones during the surgery, all of the vets said they don’t know how in the world I was still alive. You know what? I know why….I was waiting for this chance…waiting for the people reading this to believe in me…
I’ll let Twizzle’s foster mom, Linda A, tell the rest of the story:
Within an hour of her very invasive surgery, Twizzle was up and walking. The next hour she walked to her ICU stall, figuring out how to walk with her newly straight, heavily casted leg. That same hour she learned to lay down and get up with a permanently straight leg……our smart girl!
She spent 2 weeks in ICU getting massive doses of IV antibiotics, in addition to some serious TLC from “her” vet, who calls her “Twizzle Sticks”. Volunteers visited daily, grooming her, feeding the proverbial cookies, and sometimes just sitting on an upturned bucket “listening” to this special mare. Finally, it was time to come home. When her trailer arrived back at the foster home, she immediately started nickering and snorting at her buddies—she was glad to be home! Twizzle had a welcoming committee waiting for her—and right away, her cast started having some beautiful signatures—most done in a childish print.
She had two more weeks of the cast—enduring twice daily temperature checks—multiple times a day of having her feet felt by nervous hands, watching and feeling for founder. She had her “good” front leg wrapped and re-wrapped daily with a strong support bandage. She had massive doses of oral antibiotics….and took it all with her wonderful sense of pride. She had two little girls come daily to brush her, rub her legs with soothing liniment, braid her mane and tail—and just generally love her. She had volunteers every morning and night going over her with a fine tooth comb to make sure she had no pressure sores from bandages, getting up and down in the stall, nor any temperature….
Time to get the cast off!!! Second trip to the vet for Twizzle; the vets said that not only was her leg beautiful…but it was one of the best surgical interventions of this type they had done! Not ONE pressure sore…not one weeping or oozing site at the surgical incision…..just a beautiful straight leg!!!
When we went to pick her up, she was walking with a new zest for life (without dragging the heavy plaster cast that went from toe to shoulder!) She enjoyed her trailer ride back to our barn from the vet clinic—and the first thing she did when she got in her stall was….BUCK!!! Head to the ground…back legs two feet in the air!!! And…she TROTTED in her stall! Yes, it’s only 24 feet long…but she trotted!!!
Now she is being hand walked for half hour or so every day!! This is the final stage of her rehab. Two weeks after this, we go back for the final (hopefully) x-rays to show that total fusion of the joint has taken place…then she can be out in the pasture with very safe friends. She has already shown us that she has the strength to not only sail through a serious surgery, but to come through with her same tremendously kind spirit….her gentle soul…and her wonderful heart.
She truly is a survivor…
Twizzle is now a perfect horse, happily grazing in the open pastures of her forever home as she was adopted and moved on to a new life, full of hope and love.
It was a close call for Twizzle, as it is for so many of the horses we bring in to Habitat for Horses. Thanks to your donations, horses like Twizzle have a second chance at life. Without you, she would have died a horrible death in that dirt filled pasture.
Help us continue our work by making a donation today. We need your support, both financially and spiritually. For all the horses like Twizzle that we help, there are hundreds more standing at the gate, wanting to come in, wanting that second chance. Only through your financial donation will that chance be possible.
Update December 2012
Twizzle is very happy in her forever home, however she wants everyone to know that there are other horses out there who have since been placed in same foster from Habitat for Horses, such as Claudia, who are still searching for their forever home.
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Habitat for Horses is always on the lookout for a few great people at our ranches. The work is unique, the animals are special and we want folks who both know and understand the special connection our animals need.