Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Never trust experts who say "It's Impossible"

I was looking out the window yesterday watching our yearling mini horse “Nova” fighting across the fence with his father.

Nova is becoming mature and he was squealing at his Dad, doing the typical stallion posturing. Just like the big stallions, they would go nose-to-nose, squeal, poop in a large pile (to mark their territory) sniffing the steaming nuggets, and re-start the ritual, squealing at the other stallion. They went on like this for hours until they were both pooped-out (I wonder if that is where the term "pooped" came from)?

It's time to get Nova gelded. . .

I’ll have to put-up with the squealing until this fall when it is safe to have him gelded. (You cannot geld horses in the summertime because the flies lay their eggs in the incision and you wind-up with a scrotum full of fly maggots).

Anyway, I recalled that Nova would not be here today if Janet and I had believed experts who told us “It can’t be done”. Let me explain. All our lives Janet and I have been skeptical of “experts” who say that something is impossible:

- Horses cannot be housebroken

Janet and I were the first in the world to prove that horses could be reliably housebroken. When we started experimenting with own tiny ponies we were not sure that it could be done. The biggest problem is the "nervous reflex". When a horse gets nervous it gets projectile diarrhea. Now, by projectile, we are talking blast-from-a-cannon projectile, and this is always an issue when we first get un-trained ponies. A few years back we went to New England to rescue two dwarf appaloosa's, and we piled them into the mini-van with four people for the 14-hour drive home. They filled the cup-holders . . . .

After many months is messy experimentation and operant condition we were finally able to perfect the housebreaking technique, and we can now take guide horses into fancy restaurants. Dan Shaw took Cuddles into the fancy Palm Court at the Plaza in New York for high-tea, and the look on the waiters faces was priceless, knowing that a horse was going to come into their Ritzy eatery . . .

- Horses cannot be trained to guide the blind

As a direct result of our research there are four full-time working guide horse teams in the USA. Some of the world's top animal research experts told us that it could not be done, but we knew-better. For more details, see The Guide Horse Foundation.

- You have to put-down a horse with a broken leg

The conventional wisdom has always been that you cannot save a horse with a broken leg, and we challenged some top medical experts and proved them wrong. Here is the story. . .

On Nova’s first birthday we went out with a carrot cake and we were shocked at what we saw. Nova had been roughhousing with the other mini yearlings and he was not putting any weight on his left-rear leg. Frantic, we got our equine vet (the noted horse emergency Veterinary expert Dr. Christian O’Malley) over immediately, and the prognosis was not good:

“I’m sure his leg bone is broken”, Chris said. “I can hear the bones cracking when I move his leg”. At this point Janet started crying inconsolably. You see, Janet had planned Nova life, and this was not in the plan. Janet bought a national-champion stallion (Egyptian King Too, who is only 26 inches tall), and she decided to breed him to Cassie, her stunning miniature buckskin mare who was twice his size. I've seen Janet life-up mini's onto the backs of the mares before (Gee, I wish I'd taken a photo of that), but King weighs 140 pounds and our backs are bad. I had to dig a 3-foot deep trench for Cassie to back-into so that King could mount, and we were able to conceive Nova on our first try.

When Cassie went into labor, Janet brought her into the house and she foaled in the kitchen (Thank God for easy-clean flooring). Janet was a great midwife, reaching into Cassie to assure that there was no dystocia and that the umbilical cord was properly positioned. The birth went smoothly, and Nova imprinted on both Janet and Cassie. Janet and I have filmed several deliveries and we are planning a video-series on foaling for 2006.

Anyway, Nova was Janet's baby, and we were beyond distraught at this horrible news.

“Sorry, we don’t accept your answer”, we told the Chris. Chris shrugged and gave us this you’re-a-fool look (A look that I’m used-to seeing when I question the opinions of experts). Chris gave Nova painkillers and wished-us-well as we loaded Nova into the mini-van for the long ride to the N.C. State University horsepital. During the ride we mobilized folks doing Google searches, learning everything about attempts to save a precious horse with a broken leg. We learned how Raffles, the legendary Arabian stallion was carefully nursed back-to-health by keeping him in a sling after he broke his leg.

When we arrived we got full x-rays and confirmed the bad news. “His femur is fractured in multiple places”, the vet on-call said. “The only thing to do is put him down.”

“Everybody knows that you can fix a horse with a broken leg”.

Click here to read Nova’s story.

“I want the Ortho vet to have a look”, we insisted. An hour later the orthopedic vet came to the same conclusion “It can’t be fixed”. The medical expert explained that the bone fracture could take 6 to 8 hours to repair and because of their organs, horses cannot stay “under” for more than 4 hours. He also explained that there are no metal plates made for horses, and he noted that the surgery would cost a small fortune with a very-small chance of success.

By now, I was convinced that the vet was playing-it-safe and giving a standard answer. “How about the plates they use for hip dysplasia for large dogs?” I suggested.

The surgeon gave me a pensive look and said “Well yes, there is no reason that we could not use dog hardware”.

“And why can’t we four surgeons working on him at the same time to keep the surgery under 4 hours?”

At this point the surgeon was visibly peeved that an ignorant bumpkin like me had the nerve to question his expert judgment, and he repeated:

“You don’t understand. Nobody has even done this before. It can't be done”.

“We’ll need a $10k cash deposit”, the Vet said, expecting to shut us down with sticker-shock. After all, why would anyone pay $10,000 to fix a $500 pony. . . They did not know Janet. . . .

The phrase “It’s impossible” has always been a hot-button for Janet, who has had to put-up with neigh-sayers for three decades. “No problem”, Janet snapped at the shocked surgeon as she wrote-out a check for the full amount and said:

“I don’t care that it can't be done. Please try to fix my pony”.

The surgeon conceded (money talks), and he became excited at the prospect of geting a chance to try something new. He called-in a dog specialist and we planned the experimental surgery. The next day, four surgeons worked all-morning repairing Nova’s leg, with remarkable results. The surgery was smashing success, and the N.C. State Vet School said that it was the first time they had documented such a remarkable case.

Janet and I apply this same principle of questioning experts in our work with computers and I’m always leery of experts who tell us “It can’t be done”.

Today Nova is spoiled-rotten (Janet still refuses to let him play with the other ponies) and he follows you around like a puppy dog.

The moral of my story is simple. Three equine Veterinary experts had told us that Nova could not be fixed. After all, everyone knows that you have to shoot a horse with a broken leg. . . .