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Living Her Dream



On the eve of her first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo appearance, Tracy Nowlin feels relief. The accomplishment, although major, was tough to earn and a long time coming. She won numerous large rodeos earning over $90,000 in fewer than 80 events, finishing twelfth in the World Standings. More impressive is that she did it all on one very special horse.

A Rodeo Upbringing

Nowlin grew up as part of one of Oklahoma’s most familiar rodeo families. Her father, Terry Postrach Sr., was a well-known calf roper, and her brother, Terry Postrach Jr., was a three-time International Professional Rodeo Association World Champion calf roper. Her mother, although not a competitor herself, might as well have a gold buckle for all the cowboys and cowgirls she helped haul to world championships. Tracy’s son Ty, an 18-year-old high school senior, is an accomplished calf roper.

Tracy herself has made the International Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City 14 times, closing in on the record of 16 held by fellow Oklahoma barrel racer Betty Roper.

It’s not surprising Nowlin grew up to be a cowgirl, although her unwavering love of rodeo might be. “Growing up we roped until midnight and never knew anything else. I never was a normal kid. I got up in the morning and saddled my horse. They never had to tell me to ride, but they’d have to tell me that was enough and that it was time to do school work or go to bed,” she recalled.

With two ropers in the family, Nowlin spent many hours working chutes and traveling to ropings. “We roped until midnight and never knew anything else. There are eight years between my brother and me, and he was my best friend until he went off to college. We did everything together,” she explained.

Although roping was a major part of her life, the young cowgirl managed to qualify for her first IFR at only 13 years old with a horse named Goose. She qualified for the finals three more times on Goose, who made his final trip to OKC at over 20 years old.

She went to the IFR three times on a gelding named Rambo, who did double-duty as her brother Terry’s tie-down horse. Her other mount was a mare named Dusty Rose, who went to the IFR six times.

Nowlin’s life could have taken a vastly different course. After high school, Tracy received a scholarship for art school. While tempting, the desire to rodeo was stronger. “I had a really nice barrel horse when I graduated, and I could have gone to Santa Fe for art school. I did Indian art, and I really wanted to do sculpture, but I didn’t. I regret not going some, but my first love was rodeoing. It always has been. I never wanted to do anything but be on a horse. My first real word was horse,” Nowlin explained.

They mother of a friend of hers taught her how to peyote, a bead-weaving technique. “I’ve beaded all my life. That’s how I survived; by making stuff when I didn’t have a barrel horse,” she said. Nowlin, a professional beader, still keeps busy in down time by beading for tack and other accessories. Although a retailer does sell her creations, many people buy directly from her.

A Special Horse

It was during one of those barrel horse-less times four years ago that a non-descript bay mare came into her life. At the time, Nowlin was looking for a new tie-down horse for her son Ty and found an 8-year-old mare on a Facebook Buy or Sale group. She was owned by a man named Shawn Howell from Welch, Okla., who was a fiddle player in the Texas Playboys.

The ad noted that the mare, listed for sale at $1,850, had been roped off of and had seen the barrels, so she looked like a possible match. “I was scared he was going to sell her before we were able to pick her up. He didn’t have any calves to rope, so he let us take her home to try,” Nowlin recalled. “She’d been turned out for three or four years in the pasture and hadn’t been rode much.”

When they tried her on cattle, it was apparent that the little mare wouldn’t work. Knowing she had seen the barrels, Nowlin spent some time riding her that day, but didn’t feel like she’d fit. “I was ready to send her back, but that night I couldn’t sleep. I had that gnawing feeling like you get when you know you’re about to make a big mistake,” she said. “I told God that, if he’d just let me go to sleep, I’d give her another try in the morning.”

When she rode the mare the next day, she was impressed that she’d retained what she’d been taught the night before. “I was trying every way to talk myself out of buying her because I really liked her, and I needed a barrel horse, but the momma in me said Ty needed a calf horse more than I needed her. God had a different plan though,” Nowlin said.

The mare, registered as DJG Maddison, reminded Nowlin of another horse she’d owned. “My mom asked me why I wanted her so bad, and I told her that she’s the only horse I’ve been on that is as quick-footed as the roan horse I had.”

Nowlin bought “Dolly Jo” at the end of October in 2014. After approximately a month of riding, she decided to take the mare to a race. “It was right before Christmas. I was doing a lot of bead-working at the time making a living and had gotten all my Christmas orders out, and decided I’d go to the barrel race and exhibition her,” Nowlin said. Exhibitions are used to get barrel horses experience away from home. The runs, while timed, are not eligible to win money.

Nowlin had planned to exhibition the mare three times that night, but after the mare worked so well the first time, she decided that was enough. The next week, she decided to enter the actual class. “We won the 2D the next week, and she didn’t go half as fast as we’d been going. It was only four or five weeks later that she started winning the 1D,” Nowlin said.

That meteoric rise to the top continued. At their first rodeo, the pair was just one or two spots out of placing. One of the next rodeos was Duncan, Okla., and after seeing the contestant roster, Nowlin began to have some doubts. “I came back to the truck and mom asked what was wrong. I told her I was worried we might have stepped off a little deep this time, because everyone who was good was entered. She told me not to lose my faith now,” Nowlin said. She and Dolly Jo wound up placing in the rodeo, just hundredths of a second off the reigning World Champion.

“After that, I knew she was something special, but I thought she’d just be a little pen horse because of her size. I thought I could go run her at jackpots until I got another horse ready, but it’s not how it worked out,” Nowlin said.

Read more about Tracy and Dolly Jo in the December issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.

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Equine Flexural Limb Deformities



By Dr. Garrett Metcalf

Flexural limb issues can occur in different age groups of horses, starting with newborns up to two- to three-year-olds. These issues occur somewhat predictably in age groups and can be addressed rather quickly when needed. There are various treatments and methods that can be used to address flexural issues. This article will discuss the most common flexural abnormalities and treatment methods.

Foal Flexural Issues

Foal flexural issues are often considered congenital flexural limb abnormalities because they are born with them. We don’t fully understand why this occurs but there is some evidence in the human literature that lack of fetal activity in the womb causes club feet in babies. In foals, it is thought that uterine positioning is to blame for part of the contracted tendons. Other causes can be exposure of the mare to toxic plants or substances that may be toxic to the fetus.

The most common area that a foal will have contracture of limb is at the carpus or knee. These foals will not be able to fully extend the knee and often will affect both at the same time. These foals can have difficulty standing to nurse or will get fatigued quickly and will not be able to stand for longer periods of time. There can also be damage to the extensor tendons or even rupture of extensor tendons caused by the high strain placed on them when the foal tries to stay standing. The rupturing of these tendons is not overly concerning but the lack of extensor function can make the flexural limb deformity worsen.

Other common locations of flexural limb deformities can be at the fetlock or coffin joint level. These deformities are not usually as detrimental to allowing the foal to stand and nurse properly compared to carpal flexural deformities. These deformities can be addressed similar to carpal deformities with some exceptions.

Treatment of Flexural Deformities

Splints or casts can be used to stretch and support the effected limbs of foals. Splints are often preferred by most veterinarians because they can be repositioned or reset as needed. Splints are easier to place on the limbs of foals but they do need resetting every 24 to 48 hours. Casting of the limbs is more rigid but is not adjustable once placed. Casting is often needed in more severe cases and requires changing frequently. Whenever placing these devices, care must be taken to prevent splint or cast sores because foal skin is rather delicate.

Surgical intervention is needed in some cases of carpal flexural deformities. A study out of Australia found that cutting of two muscle/tendon groups on the back of the carpus greatly improved the ability to extend the carpus with splinting methods. Cutting of these tendons do not have consequence to future athletic function. The two muscles are called flexor carpi ulnaris and ulnaris lateralis.

An antibiotic called Oxytetracycline is helpful to treat flexural limb deformities because of its side effect of causing tendon laxity. The laxity is created by chelating calcium within the tendons and allows the relaxation of tendons. This method does have some risk because of the high dose required and renal injury that it can cause when not administered with IV fluids.

Toe extension shoes are used when it comes to dealing with lower limb flexural limb deformities. These shoes are often applied with adhesives and after the splinting or casting is no longer needed. The toe extension shoe allow foal to continue to stretch those tendons every time they take a step and prevent from becoming contracted again.

Older horses (six months or older) with contracted tendons often get acquired limb deformities and the horses need surgical intervention to correct these deformities. These surgeries cut or release check ligaments that allows the musculotendinous unit of the deep digital or superficial digital flexor tendon to elongate. The deep digital flexor tendon is responsible for causing club feet or a flexural limb deformity at the coffin joint. The superficial digital flexor tendon is responsible flexor tendon that causes a flexural limb deformity at the fetlock joint. The check ligaments attach the tendon to bone and do not allow the tendon to elongate past a certain point. By eliminating these ligaments the flexural limb deformity can be corrected by allowing the muscle to stretch since the tendon is much more rigid.

Flexural limb deformities can be caused by excessive laxity or weakness of the tendons. These deformities are often seen in premature foals or foals that are born at a much smaller birth weight. The excessive laxity will cause the toes of there feet to flip up in the air and the fetlocks to be touching the ground. The areas where the skin is contacting the ground will cause sores and abrasions. If these areas are note protected the wounds can get into deep structures causing serious infection and injury the flexor tendons.

Treatment for tendon laxity is to add heel extension shoes to keep the toes flat to the ground. The extension behind the foot forces the toe down under the foals own weight. As the foal becomes stronger from normal activity the muscle attached to the tendons can support the foal and the limb laxity will correct itself. Abrasions still can occur even with heel extension shoes are in place so bandages need to be applied to protect these areas.

Flexural limb issues are a common issue that horses and owners will face. It is best to have your horse evaluated by a veterinarian whenever these problems are suspected. Foal flexural limb deformities can be life threatening because of the limitation of standing on time to nurse colostrum. Without colostrum within the first hours of life the foal is a much higher risk of sepsis and death.

Read more in the August 2023 issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.

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Equine Foot Abcesses



What a pain!

By Dr. Garrett Metcalf, DVM

A foot abscess is a common occurrence in horses throughout the year. Often wet weather can play a factor in the increase number of foot abscesses that horses will experience. A foot abscess can cause a great deal of pain, lameness, swelling and misery to the horse that often needs to be addressed quickly and provide pain management to keep them comfortable. There are many methods of addressing a foot abscess that people use. This article will discuss techniques to evaluate and treat the abscess as quickly as possible.

Foot abscess is a focal or sometimes diffuse infection that is trapped between the sensitive and non-sensitive lamina of the foot capsule. A foot abscess can form randomly from the normal stresses and environmental changes that cause the foot to allow bacteria to enter down to the sensitive tissues. Other causes are penetrating injuries to the bottom of the foot that allows bacteria to enter the through the outer lamina, such as nails, sharp rocks or even thorns. Poor foot care and misplaced shoeing nails can also lead to foot abscesses. A common area for abscesses to form is at the white line (area where the sole and hoof wall meet) and at the bars of the heels.

Foot abscess can cause a horse to have variable amounts of lameness, but generally they will be lame at a walk or even be non-weight bearing from the severity of the pain. Swelling starting at the foot and working its way up the limb can be noted when the abscess is trying to migrate out at the coronary band. These types of abscess are often referred to as “gravel” abscesses. “Gravel” is no more than just a regular foot abscess that has found the path of least resistance to the coronary band, where it ruptures out and causes a draining tract. An abscess in the hind foot can make the horse move rather abnormal to the point that it makes owners and veterinaries perceive the horse as acting neurologic.

Examination of the horse for lameness is the first step in diagnosing a foot abscess. The horse will often be lame at walk but some need to be watched at a trot to determine the lame limb. Lameness localization with regional nerve blocks can help make sure the pain is coming from the foot and not other parts of the limb. The foot will often have an increase digital pulse with occasional notable heat in the foot. The pulse is from inflammation causing a bounding of the digital arteries most notably behind the ankle region. The foot examination often needs to be performed with the shoe removed from the foot if the horse is shod. Hoof testers help pinpoint the area of most concern on the foot and often horses will be rather painful in response to the pressure created by the hoof testers. Knifing the foot out to clean up and remove any old sole or frog material is imperative to be able to locate the abscess with as much accuracy as possible. Often there will be a defect in the hoof or a dark focal tract that will lead to the abscess.

Treatment of the foot abscess can be done multiple ways and many people have lots of opinions on this topic. My treatment of choice is to open that abscess as soon as possible to give the horse nearly immediate relief and to quickly resolve the abscess infection. There are many methods to doing this but a good sharp hoof knife or loop knife one of the easiest ways to get the abscess drainage through the bottom of the foot. Whenever drainage of the abscess is achieved at the bottom this can eliminate the formation of a “gravel” and keep it from migrating out at the coronary band. Also drainage at the bottom allows a more effective treatment of the abscess with topically applied poultice agents. After the abscess has been opened to drain, bandaging the foot with a poultice agent is effective at eliminate the abscess and preventing foreign material from packing to the abscess area.

A great method of bandaging the foot is with the use of a large baby diaper. The diaper is very absorbent and foots the foot rather well. The diaper can be covered with layers of Vetrap, Duck Tape and Elaskiton to keep it protected or the foot can be placed in a medicine boot to keep the diaper protected.

Poultice choices are rather personal experience or availability, but also depend on the nature of the abscess. Epsom salt based foot poultice agent called Magna Paste or similar products are rather good at drawing out the remaining part of the abscess once it is opened. A homemade poultice of sugar combined with Betadine solution can make a really good poultice. There are various other topical agents that can be used effectively. The main thing when choosing a topical product is to make sure it is safe and that it has some antimicrobial properties.

Some foot abscess cases can be difficult to pinpoint and to drain. In these situations often time, pain management and soaking of the foot in Epsom salt water baths can help to allow the abscess rupture or make it easier to identify. In rather difficult abscess or when abscesses keep reoccurring in the same location, X-ray imaging of the foot is helpful to examine the structures of the foot. The abscess itself cannot be seen often with X-ray because the abscess fluid is the same density as the hoof wall. The only way to identify an abscess on X-ray is if there is gas present in the abscess making it visible on the film. Whenever there is a penetrating injury to the foot, X-ray is a must to make sure that the injury is not going into the deeper structures of the foot like the coffin joint or navicular bursa. These injuries are much more serious and need to be examined as quickly as possible. It is also recommended whenever possible to leave the penetrating object in the foot until the X-ray is taken. This will help the veterinarian understand what structures may have been injured.

Prevention of foot abscess is not always possible but a great start to this is really good hoof care. Routine trimming on a timely schedule is key part of good hoof care. The longer the feet go without a trim can affect the lamina and cause stretching of the white line, opening it up to allow bacteria to enter the foot. The use of special shoeing nails and other methods of good shoeing practices also limit the risk of abscessation.

Read more in the June issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.

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Guttural Pouch Diseases of Horses



The guttural pouches of horses may not be very well known to most horse owners. These bilaterally paired pouches are located below the base of the skull, below the ears and extend into the throat latch region. The pouches purpose is not fully understood, but some theories is that they reduce the weight of the skull or have a blood cooling function to reduce the temperature of the arterial blood going to the brain. The guttural pouches can be plagued with a multitude of issues that are difficult to treat or can be life threatening to the horse. Other species contain guttural pouches such as some bats, American Forest mouse and Hyraxe.

The anatomy of the guttural pouches is complex and houses various important anatomic structures. The guttural pouches are an auditory tube diverticulum that is analogous to human Eustachian tubes but much larger. The volume of the guttural pouches can be up to 400-600 milliliters of air. The guttural pouches contain large arteries, nerves, the bones of the inner ear, muscle tissue and part of the hyoid apparatus that connects the skull to the larynx. The opening of the guttural pouches is deep in the nasopharynx through the slights call the pharyngeal ostium, which can only be accessed with an endoscope passed up the nose. The difficulty of accessing this area makes treatment of these diseases challenging at best. The guttural pouch is the only location in the horse that allows direct visualization of the arteries and nerves. The main arteries that are present in the guttural pouch are the maxillary artery and the internal and external carotid arteries that provide all the blood to the skull. The nerves in the guttural pouch are cranial nerves that exit directly from the brain or brain stem that innervate critical structures that control breathing, swallowing, chewing and ocular functions of the skull.

Read more in the April issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.

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