Phoebe - The Little Engine That Could
Phoebe’s story begins early on the morning of Friday August 24, 2012. It was feeding time at the barn and Phoebe, who is known for eagerly awaiting breakfast, had not come up to the feeder. The barn manager noticed her standing in the middle of her paddock unwilling to move; even for grain.
When Phoebe’s owner, Kylin, first saw her the horse was holding her leg straight out motionless. Kylin concluded that the injury (likely an accidental kick from her paddock mate) must have happened sometime in the early morning hours; “She must have been standing in the same spot for quite some time,” Kylin observed, “as more than one pile of manure was deposited directly on top of the other.”
At first glance, Kylin didn’t see any gruesome exterior trauma, just a small cut and swelling, but she knew it was bad. Just like any mother, she got that sinking feeling in the pit of her gut, and was sure Phoebe had a broken leg. She remembers thinking she might have to put Phoebe down. She immediately called Dr. Baxter, whom she has known for several years. He explained that depending on how serious the fracture was, the little pony might have a chance.
By 9:00 am. Dr. Herath was at the farm performing an initial evaluation. The limb was very sensitive to palpation, swollen, and unable to flex. The next step was to take radiographs. (Digital radiographs allowed for quick onsite diagnostics and the ability to quickly determine a treatment protocol.) However, radiographs would require moving Phoebe back towards the barn. The little mare mustered up the courage and proceeded to walk back to the barn slowly and cautiously; one step at a time, using only her three good legs. Never once did Phoebe give up. Kylin recalls, “She had several stops and starts along the way and by the time she got to the barn she was breathing hard and was worn out but she was not giving up.”
The initial radiographs showed a significant radial long bone fracture in the forearm region. The fracture was significant yet not displaced and therefore fragile but stable. The doctors at Mid-Rivers Equine were concerned that Phoebe might require surgery to install a stainless steel bone plate with screws to stabilize the fracture. Several equine surgeons were consulted and all agreed the fracture was significant, but the general consensus was that laying Phoebe down under anesthesia for surgery was far too risky. The concern was that the mare would do additional and more extensive damage in the process of being anesthetized or getting up post-op in recovery. All were in agreement, the best plan for Phoebe was strict stall rest and close monitoring for any indication the fracture was becoming less stable.
After Dr. Herath confirmed the fracture, Kylin remembers looking at Phoebe and asking, “What do you want me to do?” She said Phoebe’s eyes opened wide and her ears perked up. She looked at Kylin as if to say; “I got this, I just need a chance.
This was a particularly difficult time for Kylin and her two children, Samantha and Addison. They had just moved and their lives were in flux. Phoebe’s injury was one more thing that they just didn’t need. But Phoebe was “part of the family.” She had taught Samantha to ride and took her to her first horse competition (there is something quite magical about the bond between a little girl and her first horse). Samantha’s younger sister was just beginning her “first horse” journey with Phoebe. The thought of not giving Phoebe a shot at recovery was unimaginable. Kylin does remember explaining to the girls that if it became too much for Phoebe to bear they would have to do the humane thing and put her down. The girls understood and prepared for the journey.
As one could imagine, this type of injury requires close monitoring to continually track progress, this allows the veterinarian to continually tweak the treatment plan according to healing and to update the client on the long-term prognosis. This meant that Dr. Herath would return on many occasions to re-radiograph the injury and evaluate the progress.
When a horse is not in the hospital under constant medical observation, the owner’s role in the treatment plan is just as vital as the veterinarian’s. They are the night attendant, the vet tech, and first responder. Kylin and the children made many, many trips back and forth to the boarding stable day and night to help monitor Phoebe. The family was very observant and did an excellent job of keeping the doctors at Mid-Rivers Equine Centre informed of changes.
During one such visit, Kylin was concerned that Phoebe was becoming impacted due to a lack of exercise. A developing impaction can of course lead to colic and this is not an uncommon complication when active horses suddenly require confinement. Dr. Dawn Mrad examined Phoebe and noted that her manure was very dry. Dr. Mrad administered mineral oil and water via a nasogastric tube to ensure any potential colic complication was averted.
Any time a horse sustains a leg injury, the other limbs compensate by adjusting the weight distribution. It is important to monitor the healthy limbs for heat, a digital pulse, and lameness. The healthy limbs are susceptible to founder when extra stress and weight is put on them. Kylin worked closely with her farrier to provide Phoebe with corrective/supportive shoeing during her recovery and continually monitored for changes in the healthy limbs.
The family also rigged up a pulley system, which allowed for Phoebe to walk freely around her stall, but because she was tied up, it discouraged her from lying down. The act of lying down and getting up could have potentially worsened the injury. The walk-around-system was successful, although not fool proof. Kylin was concerned, yet a little tickled with Phoebe’s ingenuity the few times when she came to see Phoebe and she had shavings on her hind end. Clearly the clever little mare had figured out a way to lie down when she needed to.
It is important to get any horse back in working condition, but especially important for Phoebe. Phoebe has a special job; she is a part of the Galloping for Girls program. Galloping for Girls is a non-profit program started by Kylin. Kylin began the organization because she believes “working with horses, combined with positive role models creates the perfect atmosphere for teen girls to develop self esteem, inner strength and empower them to become successful and responsible adults.” Not only is Phoebe an important part of her children’s lives, she plays an important role in the lives of many young girls.
Kylin recalls the time a little girl came to the program and was so terrified of the horses she would just tremble. Eventually the little girl was placed on Phoebe.Phoebe just stood there and waited and waited. She waited patiently for this little girl to overcome her fears before making the first step. That’s just the kind of horse she is: gentle, patient, loving, and intuitive. How could you not try and save a horse like this?
Kylin remembers the tremendous support she received from what she calls the “Phoebe Fan Club.” The word about Phoebe’s injury spread throughout the social media circles. Kylin heard from several of her previous owners and news even made its way back to Phoebe’s breeder. People of course wanted to know how Phoebe was doing and they would inevitably praise Kylin for the courage to see this mare through. This is when she would tell them that Phoebe “pulled from her own strength. She saved herself and she helped me during a tough time. She was amazing.” She clearly gives all the credit to Phoebe not just for her own recovery, “She really helped give me strength.”
Phoebe has impacted the lives of many people in her 20 years. She started out as a western pleasure pony and did showmanship, participated in vaulting, been a parade pony, and went on to be a jumping pony. Today, less than one year after her injury, Phoebe is back to giving walk, trot lessons to little kids and participating in Galloping for Girls. And Kylin’s youngest daughter, Addison, who spent many hours lovingly brushing Phoebe during her recovery, can continue on with her “first horse” journey with this special little pony.