UPDATE ON ZARAHAS (as of 2 October 2010)
Mr. Yin, meet Mrs. Yang. In three months Raa has swooped from an extraordinary injury (bowed and split rear tendon) to extraordinary improvement.
Until two days ago he’d been confined the last six weeks in a 20’ X 20’ pipe corral on a therapy facility in Jamul. Three times a day he’d been led into a barn, cross-tied, and his left rear hock wrapped with a compression device that pulsed 40-degree (F) water around the injury site. The apparatus, called Game Ready, was introduced to equine sports after use on professional football players, reducing swelling around strained, sprained, and torn tissues.
Two weeks into this regime, Dru and I observed his treatment. No sooner was Raa cross-tied in the barn than he spotted half a dozen goats in an enclosure 200 yards away. Although he’d reconciled with steers (as predatory participant in a team-penning contest), he seemed convinced these smelly horned creatures were Satan’s minions. When the therapist compassionately closed the barn door, Raa anxiously muttered, “Now they’ll creep up and jump us when the door swings open!” The therapist assured us, “Raa’s usually quite the gentleman. Just stands quietly and seems to like the pain-relief the treatment brings.”
For six weeks every Saturday I drove the hour-plus round trip to visit Raa in Jamul. I rubbed him down, groomed him, talked to him, fed him an apple and his usual pocket treats. Not sure if his treatment was working, one thing became increasingly clear: After eight years of excitement from weekly trail rides and polo, Raa’s mood was depressed.
No longer whinnying and tossing his head when I climbed from of my car, he’d wait til I reached his pipe corral, then slowly shuffle towards me with drooped head. His sole solace seemed to be a pregnant Morgan mare in the corral next to his. “He neighs love-calls to her every time we lead him to or from the barn for treatments,” chirped the therapist.
Last Thursday was Zarahas Liberation Day. At the start I didn’t know that it would last nine hours and require navigation through a dozen thunderstorms. At 8 a.m. I set out to pick him up in the truck and horse-trailer Kip Hering generously lent me once again. Delayed by a road-blocking car wreck on the two-lane, winding road to Lyons Valley, I arrived at the Jamul facility around nine.
I greeted Zarahas, clipped on his halter, and led him to his mare friend’s corral. Ever the romantic, I thought they’d like to say good-bye, but forgot that neither knew today they’d likely part forever. Only after clambering into the trailer and seeing her disappear as we drove off did Raa neigh loud and longingly.
We reached San Marcos at eleven, after stopping for some gasoline. Two miles later we pulled into the elaborate equine treatment facility. Raa backed immediately out of the trailer, relieved he could stop shifting weight in response to stuttering patterns of rain-hampered traffic.
At noon three doctors and I bent to watch the computer screen as one of the country’s best ultrasound consultants plied his magic wand along Raa’s lubricated leg. I barely held down my elation when I saw much of the surrounding adhesions had released around the tendon and the split itself had partially closed! These positive results surprised the doctors too.
We talked about stem-cells as the next stage of Raa’s treatment. Currently there were three places from which to harvest stem-cells in this new field of equine medicine: From an embryonic/fetal source, from bone-marrow, or from fat cells in the injured horse. After a free-wheeling session of Q&A, I chose to use ones taken from Raa’s ample Arab butt.
As we waited for his surgery, I groomed Zarahas and chatted with a vet’s assistant. Raa was too tired or nervous to show off trick responses to my cues of Bow, Count, Shame, Are You Bad?, Are You a Nice? The only trick he’d do (for treats, of course) was Can You Give Me A Kiss?
After general and local anesthesia, Raa locked his wobbly legs while pressed against the operating wall by one vet’s assistant, his nose pinched by a twitch held by another aide. The sterile operating arena measured 15’ X 15’ with padded walls and trays crammed full of cellophane-sealed surgical tools. The surgeon climbed upon a stool and sliced a five-inch gash along the top of Raa’s left buttock. Scooping in the gap with his forefinger, he pulled out three thumb-sized globules of fat.
These would be processed by a lab in Poway to extract the stem-cells bound inside. The vet next deftly sutured the incision while an aide streamed glue around the borders of a bandage we hoped Raa would leave in place at least a couple of days.
By 3:30 Raa had recovered from his drugs enough to be half-coaxed, half-pushed back into Kip’s trailer; neither apple nor alfalfa hay were strong enough to lure him in. As Poway was on our way home, I GPS’d us to the stem-cell lab, turning large arcs in the parking lot to avoid backing up. Feeling like a transplant courier, I dropped off the insulated box.
Keeping Kip and Dru updated with my cell phone all day long, the instrument was handy one mile out of Poway. What to do with lab instructions just found lying on the seat beside me? By phone a lab assistant said they should have been delivered with the fat. Not wanting to turn back, I faxed them to the lab at a Fed Ex store.
Around five p.m. two tired but triumphant travelers drove the quarter-mile driveway to Raa’s home at Hering Ranch. Still groggy, Raa stumbled from the trailer. I led my alpha equine to his “herd” of my three Thoroughbreds in three adjoining corrals. As he touched their noses one by one, I glimpsed recognition and relief course through his weary frame.
“And here’s April, the Mare Mountain I told you of last week. Ten years old and polo-trained, I bought her to relieve you of your duties on the playing field. If you continue healing as you have, once more you’ll be the trail-riding horse that you were bred to be. But no matter what, Zarahas, you’ll always be my favorite horse.”