Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wither Abscess or Fistulous Withers?

Uh-oh, we’re in trouble. So that theoretical “kick”- definite blunt trauma of some variety - that Copper received on his withers about a week and a half ago has burst into a large open sore. It may be some sort of bacterial infection, a parasite, or possibly Fistulous Withers – a chronic inflammatory disease of the supraspinous bursa1 caused by either infection, parasites, or physical factors. Swelling of the withers, drainage of pus from an open lesion resulting from inflammation, and infection that spreads from the infected bursa to surrounding tissues are common characteristics of the disease. Actinomyces bovis and Brucella abortus are the most common organisms responsible for this disease.*

The stages of this injury went like so:

Sunday, 13th of April: Discovered Copper has localized swelling around the side and top of his withers. Extremely painful to the touch, little to no heat in it, and does not appear to effect soundness. Palpitation of shoulder, and flexion tests reveal no soreness anywhere else besides the swelling. 



Wednesday, 16th of April: Swelling appears to have gone down, but I think that Copper’s rug is not helping with the healing so I remove it.

Saturday, 19th of April: There are two strange, yelllow-ish crusty patches on his wither. One on the top and one on the left side – off the side to the base of his wither and above his shoulder. The top one is about the width of my pointer finger and around an inch – inch and a half long. The other patch on the right side is smaller, about half the size.




I think that these are odd – they look like some sort of infection. The hair is not disturbed, or scraped off, like bite marks usually look. It looks more to me like the event has occurred underneath the skin and some sort of infection has broken through the skin and crusted up.

I decide that if it is an infection – perhaps it is an abscess due to the blunt trauma, something needs to draw it out. So I apply some poultice – good old Tuff Rock.

Thursday, 24th of April: I come out to find this -





I immediately call the vet, something strange is going on.

His withers are now swollen on both sides, but there still isn’t much heat in the area - although Copper is still extremely sensitive to any pressure. The vet gives him a mild sedative so that we can take a good look. After washing and inspecting the wounds, the vet suspects either a parasite or bacterial infection – but there is no mention of Fistulous Withers.  Copper is given a jab of antibiotics for systemic treatment and the vet advises me to wash the wound down daily with Betadine and the apply Savlon - which is topical anti-bacterial cream used for humans, but it works great for horses as well.

Friday, 25th of April: So that brings us to today. All the regional swelling seems to have subsided, and Copper is a bit less sensitive around the wound areas. The Salvon has scabbed over, and I didn’t wash it all off, but plan to do that tomorrow to check out the flesh underneath.

One of the girls down at the paddocks today mentioned Fistulous Withers, and of course, I wondered if that was going to be a problem. I jumped on the internet and did some research. Originally, Fistulous Withers is a very nasty condition that used be quite difficult to eradicate back in time, and quite often would render the infected horse useless or dead!

After further study, I don’t think we have to worry about the infectious Fistulous Wither condition – yet.

Causes of the disease may be the result of infectious, parasitic, or physical factors. Actinomyces bovis and Brucella abortus are the common organisms responsible for fistulous withers, blunt trauma to the withers caused by tack or sharp contact with a fence or another horse or object can lead to infection and inflammation resulting in fistulous withers. The hair-like parasite Onchocerca cervicalis has also been implicated in the early stages of the disease.*

As we know that Copper was subjected to some kind of blunt trauma, and so far hasn’t shown any symptoms of an actual bursa infection which are:

  • Swollen withers – this has dissipated
  • Signs of fever and pain – some localized sensitivity, but no other pain symptoms
  • Open drainage fistulas – these are described as long, narrow tubes2, which his wounds are not.
  • Lameness – no signs
  • Systemic illness – no signs
  • Swelling at other areas – no signs

I am assuming that he has not yet been deeply infected in that region. However, in saying that, he obviously has had some kind of abscess in the region of his withers, and whether or not that has fully drained when it burst, or is still causing problems which may lead to a full-on case of Fistulous Withers still remains to be seen.

Unfortunately, my vet did not mention this AT ALL so I have no idea if Fistulous Withers is even on the radar, and it’s public holiday, so I can’t contact them to find out. :/ Plus, tomorrow is Saturday and I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a hold of her then either.

She did take a slid of the infection so I will ask her to test it for any nasty bugs when I contact them.

I will also wash the wound out thoroughly and keep a very close eye on it. The antibiotic jab the vet gave Copper was good for four days, so hopefully that will keep things under control internally and stem any infection until I can get a hold of her again.

So stressful, but I think we have the situation under control for now…

See ya,


1 The Bursa: A closed fluid-filled sac or sac-like cavity. The bursa provides a sliding surface between tissues of the body. Poll Evil and Fistulous Withers are two inflammatory conditions that are closely related and differ essentially only in their location in the respective supraspinous (withers) or supra-atlantal (poll) bursae.
The Merck Veterinary Manual

2 Fistulas are narrow mouthed ulcers or abscesses that can can run a long way under the skin like pipes.
Fistulous Withers

*Information from

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Broken Ponies

And so our dismal run of bad luck and broken ponies continues…

I came out on Sunday to trim Copper’s feet, only to find out that he had a swollen, misshapen whither and swelling around and above his right shoulder blade that was extremely tender and sensitive to the touch. 




He didn’t seem off when I did some flexion tests of his shoulder, and I couldn’t find that much heat in it, but I haven’t seen him that swollen in a while. So I freaked out. Juuuusssst a little…

Okay, so the last time I’d see a horse do a lot of damage to it’s whither/shoulder was a psycho TB mare called Clippy. 

Clippy had reared while she was tied up, and at the height of her rear, started to topple over backwards – still tied up! The baling twine she was tied to broke under pressure of course, but that only added to the force with which she hit the ground. She landed flat on her back, and got up just fine.

However, she had shattered her whither to the point where it had literally disappeared – only bone fragments were left floating around down between her shoulders. Clippy then had to be confined to a small yard (just larger than a stable) for six months, drugged for that same amount of time with painkillers and sedatives so that she didn’t move around too much. It was going to take her another year to heal properly and then, well, she’d never be rideable again. Not that she was particularly rideable to begin with(!!) but that’s a whole other story.

Yes, I prodded Copper’s wither and was relieved to feel that there was still solid bone and nothing felt like it was wobbling around or where it shouldn’t be. I wasn’t so much worried that he’d pulled a muscle as there wasn’t much heat, as that he’d somehow managed to fracture his wither.

I wanted to call a vet, but my Dad (who was giving me a lesson on hoof trimming) convinced me to at least wait a day or so to see if the swelling went down at all, given that he seemed to have a fairly full range of movement with a flexion test and was only about grade 2 lame.

Then, when I checked him out on Tuesday, I spoke with one of the ladies who adgists in the same paddocks (I’ll call her L.), and is very experienced. L. thought that given the shape, position, feel and look of the swelling, combined with the fact that Copper was not at all uncomfortable in the muscles underneath his shoulder blade (she showed me how to palpitate underneath the shoulder blade for tenderness) that it was a “wait and see injury”.

We came to the conclusion that it was some kind of bone bruising, and that quite likely the boys had been derping around in the paddock and someone struck Copper on top of his wither with a fore hoof.

:/   Huzzah.

So the grand sum of all these injuries over the last few months have happened in the paddock with Copper being an eejiot.   Double huzzah.

I left his jute rug off (I only rug in winter to save time and keep the pon-pon clean) because I felt like that was going to add pressure to the swelling and have decided to give him ANOTHER week off for the swelling to subside before starting him back in work with some ground work.

Which will make it probably over three months now until I get to ride properly again. Ugh. Horses…..

I’m so tempted to buy another one just so I can ride again! I’m going mental I tell you, mental!  But ten to one, that one would break too, so really…. There’s not much point.  :S

See ya,


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Slow rehab waiting

It’s one of those days when you realise it’s been well over a month since the last blog update!

*sigh* I’m still waiting on Copper to be fully sound again. ‘Coz if bad luck comes in threes – than we’ve had it!

End of January: Copper comes in lame with a puffy tendon on his off fore.

Beginning of February:  Copper has been kicked above his knee resulting in puffiness and swelling on – you guessed it – his off fore. Same leg, two injuries. D’oh!

End of March: Copper is almost sound in his leg, but wrenches his back/croup running around in slippery mud and is extremely sore.

So here we are, well into April and I can’t believe it – my horse has been off work and lame for over two months! (O_o)

I have to say this is fairly unexpected, usually it doesn’t take so long for him to be sound again, but oh well. I’ve been feeding him, grooming, poulticing and the like, and I think he’s enjoyed the extra attention? I don’t really know – he’s not so much of a horse that you fuss over.

He’d rather be in the paddock eating grass with his pony pals rather than getting fussed over. Which I guess is fair enough. ; )

Hopefully we will soon see an end to this rather extended break, I’m itching to get back into the saddle for some real riding!

See ya,


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