I have a pretty keen eye when it comes to spotting when something’s wrong with my horses. Some might call me paranoid; I believe it has more to do with over-education from my job with TheHorse.com. So this morning I went on high alert when I saw Jack sulking in his loafing shed at breakfast time. He then starting moving toward the gate and I thought … well, I’m not going to actually type the word I thought as he walked toward me on three legs.

I thought this bad word (OK, maybe I muttered it aloud, but only my dog heard me) and started going through my mental horse-health inventory, scanning for the cause of his obvious discomfort.

Here, I could brag about my skill in identifying the source of lamenesses. I could tell you about all the abscesses and soft tissue injuries I’ve managed and rehabbed, or about the navicular and arthritic horses I’ve kept comfortable and in work. But, I think you’ll agree, identifying the cause of this lameness took no special skill or equestrian experience:


Jack put his foot through his favorite plaything, a small feed pan I gave him as a toy. He sustained no injury but was pretty sad about his situation.
Photo by Michelle Anderson

No, that’s not an impromptu bell boot. It’s Jack's favorite toy in the world wrapped around his pastern.

He is, in every sense of the word, a goofball of a horse who can’t help but mess with anything he can reach with his lips or legs. So, after he tossed his Jolly Ball into oblivion never to return and nearly skewered me with a sharp stick he pulled off a tree, I gave him a soft-rubber feed pan to keep him entertained. I thought there was no way a horse could get in trouble with an 8-inch feed pan as plaything.

And play he did. Jack spent hours tossing his beloved pan in the air, shaking it with all his might, and using it to bait his fence mate into games of chase. He would also spin it in circles on the ground making patterns to rival even the most devout Buddhist Monk’s Zen garden. Jack was so entertaining with his feed pan my neighbors would spend their afternoons watching him play from their living room window.

That’s all over now.

If a horse has pride, Jack’s was hurt by the unfortunate situation of wearing a feed pan like a bracelet, but fortunately he sustained no real injury. I’d given him the feed pan because I thought it was a benign object and an inexpensive form of entertainment. While he didn’t actually get hurt punching his leg through it, in retrospect I’m thinking he could have easily injured his heel or the soft-tissues structures of this lower leg. Knowing my horse, once he got stuck I’m sure he fought the pan as if it were a coyote latched to his leg, and that alone could have caused damage.

Silly horse, and silly owner.

So, today I am thankful to have a healthy horse that’s still in one piece. I’m also on the lookout for a safe, cheap toy to occupy Jack’s time. If you have any ideas for us, I’ll give it a try, see if it meets Jack’s approval, and post a picture. Any suggestions?