Tonka Has Surgery

By Terry Golson

Those of you who have been following me here know that Tonka has had a persistent front left lameness. Over the last few years he’d have a twinge now and then, but it would resolve quickly. Last August when Tonka came up mildly lame on his left front I decided to look into it. In October an MRI was done – which is an expensive and possibly complicated procedure for a horse as it requires full anesthesia. The results matched the mild lameness. A little bit of tendon and ligament strain and some coffin joint inflammation. Rest and a course of IRAP injections were prescribed. But the rehab didn’t go as planned. Tonka had a reaction to the IRAP, became severely lame, and needed to have his joint flushed. While recovering from that, and still on stall rest (with a little walking and hand-grazing) his collateral ligament issue became more severe and he somehow got an avulsion fracture of the coffin bone. After a couple of months, that healed fine (as seen on ultrasound and x-rays) but Tonka remained seriously lame, which surprised his veterinary team. In February, back he went for another MRI. This one showed some serious arthritis in the joint between the coffin bone and pastern bone. This wasn’t evident in the first MRI. Somehow his joint health had deteriorated in just a couple of months. He was injected with Arthramid, a gel which would give him cushioning and more fluid in the affected area. The prognosis was optimistic. But, once again, treatment didn’t go according to plan. Tonka remained severely lame.

Last week I took Tonk back to the veterinary hospital. Despite his hoof hurting, and having been on stall rest for months, he got on the trailer with good cheer, and upon arrival walked into this now home-away-from-home in a pleasant frame of mind. Unlike me, who with great worry, saw him off.


The plan was to do a neurectomy, which is when a section of the nerve that feeds the affected joint is cut away and removed. In theory (and usually in practice) this means that the horse can’t feel their hoof, which means they can’t feel pain. Most horses adjust just fine to the lack of sensation in a hoof and can get back to a fairly normal life.

Of course, there’s a twist here in Tonka’s story. The surgery itself went very well. However, the veterinary team identified one more area in the hoof that is compromised by severe arthritis. The joint between the coffin bone and navicular bone. That one is fed by a different nerve, and so despite the neurectomy, Tonka might still have pain in his hoof. Arthramid was injected there, to give him relief. We won’t know whether that will work for about a month.

In the meanwhile, after a stay of several nights at Tufts, Tonka walked right back onto the trailer, in good cheer and with far more optimism than me.


He’s back home and will wear this sterile bandage for 2 weeks.


After that, we can start some hand-walking. The plan is that in 6 weeks he’ll be sound enough to go out on trail rides! That’s the plan. But this is Tonka’s front left lameness, and it keeps throwing us curve balls. On the plus side, at the least I can already tell that the neurectomy has reduced his discomfort. I’m sure he’ll be pasture sound, which at this point is enough to make both of us happy. If we’re back on the trails this summer, we’ll both be ecstatic. I’ll let you know!

38 thoughts on “Tonka Has Surgery

  • Gay Largent

    Tonka is really a great horse. He is so lucky to have such a caring mom. Sending prayers for a full recovery.

  • Jean Husson

    All best hopes for a full recovery soon. I get a knot in my stomach just reading this. Even when you know you are doing everything possible, it is so hard to watch and animal through the recovery process. But Tufts is wonderful and I hope they have worked their magic on Tonka. Take care.

  • John Schaller

    Best wishes to you both for a full recovery and lots of happy times in the warmer months!

  • Pat Neisser

    Dear Terry, I have been following you and Tonka for a few years. I can’t imagine how distressing this lameness episode has been for you. My horse has had some mild lameness in the left front hoof as well and has eventually responded to treatment and has been sound for a year. But I wonder how far I would go and how long could my horse tolerate the stall rest. You have gone above and beyond for your horse and have been fortunate that he is okay with his stall rest for such a long period of time. I do so hope that you can get your ride back and enjoy some more years with him.

  • Chris from Boise

    I agree with Gay that Tonka is a great horse with a great attitude. What an incredibly good sport he is. And what a good person he has to keep seeking answers. Fingers crossed that the surgery and Athramid get him off stall-rest and at the very least back to pasture-sound.

  • Rebecca Stedman

    Terry and Tonka…..sending good thoughts to you both. I will go out on a limb here. I am picturing you and Tonka on a sun and blue sky day. You have planned a very interesting trail ride in your beautiful forested woods. Nothing too strenuous, just a nice ride. Who knows what you may come upon. Take your time and enjoy whatever you come across. It is the companionship of you both that is important. It is what makes the two of you a team. Don’t fret it is going to work itself out.

  • Daisy

    Dear Tonka, wishing him and you good fortune in this quest for healing.
    Often think of you, visualizing a return to health so you can resume your daily routine and adventures. Tonka remains positive, that is a good omen. Wishing you both the best for a happy Summer and continuation.

  • CynthiaMetivier

    You are wonderful, and will certainly hope Tonka, you, and Steve will be walking around soon enjoying spring.

  • Sara Russell

    I am sending prayers and good vibes for Tonka’s recovery!!! I have been following you for several years and I feel that I know both of you.; I always enjoy your blog!!! You are such a good horse mom and Tonka is very fortunate.

  • Judy

    Many thanks for catching us up on Tonka – I’ve been wondering how he was doing. He really is a good natured and sane creature. His Fan Club is rooting for him!

  • Lizzie in Cornwall

    Just looked in to read through your last update on Tonka again… hoping there might be good news in the next couple of weeks and that you’re both managing to enjoy spending time together.
    All the very best to dear Tonka, and of course to you, Terry. Like many others, I feel I know you both and hope for a good outcome.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Things have been busy here, and I’ve been wanting them to settle down before reporting. We’ve moved barns. He now has a safe, flat pen for turnout. Unfortunately, Tonka is still not sound. Trying a different drug to dampen the nerve pain. However, Tonka is in good spirits and although limping isn’t showing signs of stress. Will do an update hopefully next week!

    • Terry Golson Post author

      I miss my regular readers too, but needed a break from putting myself out there in social media. Tonka and I are well. He’s still lame, but doesn’t have a pain face and is enjoying life. I’ve taken up pottery. I sometimes post on my Instagram account. Follow me there.
      Scooter is ancient and finally showing his age. He sleeps most of the day, still has a good appetite, and is still able to pee outside (thank goodness.) But he’s a little old weak dog and I am keeping a close eye on him to make sure that his days are good ones. He doesn’t owe me any more time on this earth.

      • Chris from Boise

        Thanks Terry. I sure understand about needing a break from social media. A scritch (or whatever his favorite thing in the world is) to dear Scooter, and may he go in peace when the time is right. Be well, all of you.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      Hi Michelle! I have dropped out of the blogging world. After 20+ years I’ve lost the desire to share long musings with readers. I do small updates on Instagram if you want to follow me there. And I still have a Facebook page, which gets my IG feed. I hope you and your black swan are well!

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