Copper, a young horse with a badly injured leg.

Natasha lives in an organic sanctuary on Taveuni, a tiny Pacific island in Fiji. It’s about as remote as it’s possible to be. If a human falls seriously ill, they need to be flown out for medical care on one of Fiji’s larger islands, and for animals, veterinary care is minimal. There is a good internet connection, and this provides Natasha with a vital link to the outside world.

There’s only one main road on Taveuni, and this is where Natasha first spotted the young horse. She was very thin, and was tied to a tree with no access to water, in the full heat of the sun. There was a large, bleeding wound, the size of a dinner plate, on the lower part of her left hind leg. The horse couldn’t put weight on the leg, and flies hovered around the festering sore area.

Natasha had no experience of horses, but she knew that the horse needed help. The first step was simple and obvious: fresh drinking water. The horse downed two buckets of water at once. It was the start of a close friendship based on trust.

Next, Natasha contacted local government officials to find out who owned the horse; within a couple of days, she’d managed to track the person down. It turned out that the wound had started as a small rope injury and had steadily deteriorated. The owner had given up on the animal, and was happy to pass ownership of the horse and responsibility for the problem, on to Natasha.

She found a local government Livestock Officer who provided her with some basic medications, including antibiotics and some copper sulphate powder to dress the wound. She applied daily dressings using babies’ nappies tied on with duct tape, but after a couple of weeks, the wound wasn’t looking much better. Was it right to carry on? Or would euthanasia be the kindest option?

At this stage, Natasha reached out to the international community through the internet. She found a horse website  (www.thehorse.com), and she contacted myself via my “Pete the Vet” Facebook page. She sent us information and photographs, and we were able to offer her advice and encouragement.

She moved the horse – now named Copper – to a safe, dry area, with plenty of fresh water and fewer flying insects. Twice daily visits and dressing changes became part of her daily routine. Natasha discovered that Copper loved morsels of fresh cassava root as a treat, and she’d stand still, munching on this, while her wound was dressed.

Natasha started applying local honey to the wound, and began to walk the horse into the sea, for long soaks in salty water. The wound started to look better, the lameness began to improve, and Copper even began to go for occasional canters on the beach, rolling in the sand.

Natasha realised that Copper needed companionship; she bought another young horse, and moved both animals back to her home base, 20km inland. Horses in Fiji live outside; the weather is warm, and local people don’t see the need for stabling. However horses need protection from wind and rain, just like anywhere in the world, and much to the locals’ amusement, Natasha has built basic shelters for her two new charges.

It took a full seven months of daily treatment for Copper’s wound to finally close, and now, at last, a bandage is no longer needed. Copper still favours the leg, and she may never be able to be ridden, but Natasha says that she’s the most beautiful lawn mower that she’s ever seen.

Tips

  • Veterinary assistance is unavailable in many remote parts of the world
  • The internet offers a way for information and advice to be shared over many miles
  • With patience and dedication, even serious injuries can often be healed

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