Horse with one kidney beats the odds to return to competition

  • A grade B show jumper has beaten the odds to return to competition following specialist surgery to have a kidney removed.

    While the operation went well, 14-year-old Wodka Lime contracted an extremely rare infection, which saw him spend six months in a veterinary hospital battling for his life.

    The 15.3hh Dutch gelding had suffered from kidney stones since the age of seven, but had continued to compete in showjumping and working hunter classes without problems.

    Then last year, after qualifying for the Royal International Horse Show, he started refusing jumps.

    “I’ve had him since he was imported from Holland as a three-year-old and he’s been a super horse, he’s never put a foot wrong,” said owner Belinda Turner, who runs Stubbing Court in Chesterfield. “We’d first discovered he had kidney stones when he was six or seven years and we found him one evening climbing the walls with pain. We called the vet, who had to cut one out of his urethra.”

    Belinda was able to manage the condition by taking Wodka to Rossdales equine hospital every few months to have the stones flushed out.

    “He’d be like a new horse and he’d carry on jumping,” she said. “But at the beginning of June last year he started stopping and it got to the point where he wouldn’t jump anything, so we knew what we’d been doing to manage the problem was no longer working.”

    As well as having had kidney stones from an unusually young age, Wodka was also uncommon in that they were just in the one kidney — making surgery a viable option.

    “We knew we were also sitting on a time bomb as we never knew when they were going to come out [causing a lot of pain, and when someone might not be on the yard to call a vet],” Belinda said. “He’d been such a good horse and had always looked and jumped so well that Lewis [Smith, surgeon at Rossdales] decided the best thing was to do away with the kidney.”

    An expert surgeon came from the Netherlands to help with the five-and-a-half-hour operation — the first time such surgery had been carried out in the UK.

    “It is unusual to remove a kidney for stones as normally it’s done for a tumour,” said Belinda. “When they took it out there were 12 huge rocks [pictured, below]. We don’t know how he was doing anything, let alone jumping.”

    While the operation was a success, things took a turn for the worse when Wodka contracted pseudomonas — a “killer bug” bacterial infection more usually found in human hospitals. It’s thought it had never been reported in a horse before.

    “He went in to hospital on October 10 and was supposed to be out by Christmas, but the infection kept him there until April 1,” Belinda said. “I couldn’t even see him because my father had gone in to hospital for surgery for a brain tumour and there was a risk I could pass the infection on to him.”

    Wodka’s recovery was touch-and-go, and at one point the gelding had lost 200kg in weight.

    “He’d been on a drip so long he wasn’t eating, and we’d never been able to keep weight off him before,” Belinda said.“Rossdales were brilliant, they kept trying even though we must have reached the point three times where they thought they couldn’t do any more.

    Amazingly, Wodka pulled through and was able to return to work three weeks after coming home.

    “We’ve now done three shows — the first time was 80cm and you could tell he thought something was going to hurt — but by the second time he was raring to go,” Belinda said. “We did a 95cm and he jumped double clear, so the plan now is to hopefully do some workers this season depending on how he feels.

    “We’ll see how it goes.”

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