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Working for better management options and cohabitation through compromise and communication for the American Wild Mustang

You Be the Judge, 3rd Edition, Calico Foal Death

Posted by Texas Mustang Project on January 9, 2010

You Be the Judge, 3rd Edition, January 05, 2010, By: Tracie Lynn Thompson 

On January 01, 2010 a foal perished during the gather operations in the Calico Complex Gather being currently conducted by the BLM. Following the initial report coming out on the internet, there has been much speculation as to why and how the foal died. One website reported that the foal died from “a congenital heart defect”, while another stated it was from “a pulmonary event”.There was even more speculation as to how a veterinarian could make this determination in the field. Initial details from numerous websites and sources in the public claimed there was not a necropsy (animal autopsy) performed, and therefore the veterinarian could not have made this determination. Other statements stated that the foal was already deceased upon the veterinarian’s arrival, and therefore the vet could not have performed a pre-mortem examination to arrive at this conclusion.   

After all the theories, there were way too many unanswered questions about this foal’s demise. Was this foal’s death a direct result of the gather? Could this foal’s death have been prevented? What were the actual circumstances? These are just a few.   

I was able to obtain the text of the Official BLM Necropsy Report today from the BLM directly. *Please remember, this correspondence and article text is for informational purposes only. As the author, I make no judgments one way or the other in this article. The content contained is a passing on of information relayed to me personally.*   

The text of the necropsy report is as follows:   

Necropsy Report 

Date:                          1/1/10
Prepared by:           Albert Kane, DVM, MPVM, PhD   

Location/Event:      Calico Complex Gather
Animal ID:                6 month old, dark bay/brown, colt

History:  The pilot reported this colt lied down twice while moving just ½
mile from the original location of the band of horses. The second time he
radioed to the trap for wranglers to come with a trailer and assist the
colt as he seemed unlikely to make it to the trap. I accompanied the
wranglers to the location. We arrived to the colt’s location about 10
minutes after the call from the pilot. On arrival he was found dead, lying
in left lateral recumbency, with no signs of struggle or agonal movements

in the surrounding snow apparent. 

Examination: Alan Shepherd accompanied me during this necropsy examination.
The carcass was rolled onto the right side, no external abnormalities were
noted. Front right leg was lifted and reflected dorsally. On opening the
chest cavity negative pressure was apparent. There was no blood present in
the trachea. There was a large amount of free blood in the chest cavity.
The lungs were pink and airy with no abnormalities noted.  



On examination in-situ a hole was apparent in the pulmonary artery at the
base. The left ventricle was thickened and larger than expected and the
atria were thin and without muscular tone. There was an area of thinning
and apparent aneurysm on the left atrium.   

The abdominal cavity was examined with no abnormalities noted. Body
condition was moderately thin with only small amounts of subcutaneous and
abdominal fat noted.   

Conclusion/Differentials/Dx: Left side heart failure.
Death caused by acute pulmonary artery rupture attributable to a
pre-existing, probably congenital heart condition.
Gather related but attributable to a pre-existing condition   

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –   

Albert J. Kane, DVM, MPVM, PhD
Veterinary Epidemiologist
Senior Staff Veterinarian
APHIS/BLM Wild Horse and Burro Partnership

Basically, the foal died from Acute Ruptured Aneurysm of the Pulmonary Artery Secondary to Left Ventricular Hypertrophy. This condition is genetic, is a pulmonary condition, and is a congenital heart defect. So, based on this report’s information, the answers to the questions above…   

Was this foal’s death a direct result of the gather? Yes, if this foal was not being gathered, he would not have died at that time.   

Could this foal’s death have been prevented? No, this foal’s death was imminent. It is likely that the foal was in pain daily until his death, suffering from symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, nutritional deficiencies, just to name a few. It is highly unusual for foals with this condition to live past the age of 6 months age and in some cases even 1 month of age without medical and/or surgical intervention.   

What were the actual circumstances? The only information that is available at this time as to the actual circumstances of this foal’s death from an official accounting is the necropsy report above. Other reports have not become available at the time of this writing. As mentioned above, there are several second and third party reports available on the internet.   

The BLM states that it is common to have injury, illness and sometimes death during gather operations. They state however, the rate is very low. According to some sources, the rate is as low as 1%. Other sources place the rate much higher.   

There is also protocol for the pilot to follow should he see a horse not able to keep up with the movement of the herd. If the pilot observes such a situation, he is to radio the gather officials to request assistance for the horse, and he is to reduce his pursuit of the horse and/or cease his pursuit of the horse. This is to ensure that the horse is not pushed beyond his physical limitations. According to the necropsy report above and sources within the BLM, this was the case during the development of this situation.   

I hope that this was able to answer any questions that you might have had regarding this situation. If not, please feel free to request additional information and/or further questions at my email address below. I believe that knowledge is power, and its retention and use is the sole key to solving any problem. This is my reasoning for correspondences and articles such as this.   

I also attempt to keep my personal views of the situation out of the content for the most important reason of all: My opinion is my right to have, just as yours is your right to have. Mine is right for me, but that does not make it right for you. And of course, vice versa.   

The following are links to educational sites if you would like to learn more about this condition:   

The Merck Vet Manual, Heart Failure:   

Answers to Equine Cardiology Practice Problems: LAMS 5313 Dr. Barton, Case Studies   

UC Davis, Center for Equine Health, The Equine Heart   

             As always… Stay safe, and never give up.   

© 2010 Tracie Lynn Thompson. All rights reserved.  


3 Responses to “You Be the Judge, 3rd Edition, Calico Foal Death”


    • Donna,
      I promise I haven’t forgotten about you LOL. I am, yet again, having laptop issues.
      I have put out requests to a couple of other vets for information regarding your question. I have a pretty good idea of the answer, I just like to be absolutely sure before I put it out there. So *please* be patient for just a few more hours and hopefully I can get this thing fixed. If not, check the news in my area for a crazy woman throwing a laptop of the top of a bridge! 😉

    • Donna,
      I have been trying to figure out the simplest way to answer this question for three and a half days now. Why? Because to answer it correctly, I would have to answer it thoroughly. To do that would entail a great deal of medical terminology and breakdown of physiological processes. I have written and re-written this explaination about 3 times now, trying to simplify it even more with each new draft. It is still 5 pages long.
      So to answer this question, (against my better judgement) simply:
      Yes, it is possible. No, it is not likely in this case.
      I will continue to work on the explanations and will try to figure out the best way to post them without giving full cardiology and physiology lessons LOL.

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