Wire Cuts – Ouch!

Handling nasty wire cuts is a matter of time and persistence.

The most economical fencing option for many horse owners is a wire fence. It’s especially true out West, where pastures might be measured in square miles, not acres.

Dr. Stacy Tarr has a private large animal practice in Cody, Wyoming, and he has seen a lot of wire cuts.

Even the wisest horse can get caught in a fence, and it’s not unusual for an old, buried strand of wire to suddenly crop up in your pasture. If you’re faced with a wire cut, here are Dr. Tarr’s words of wisdom.

Types of Cuts
“Barbed wire is typically a ‘sawing’-type wound where they go down the wire, back and forth, or they get their leg tangled and are fighting it,” Dr. Tarr explains. “The sawing action jerks tissue out, and the edges are jagged.”

The tissue loss and jagged edges can make suturing difficult or even impossible.

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“Smooth wire can cut, too,” Dr. Tarr adds. “It doesn’t usually pull out as much tissue as barbed wire, and the edge is cleaner.”

Dr. Tarr points out one advantage the wire fence has: “Barbed wire or smooth wire will break, eventually. High-tension wire or cable doesn’t break, and a horse will saw his leg in half trying to get out of it. It can be really horrible.”

First Aid
“Use common sense. Clean it and put a bandage on it,” Dr. Tarr says. “I don’t care if you just hose it and get the dirt off. Then wrap it to keep it clean.”

Dr. Tarr points out a number of items that will work in a pinch to temporarily cover a wound until the veterinarian sees it: washcloths, diapers or even sanitary napkins. Then wrap it with an elasticized bandage like Vetrap or cotton wraps.

“Don’t put anything on the wound right away, like Furacin or Neosporin or Cut Heal,” he adds. “If I’m going to suture a cut, I don’t want anything on it. If it’s gooped up, then I’ll have to debride a lot more before I can do that.”

It’s important to get the horse to a veterinarian as soon as possible; the faster the veterinarian can treat and/or suture the wound, the better for long-term healing.

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“I can’t suture a wound that’s 24 hours old in most cases, unless it’s a head wound,” Dr. Tarr says. “There’s such a great vascular supply to the head that you can clean them up, debride them and suture them even when they’re a day or two old, and they heal.

“Leg wounds won’t do that,” he continues. “If it’s a day or two old and packed full of manure and dirt, it has to heal open. I can’t suture it; it’ll just fall apart.”

If possible, Dr. Tarr would rather deal with wounds in the clinic, rather than out on a farm.

“It’s a clean floor,” he explains. “There’s no dust and dirt flying up, and the wind isn’t blowing hair into the wound.”

“I’ve had very few wounds where I’m worried about blood loss,” Dr. Tarr says. “A horse can lose a tremendous amount of blood, and they do amazingly well. But people panic.”

The important thing is to get the horse to the veterinarian so the vessel can be ligated and the bleeding stopped.

Long-Term Care
“The biggest problem with any cut below the knee or below the hock is granulation tissue, or what we call ‘proud flesh’ ” Dr. Tarr says.

“In a body wound, like a chest wound, I want the wound to granulate,” he continues. “I use products to actually promote it.

“Granulation tissue covers the wound and becomes a barrier for infection. Where there’s a lot of redundant skin, like in the upper body, the granulation tissue starts to contract, and it will pull the edges together. And they heal amazingly well."

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“Leg wounds don’t do that; they overproduce granulation tissue,” Dr. Tarr says. “As granulation tissue builds, it rises above the level of the epithelium (or skin). You have to understand that the epithelium won’t migrate up over a hill. It has to have a flat surface to migrate across.

“We do a lot of trimming and grafting in the distal extremity wounds because of that.”

“By far the most important thing I do for most wounds is to bandage them,” Dr. Tarr says. “I tell people to bandage for three weeks past when you think it needs a bandage.

“That usually keeps the granulation tissue in check, lets the epithelium migrate and protects the wound.”

“The best way to prevent scarring is to suture the wound,” Dr. Tarr adds. “The next way is to keep it bandaged.”

“If you can’t suture a wound, and you can’t bandage it, it’s wound care. Keep it clean, don’t let bugs get in it, and don’t let them chew on it. Clean it and stay after it.”