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Taking the long road

  • A brown horse and woman with blonde hair touch foreheads.

    Taking the long road

    Mare overcomes serious infection and other ailments after professional care at Piper Equine Hospital

    Lotus and Abbi Christensen share a moment. Photo by Shelley Paulson Photography. 

The only time Abbi Christensen has seen her horse Lotus excited to get into a trailer was the day she and her parents took the then 4-year-old mare home. In the time since, Christensen and Lotus have grown up together and earned each other’s trust—though sometimes they have a difference of opinion.

“She has become a very special member of the family,” Christensen says. “She knows her people, she knows individuals very well. She always behaves when asked to do it, but she will let you know when she's not exactly excited about it.”

A recent medical scare brought Christensen and Lotus closer than ever. Christensen is a third-year veterinary student at Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, so when she received a concerned phone call from her mom in February 2021 regarding Lotus, her mind immediately went into veterinarian mode. 

A brown horse walks through a green forrest.
Lotus out on a walk through the woods. 
Photo by Abby Christensen.

The presentation of a swollen leg led Christensen to a potential diagnosis of cellulitis. Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the soft connective tissues under the skin. The affected area swells and becomes painful and warm to the touch. The infection sometimes sets in following an injury or a condition that develops due to prolonged exposure to a wet environment, such as mud rash. 

An emergency trip to the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine’s West Metro Equine Practice and later Piper Equine Hospital confirmed the diagnose. Dr. Nicolas Ernst and Dr. Sara Wefel were among the clinicians on Lotus’ care team. 

The treatment of cellulitis typically involves long-term treatment with antibiotics, but Lotus’ case proved to be less than typical for her care team. After she arrived at Piper Equine, clinicians noticed Lotus was unable to rise after laying down. After running diagnostics, they theorized the mare also may have torn muscle around or above her pelvic area based on swelling observed on her leg, but ultrasounds weren’t able to confirm, Ernst says. 

To keep Lotus on her feet, her care team anesthetize her and for about six weeks placed her in a body sling, a device attached to the ceiling that wraps around a horse to support its body weight and keep it upright during recovery from a serious injury. 

A horse is suspended in a body sling while a man and a woman attend to her.
Lotus stands with support from a body sling while Piper Equine Hospital
​​​​staff check on her. Photo courtesy of Piper Equine Hospital.

In total, Lotus stayed at Piper Equine for four months for treatment, rehabilitation, and recovery. To keep her spirits up, Christensen had a special item created for Lotus during her long stint at the hospital. 

“We ordered a life-size printout of her best friend at home, a horse named Russia, and put it in the stall across the way, and it helped a lot,” she says. “As long as she could see the cutout, she was fine. She even nickered at it and everything.” 

As an older mare, Lotus did face more hurdles to recovery than a typical patient. The experience didn’t put a damper on her sassy nature, which proved to be challenging to manage at times for the care team. 

“She did not like bandages,” Ernst says. “She would rub them off, which created more issues in terms of her recovery. It really was a roller coaster for all of us during those months.”
Despite a sometimes rocky recovery, the end of Lotus’ hospital stay came and she returned home to the Christensen family’s Red Door Ranch near Watertown, Minn. She arrived home to modified accommodations and cautious owners. Early on in her recovery at home, Abbi and her mom, Kizzy, would camp out in the barn with Lotus. Later, they moved on to taking shifts monitoring the mare through cameras placed in the barn. 

Since her discharge in June, Lotus has made great progress. Around Thanksgiving, Christensen was able to take a break from school at home and trotted Lotus under-saddle, a feat they hadn’t accomplished in almost a year. Christensen couldn’t be more grateful for the care her horse received to make this recovery possible. 

“The medical staff took so much time to make sure we understood what was going on and that we were kept in the loop,” she says. “We had Friday meetings and exchanged text messages every day. They were amazing and kept us sane throughout this ordeal.”

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