Horse recovers from near death in winter; gives birth to healthy foal in spring

One Saturday morning in early November, Jessica Steiner walked out to her Loveland paddock to find her pregnant mare, Bijou, covered in blood.

“Blood was coming out of her nose, it was all down her front legs, on her back legs, and there were several puddles on the ground,” Steiner said. “You could just tell it was a massive amount of blood she lost.”

Bijou had been shedding more nasal discharge than usual for a few months, but this symptom alone wasn’t cause for elevated concern. When Steiner discovered her chestnut warmblood broodmare in a pool of blood, however, she immediately rushed into action, loading Bijou onto her trailer to take her to the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University.

“She was very lethargic from the blood loss, so it was hard to get her to move – she was very wobbly,” Steiner said.

Stop the bleeding

Bijou arrived at the equine emergency service in rough shape – her blood pressure and red blood cell count were low. Equine veterinarians Drs. Diana Hassel and KT Steward needed to stabilize her before pursuing definitive treatment of the hemorrhage. The underlying cause of the bleeding was a fungal infection of the guttural pouch – an air sack located just below the ears on both sides of the head.

“One of the arteries that goes to the horse’s brain passes right next to the guttural pouch, which is a unique structure in the horse,” said Dr. Brian Scansen, associate professor of cardiology at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “When that pouch becomes infected, it can eat into the artery and cause a massive bleed, which the horse can die from. That is what had happened to Bijou.”

surgery on horse
Scansen and equine surgeons used minimally invasive techniques to close off the affected artery and stop the bleeding. (Tim Hackett)

After several blood transfusions and supportive care, veterinarians were able to stabilize Bijou and put her under general anesthesia so Scansen and equine surgeons Drs. Eileen Hackett and Drew Koch could close off the affected artery. With the help of imaging tools including real-time X-ray (fluoroscopy) from the Pocket Foundation Hybrid Cardiac Interventional Suite – the first hybrid operating room with advanced imaging capabilities in veterinary medicine – the team was able to guide catheters and coils to the artery and stop the bleeding using minimally invasive techniques.

In addition to the Infection,  Bijou was five months pregnant at the time.

“The biggest goal was to just save Bijou. If we did that, we would be lucky,” Steiner said. “It became sort of a waiting and watching game.”

Stabilizing her and maintaining just the right level of anesthesia allowed Scansen’s team to perform the procedure without putting Bijou or her foal at an undue risk.

“There was quite a lot of concern at the beginning, and even for several months afterwards, about whether or not the foal would be able to survive given how sick her mom was,” Scansen said.

Crucial to Bijou’s successful outcome was the quick work of the equine emergency team to stabilize her, followed by Dr. Rachel Hector and the anesthesia team’s ability to make surgery possible.

On June 5, 2019, at 10:30 p.m., Bijou gave birth to a healthy filly named Celeste.

Video: Ashley Manweiler/CSU

A bright future

At the age of 12, Bijou is older than most maiden mares, and could have been less likely to become pregnant compared to six- to seven-year-old horses at peak fertility. Steiner bred Bijou with the intention of creating a line of horses fit for competitive riding, and is thrilled to have not only a healthy foal, but one who’s already exhibiting potential for the upper-level hunter and jumper arenas.

“Bijou’s been one of my best teachers, and I knew that if I had a filly from her, I could provide a lot of people with that same opportunity,” Steiner said. “I’m very excited for Celeste. She’s exhibiting everything I could ask for and more in a young horse.”

woman brushing horse
Steiner brushes Bijou. (Kellen Bakovich)

Steiner started her business, Summit Valley Equestrian, in 2017 with a desire to share her passion for horses with others, providing a personal experience to fellow boarders, trainers, and riders.

As Steiner looks to the future with excitement, she reflects on the recent past with gratitude.

“I consider myself exceptionally lucky that CSU was able to offer the level of care and knowledge that Bijou needed – that’s some gold standard they’re providing,” Steiner said. “They did everything to save Bijou and more.”