Titans of horse therapy: Zeke leads the charge

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Zeke was lame and suffering from a severely swollen, actively infected, and draining wound on his left front leg.
Zeke was lame and suffering from a severely swollen, actively infected, and draining wound on his near foreleg. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

Destined for slaughter and carrying a painful injury, life for Zeke the Belgian Draft horse has become a whole lot brighter, thanks to two interventions.

Ezekiel, known as “Zeke”, was among six Belgian Draft horses headed for slaughter who were rescued in February 2021 by Baby Girl Horse Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch in Fellsmere, Florida.

Rescue organizer Van DeMars described Zeke as still having spirit in his eyes despite his desperate condition. “When I found out about Zeke, I insisted on buying him even if it was only to give him some care and then have to put him down humanely,” DeMars reflected. “I just did not want him to have to make the long, hard trip past the border to die a scary death.”

Zeke was suffering from a severely swollen, actively infected, and draining wound on his left front leg. He was lame at the walk and in evident pain and discomfort. Once Zeke arrived at the rescue, veterinarian Dr Karie Vander Werf took radiographs that painted a grim picture.

A radiograph shows the wire wrapped and embedded into Zeke's pastern bone. At right is a posterior view of the pastern.
A radiograph shows the wire wrapped and embedded into Zeke’s pastern bone. At right is a posterior view of the pastern. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

They showed a metal wire had been wrapped around Zeke’s pastern bone, deeply embedded through the soft tissue and into the bone. Vander Werf then immediately referred Zeke to board-certified surgeon Dr Weston Davis for surgery at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.

Davis and colleague Dr Sidney Chanutin took additional radiographs to thoroughly assess the location and depth of the wire. “The radiographs confirmed a metal object was circumferentially wrapped around the mid-pastern bone, embedded into the soft tissue and remodeled the bone itself,” Chanutin said.

On February 24, Zeke was put under standing sedation, given a local nerve block, and the wire was carefully extracted.

Dr Weston Davis removed the wire from Zeke’s leg. It was likely to have been placed there intentionally.
Dr Weston Davis removed the wire from Zeke’s leg. It was likely to have been placed there intentionally. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

“Had the wire not been removed when it was, the infection would have continued to proliferate,” Chanutin said. “The infection and invasion of the wire into the soft tissue and pastern bone could have potentially cut Zeke’s life short.”

While neither the rescue nor the veterinarians could tell with certainty how this had happened to Zeke, it was apparent by the location and way the wire was twisted that it was likely placed there intentionally. It was clear the wire had been embedded into Zeke’s pastern for months, based on the level of bone remodeling that had taken place.

DeMars said when he saw the image of the removed wire he was “in shock that they had already gotten it out so fast. I was elated beyond belief”.

The picture Van DeMars received showing the cause of Zeke’s pain.
The picture Van DeMars received showing the cause of Zeke’s pain. © Palm Beach Equine Clinic

Remarkably, Zeke’s stay at the Palm Beach Equine Clinic hospital was less than 48 hours. He was then transferred to Vander Werf’s farm for aftercare, which included daily bandage changes, antibiotics, and wound care.

It only took a few weeks post-surgery for Zeke to finally experience pain-free days at Vander Werf’s facility. “He’s been a sweet boy through all of this, but only a day or two after the surgery, we really got to see his personality,” DeMars said.

“He’s just a mischievous boy who even busted into Dr Vander Werf’s feed room and is best friends with a little mini pony. We know he must have been in intense pain because he has become a completely different horse now.”

Zeke recovered at Dr Vander Werf's farm, where he felt much more comfortable and even broke into the feed room on occasion.
Zeke recovered at Dr Vander Werf’s farm, where he felt much more comfortable and even broke into the feed room on occasion. © Baby Girl Horse Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch

In early April, Zeke arrived at his new home of Baby Girl Horse Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch. The group of Belgian Draft horses rescued alongside Zeke have come to be known as the “Titans”. They are destined to be part of the Titan Project, an endeavor to provide equine-assisted therapy for veterans and first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other related issues.

“Zeke is quite famous now, especially among the veterans,” explained DeMars. “People who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are able to derive strength through Zeke’s story and many have been reaching out through social media asking when he’s coming home so they can come see him. So, his future job is just to be groomed and taken care of. He’s going into retirement to be spoiled.”

Zeke's injury is healing well.
Zeke’s injury is healing well. © Baby Girl Horse Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch

Through swift action by the rescue and expert veterinary and surgical care, Zeke now has a new purpose and will live out his days in a safe, healthy environment. In the wake of Zeke’s immense suffering, he is now miraculously on the path to paying it forward by providing veterans and first responders the relief and support they need.

» Visit Baby Girl Horse Rescue on Facebook for more information or to support Zeke with a donation.

Zeke at his new home.
Zeke at his new home. © Baby Girl Horse Rescue and Veteran Therapy Ranch

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