Following a call from the Environment Agency the Horse Rescue Fund on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, was asked to take in an abandoned coloured colt – one of an estimated 7,000 equines in the UK currently thought to be at risk of neglect or abandonment. He was eventually found in an isolated area between a railway and a river, this being his only access to water – not the yearling colt we expected, but a stallion about eight years old!
As it was just prior to Remembrance Sunday it was decided to call him Trooper. Although his body condition was good, what could be seen of his hooves were in bad condition, particularly his off fore, and his mane, tail and feathers were so matted with burrs that it was clear he had been neglected for some time and that they would have to be cut off, but otherwise he appeared to be healthy.
Shy and wary at first, he was placed in isolation for assessment where staff were shocked to discover, on removal of his feathers, the most amazing thing of all, he had an extra hoof! Sometimes referred to as an extra digit, it is situated on the inside of his foreleg, coming off at the fetlock joint, and although not unheard of it is very rare. Clinical examinations and X-rays by Wherry Vets, Bungay and Rossdales, Newmarket followed to evaluate his bone abnormalities. These showed that he has a duplicate lower limb originating just below the knee with a well-developed second cannon bone followed by the other bones which are not completely normal in size or development. Coincidentally in the early 1900s there was a famous Shire, Norfolk Spider, having been born with six digits, nicknamed the Six Footed Shire. This can also occur in humans with people having six fingers or toes! When an animal is born with this disorder it is known as a polydactyl or polydactylism, meaning “many digits’’ the cause being unclear as to whether it is either an isolated case or inherited.
The removal of Troopers feathers had revealed the extent of his problems. Where the extra digit had been allowed to grow and strike the ground repeatedly the pressure had created a large split in the skin which had become infected with maggots. His main hoof, although somewhat shortened should in time improve with regular trimming. The Farriers first job was to carefully reduce the extra hoof in length by some 4cm, avoiding the sensitive tissues within, thus reducing the risk of injury to his other leg.
An extra digit can be removed for cosmetic purposes or to prevent further injury to itself or the opposite leg, but as Trooper can manage sufficiently, it has been decided not to operate for the foreseeable future. At present it is felt that any operation would carry a significant risk, creating a large wound which could be slow to heal due to him having typically thickened skin often associated with cobs.
Currently he is adjusting to life on the yard with the other rescue equines and is a firm favourite with the staff due to his placid and sweet nature. Trooper will continue to receive the regular handling needed as part of his rehabilitation, with the aim being to find a suitable companion loan home for this individual and unique horse to safeguard his future.
Although, on arrival, Trooper appeared to be one of the more healthy abandonment cases he needed blood tests and veterinary checks to rule out any of the underlying health issues common in these equines. He will require castration, worming, dentistry and regular checks by the vet and farrier.
As with all abandoned horses such as these, it places an additional financial drain on the Charities limited resources. Anyone wishing to make a donation towards Troopers ongoing care and others at risk may do so via the PayPal facility on the website www.horserescuefund.org.uk or cheques made payable to Horse Rescue Fund at Woodstock Farm, Post Office Road, Toft Monks. NR34 0EH.