Rescued moments before being consumed by the flames of the devastating Pinery bushfire, Finn the horse is well on his way to a remarkable recovery, reports Caleb Radford.
Poor Finn didn’t stand much of a chance. The two-year-old warmblood colt was grazing in his pen north of Adelaide when the Pinery bushfire hit.
Trapped in the enclosure on the Pinkerton Plains property, Finn was unable to escape the waves of fire that threatened his life and suffered severe burns to the legs and lower body.
His owners managed to rescue him from the fire and rushed him to the University of Adelaide’s Veterinary Health Centre at nearby Roseworthy.
More than 70,000 animals, including chickens, sheep, cattle, horses and native wildlife were killed in the fires that swept across the Adelaide Plains and Barossa Valley regions of South Australia on November 25.
Two people were killed in the fire, which burnt through more than 85,000 hectares of land and destroyed 91 houses and more than 300 farm sheds and outbuildings.
Dean of the Roseworthy campus, Professor Wayne Hein, said staff members were overwhelmed with the number of animals that came through.
“There was a lot of pressure on the workforce, but during an emergency situation you just have to find a way to work with it,” Prof Hein said.
“Most of us worked extra shifts and put in extra hours overnight because a lot of the animals required round-the-clock care.”
The large influx of animals forced the Roseworthy staff to call for additional help as neighbouring vets made their way to the clinic to help treat the animals.
Finn had burn marks around his eyes and mouth, and burns to the front of his chest, but his back and much of the top half of his body remained untouched.
“He had burns to the coronary bands in his hooves which, if damaged, are irreparable,”– Associate professor Robin Van Den Boom, head of equine health at University of South Australia.
There were also severe burns to his legs near the hoof area that demanded immediate attention, and the staff moved quickly to treat them.
Head of the university’s department of equine health, Robin Van Den Boom, said veterinarians were not very optimistic after assessing the extent of Finn’s injuries.
“He had burns to the coronary bands in his hooves which, if damaged, are irreparable,” Van Den Boom said.
“The first thing we did was put his feet in ice buckets, then we put him on fluid therapy, and provided him a lot of pain relief.
“Finn was one of the horses most affected by the fire.”
The coronary band is a soft layer of skin that a horse’s hoof grows from—but if it is damaged, may not allow the hoof to grow properly.
Having uneven hooves and weak coronary bands break down the dynamic of a horse’s stability, which can result in the horse going lame.
The vets tried relentlessly to lower Finn’s body temperature in an effort to reduce the rate of degeneration.
“We had to provide a lot of pain relief,” Van Den Boom said.
“There was a lot of cleaning of the wounds and during the first week or so the burns got larger.
Ointments including Flamazine, aloe vera, and Sudocrem were used to ensure the wound did not deteriorate or dry out.
Finn became very inactive while he went through the healing process, and his skin began to shrink and contract.
“When he’s in his stall next to another horse he’s fine, but when he’s by himself he’s been a bit insecure.” – Associate professor Robin van den Boom, head of equine health at University of South Australia.
Once Finn’s external injuries had been stabilized, the treating vets turned their attention to his internal organs.
The young horse underwent a number of endoscopic examinations and X-rays to check his lung and stomach function and ensure no extensive harm had been done.
Professor Hein said it took several weeks before Finn’s injuries began to show signs of improvement.
“It got to the point where we nearly had a discussion with the owners, because we didn’t think he would make it,” he said.
“One day Finn just turned a corner, and we knew he would pull through.”
Pain management and the use of ointments and topical treatments were continued for another three weeks until his wounds started to show signs of improvement.
Van Den Boom said he was confident the young colt would pull through.
“Finn went home just before Christmas,” he said. “Four weeks after the fire.”
“Not all of his wounds had healed, but he was far enough along the process that he was able to go home.
“Finn will have some scarring but it will still take weeks and maybe even a few months for the final results to be evident.”
Owner Rob Hatswell said the colt was making a speedy recovery and had regained his old demeanor.
“They did a good job,” he said. “When he’s in his stall next to another horse he’s fine, but when he’s by himself he’s been a bit insecure.
“We are still embalming his scar tissue with Sudocrem and we thought he was going to lose an eye, but he’s back to his normal proud self, running around the paddock.”
Other organizations including the RSPCA, PIRSA and SAVEM were also involved with looking after the animals affected by the fire, but the joint effort struggled to deal with the large quantity of victims.
The RSPCA received more than $84,000 in donations, which went towards helping the University of Adelaide’s School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences and the Veterinary Health Centres at Roseworthy treat pets and livestock injured in the blaze.
The South Australian government has dispensed more than $1m in relief payments, as the victims of the fires continue to rebuild their homes, care for their remaining livestock, and try to move on.