In January 2016, the Pine Hollow team noticed something seemed off just before driving out of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) with their horses. Stopping to check the horses before continuing off the showgrounds, Pine Hollow discovered Freeman, a promising and successful Dutch Warmblood, had swung his hind leg over the back of the trailer. Freeman’s stifle had ended up squarely on one of the hooks used to secure the back door, lodging the hook into his stifle and into the femoropatellar joint.
Recognizing the extreme peril facing Freeman, Pine Hollow immediately called for help from Palm Beach Equine Clinic (PBEC), the official veterinarians of WEF.
“It took tremendous effort, creative thinking, and exceptional teamwork to free Freeman from the hook impaling his leg,” said David Blake, Pine Hollow’s internationally acclaimed rider and trainer. “PBEC sent several of their top vets to help us rescue Freeman. The team of vets is truly great.”
Thanks in very large part to the help and determination of the vets, Pine Hollow and PBEC were able to free Freeman from the trailer door.
From there, Freeman was transported to the nearby Palm Beach Equine Clinic, where he spent a few days trying to recover before it was agreed to pursue arthroscopic surgery on his femoropatellar joint.
“To be honest, it wasn’t looking good at all for the first day or so Freeman was there,” said Blake. “The joint was so severely damaged we didn’t know if it could be fixed. Our only chance of fixing the joint was surgery, so we agreed we would try everything possible.”
Dr. Weston Davis performed the surgery, after which Freeman remained in PBEC’s care while he regained use of the leg.
“The team did a fantastic job there and kept Freeman until he was ready to begin long-term rehab with James Keogh,” said Blake.
When Freeman was finally ready to return home to Pine Hollow, Blake hoped at best Freeman would eventually be able to do light work and perform at a low level.
Freeman, however, continued to defy all the odds. Following the successful arthroscopic surgery and a very gradual return to work, Freeman is not only doing ‘little stuff,’ but has returned to jumping at the 1.40m level. On Saturday, August 27, at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, he jumped his first grand prix since the injury.
“He definitely defied all odds and expectations and came back to his level!” said Blake. “Regina Daniels, who works for me, did all the rehab riding with him, and she did a great job. She took him from walking and hand-walking, right back up to jumping little jumps. Regina spent a long time doing it, about a year, which I think was the key. When Freeman came back to me, we continued to build him up slowly back to the level he was at before.”
Throughout his recovery and gradual return to work, Freeman was carefully and routinely monitored by the Palm Beach Equine team including Dr. Weston Davis and Dr. Richard Wheeler. The vets evaluated Freeman every couple of months and took periodic x-rays to assess if, or by how much, he was improving and what might be the appropriate level of work at the time for the gelding.
“It was important to make sure that we weren’t pushing anything too soon,” explained Blake. “What was really incredible to see develop and return over time was his muscle. After the injury, the muscle of his whole left side was like looking at a different horse from his right side. Now you look at him or stand behind him, and you wouldn’t even pick a side.
“I think he wanted to come back, because his recovery has truly been remarkable,” concluded Blake. “Touch wood, it’s been a pretty quiet injury. I think the horse knows he was lucky. I can feel it. Funny, when he came back he was almost a different horse in his personality a little bit. I can feel that he’s appreciative to be home, and he knows he’s lucky. He’s really trying to do everything that he can now to be good. I think he’s found a new respect for life.”