She exited the track at Gulfstream Park West, her home racecourse in Miami Gardens, FL, with her racing fate hanging in the balance.
“She is a tough filly with a lot of heart, and she walked herself back to the barn where we had x-rays taken,” said Alessandro, who met with the track veterinarian right away to identify the problem. “When we saw it, we were nervous that she was headed to the breeding shed, and her career was over.”
Alessandro and his father, however, were not willing to give up on their special filly. They entrust Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s board-certified surgeon, Dr. Robert Brusie, with care of their entire string of racehorses, and quickly decided to send the x-rays for his review. Dr. Brusie quickly identified a condylar fracture and advised a surgical repair. Immediately after her diagnosis was confirmed, Bella Ciao made her way to the Hospital at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.
Identifying a Condylar Fracture
A condylar fracture is a repetitive strain injury that results in a fracture to the cannon bone above the fetlock. The fracture is a result of excessive strain and weight carried over the cannon bone during high-speed exercise. It emerges from the fetlock joint running laterally up or medially out the side of the cannon bone, essentially breaking off a corner of the bone.
“A condylar fracture is a disease of speed,” said Dr. Brusie. “A condylar fracture was once considered the death of racehorses. As time and science progressed, it came to be considered merely career-ending. Currently, veterinary medical sciences are so advanced that we have had great success with condylar fracture patients returning to full work.
“Luckily, with today’s advanced rehabilitation services, time, and help from mother nature, many horses can come back from an injury like this. My prognosis for Bella Ciao after surgery was very good,” said Dr. Brusie.
Dr. Brusie performed Bella Ciao’s surgery and inserted five screws to repair the fracture.
From left to right: Digital radiographs show the condylar fracture to the right front leg, and the five screws that completed the surgery.
“He does an excellent job with all of our horses. We wanted to give it a shot for Bella Ciao, and it paid off,” said Alessandro. He and his father, Antonio, have worked with Dr. Brusie on many horses, including a past Kentucky Derby runner and horses winning in excess of million-dollar purses. “He told us that she would be back to the track, so we followed his instructions perfectly.”
Back On Track
Dr. Brusie prescribed stall rest and hand walking for the first several months of Bella Ciao’s recovery. She slowly began jogging, and then breezing.
On October 27, 2019, she returned to the track in a $45,000 Allowance race. With Leonel Reyes up in the irons, Bella Ciao made her comeback in storybook fashion by winning that race and coming out fit, sound, and healthy. Now a four-year-old, Bella Ciao won again on April 30, 2020, and most recently placed third in a $60,000 race on June 27.
“While treatable, a condylar fracture is not an easy injury to come back from, but Dr. Brusie is one of the best surgeons in the country, and we trusted him,” said Alessandro, who has been working with Dr. Brusie since he and his father moved their business from Venezuela to the U.S. in 2010. “She recovered brilliantly, and we could not be happier with how she is going now. She is a special filly, and we are thrilled that we took this chance on her.”
Palm Beach Equine Clinic helps one mini donkey survive a roller coaster of health concerns
The popular veterinary adage, “if only they could just tell us how they feel,” never rang more true than in the case of an 11-year-old miniature donkey mare named Madison. Owned by Sariah Hopkins, “Madi” came to Palm Beach Equine Clinic by referral and was diagnosed with hyperlipemia, a common issue in miniature donkeys. Madi’s case, however, was never exactly how it seemed.
Hopkin’s describes Madi as the “center of attention.” Rescued from an animal hoarding situation by Safe Harbor Sanctuary in Nashville, TN, where Hopkins serves on the Board of Directors, Madi was officially adopted by Sariah and her husband Joel in 2015.
“She was one of 40 horses and donkeys being kept on four acres of land,” said Sariah, who relocated to Juno Beach, FL, with Madi in tow in 2018. “She has always had a super sweet, calm personality, but likes to kick up her heels. We’ve done behavioral health therapy work with foster children and she makes everyone who meets her fall in love. She is so engaging.”
After trading Tennessee for Florida, Madi didn’t adjust to her change in environment with ease. According to Sariah, a systematic decline in her health started while the mare tried to adjust to a new barn, environment, farrier, and life. “She was depressed,” said Sariah. “She wasn’t her bright-eyed self. She’s a donkey and she will eat anything so when she went off her grain and refused alfalfa, I called a local vet to pull fluids and run blood work.
“I reviewed the results with my vet in Tennessee who knows Madi and her history,” continued Sariah. “They were catastrophically bad, and she told me I needed to get Madi to a clinic immediately. I was referred to Palm Beach Equine Clinic by my friend Nataliya Boyko. Within minutes, I was on the phone with her vet, Dr. Bryan Dubynsky, and soon after we were on our way.”
Once Madison arrived at Palm Beach Equine Clinic, she was treated primarily by Dr. Abby Berzas and overseen by Dr. Dubynsky. They diagnosed her with hyperlipemia, and she remained at the clinic for two weeks.
Hyperlipemia is a common metabolic disease of ponies, miniature horses, and donkeys. In affected patients, an increase in serum triglyceride concentrations (hypertriglyceridemia) puts them at risk for liver failure, renal failure, and multiorgan dysfunction that can ultimately lead to death.
Genetically, donkeys are designed to live in harsh environments with poor-quality forage. As a result, they tend to put on weight and gain excess fat reserves when living on relatively lush pasture. Unfortunately, when they stop eating for any reason – usually stress induced – hyperlipemia may develop due to a ‘negative energy balance’ where more energy is being used than is being taken in through eating. The essential organs of the body still require a food supply, so it uses the energy that has been stored as fat deposits. The result is that free fatty acids are circulated to the liver and converted to glucose for use by the body.
However, donkeys are not able to efficiently turn off this fat release. The blood soon fills up with excess fat in circulation, causing them to become very sick and uncomfortable. This circulating fat is measured in the blood as triglycerides.
Madison’s case presented as a severe spike in triglycerides, which can be reduced by introducing sugars into the system. The sugar causes the body to release insulin and drive the triglycerides down.
“She responded well the first day, but we didn’t see the improvement that we would have liked or that she needed,” said Dr. Berzas. “We started more aggressive treatments the following day with insulin therapy and antibiotics. The dextrose caused a physiological increase in insulin, but it wasn’t enough. As soon as she had insulin therapy her triglyceride levels started coming down. They decreased significantly and she started eating again.”
Madison remained on insulin therapy for a week and was evaluated hourly by Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinarians to monitor the possibility of hypoglycemic shock. When Madison was able to eat regularly and maintain low triglyceride levels without any help, she was discharged.
“I had access to Madi daily, and we made the most of her time in the hospital with long hand walks, grazing, and relaxing in her stall,” said Sariah. “I got updates from the clinic every two to three hours when I wasn’t there, and without any more clinical signs, she appeared to be improving.
“But, when I got her home she still was not herself,” continued Sariah, who spent hours sitting in Madi’s stall with her. She moved home to Sariah and Joel’s private farm while they did all they could to eliminate the stress that had supposedly led to Madi’s condition. “She was good for 24 to 48 hours and then would slide backwards again. One afternoon, I was sitting in her stall and she had a coughing fit that I was able to video. I sent it to [Dr. Berzas] and she came out to the farm to check on Madi.”
Dr. Berzas performed a thoracic ultrasound and spotted comet tails in her lungs, leading to one thing: pneumonia.
“We were wracking our brains to figure out what the original stressor might have been that led to the hyperlipemia, but Madi did not display any signs of pneumonia at the clinic and did not cough once,” said Dr. Berzas. Then, there it was! Donkeys are stoic, tough animals, and sometimes they don’t give us traditional clinical signs.”
While hyperlipemia was the result, pneumonia was the cause.
“Cortisol, also known as the ‘stress hormone’ has a vast array of effects within the body, and it is one of the first triggers for the body to recruit energy from the its peripheral stores,” explained Palm Beach Equine Clinic Internal Medicine Specialist Dr. Peter Heidmann. “It minimizes discomfort and increases blood pressure and metabolic rate, basically saying, ‘Now is not the time to conserve energy for the future. I need energy now in order to survive.’ In Madison’s case, the infection prompted the body to need more than average energy – it needed extra fuel to fight the infection.”
The typical diagnostic procedure for pneumonia is a tracheal wash procedure, but after consulting with Dr. Heidmann, Dr. Berzas elected to try and mitigate any further stress on Madison by choosing a less invasive procedure. Instead, Dr. Berzas used a special stylette that allowed them to go through the nasal sinuses and cleanly aspirate back cellular fluid for analysis. This option is called a Bronchoalveolar Lavage (BAL), and is most typically used for diagnosing cell types in the lungs.
“After culturing her fluid aspirate, she went back on antibiotics and responded well,” said Dr. Berzas. “She also had nebulizer treatments that delivered antibiotics directly to the lungs, which is the best way to treat the infection.”
One month after the pneumonia diagnosis, Sariah was proud to report that Madi had made a full recovery. “When we brought her in that first day, we frankly were getting ready to say goodbye,” said Sariah. “We were devastated, and Dr. Dubynsky agreed to try and save Madi. Thank goodness he did!”
Once the pneumonia was cleared, Madi’s routine returned to normal and the hyperlipemia was no longer an issue. Today, Madi is happily running Sariah and Joel’s farm.
“Palm Beach Equine Clinic treats some of the top sport horses in the world, but I feel that Madi – a very special donkey – received the same treatment. Dr. Berzas was 100% available to me, and she championed Madi. I could not be more thankful to her and the entire team of veterinarians and staff who rallied around our Madi.”
“When we have a case that’s particularly challenging to diagnose,” Dr. Berzas remarked, “it just reminds us of how fortunate we are to be part of a team of specialists. At Palm Beach Equine Clinic, we are able to tap into the knowledge and experience of our fellow veterinarians from different specialties, and really deliver that value for the patient.”
Sariah chronicled Madi’s condition and recovery on her Facebook page, developing quite a fan base for the little donkey. Madi’s story is far from over, but now she’s telling it herself and can be followed on Facebook as @MadisonJoelleDonk.
Dr. Santiago Demierre Gives Peachy a Second Chance
When two-year-old Quarter Horse filly Peachy decided to jump out of her paddock for a night-time stroll this past November, she got herself into some creative “young horse” trouble. After tipping over a garbage can containing bailing wire, she became entangled in the wire and her attempts to kick free resulted in the wire penetrating the wall of her right hind hoof and looped through the sole. The more the filly kicked, the deeper the wire went until it pierced the opposite side of the hoof wall and protruded out the other side.
The first call owner Corey Chilcutt made was to the clinic, and on-call veterinarian Dr. Santiago Demierre responded immediately.
Not So Peachy Anymore
I arrived, the two ends of wire that looped over the horse’s back had been cut
down so it was only the wire penetrating the hoof,” said Dr. Demierre. “She was
stressed and in a great deal of pain. I sedated the horse and blocked the foot
so she would not feel any more pain.”
Once Peachy, who is in training to run barrels in Loxahatchee, FL, was comfortable, Dr. Demierre utilized portable radiograph technology to obtain x-ray images of the right hind foot and evaluate the injury. The images revealed that it was safe to remove the wire, and after disinfecting the area, Dr. Demierre removed the wire through the injury site.
were no fractures or synovial structures involved, but I did see on the
radiograph that the coffin bone was compromised,” said Dr. Demierre. “There was
a suspicious line through the coffin bone that could have led to chronic
lameness, so the prognosis for performance was reserved. The prognosis for
survival was very positive, and I told the owner there was a 50/50 chance she
would return to training.”
Once Peachy’s hoof was free from the wire, Dr. Demierre soaked the foot in disinfectant, and began an aggressive course of antibiotic treatments, including regional distal limb perfusion and systemic antibiotics. Finally, the foot was wrapped while the treatments did their work.
Demierre returned to check on Peachy and continue the antibiotic treatments six
times over the past two months. “I performed recheck radiographs of the hoof a
month after the injury and there was no fracture where we saw the initial line
that caused concern,” said Dr. Demierre. “The margins of the coffin bone had
reabsorbed slightly, but overall the injury was healing well.”
Once the bandages were removed, Dr. Demierre worked with Chillcutt’s farrier, Juan Rivera, on a therapeutic shoeing plan. Rivera used a hospital plate with disinfectant on the injured hoof, and a bar shoe with a pour-in pad on the opposite hind hoof. At the first shoeing reset a month later, he transitioned the right hoof to a bar shoe with a pour-in pad.
recovery plan included stall rest until Dr. Demierre gave the green light for
hand walking six weeks after the injury. At eight weeks, she was trotting on a
lunge line, and earlier this month Peachy’s rider Kloey sat on her for the
outcome was excellent,” said Dr. Demierre. “She is perfectly sound with no
medication and will be back in normal shoes by the end of this month.”
is hopeful that Peachy and Kloey will return to their training and will be running
barrels in the future. “Dr. Demierre was amazing; his treatment plan was successful
and Peachy was back to work much quicker than we ever thought. Words can’t
describe the gratitude we have for Dr. Demierre, his technician Emma Sexton,
and everyone at the clinic. Their dedication has been phenomenal.”
As of February 14, Peachy is back to her old self, according to Chillcutt, who noted, “She is happy to be back to work and she loves her job!”
When Margo Crowther of Fort Myers, FL, was looking to add a new addition to her string of barrel racing horses, she made one very important phone call. That call was to Palm Beach Equine Clinic. Dr. Weston Davis, board-certified surgeon and veterinarian at Palm Beach Equine Clinic, has been working with Crowther to keep her horses healthy, as well as performing career-saving procedures.
In 2016, Dr. Davis helped Crowther and her 2012 Quarter Horse mare Shes Packin Fame, or “Sissy,” return to the ring after what could have been a detrimental injury. Sissy suffered a rare slab fracture to the central tarsal bone in her left hock while competing in a barrel racing competition. After a diagnosis aided by Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s advanced diagnostic imaging equipment and a surgery performed by Dr. Davis, Shes Packin Fame not only returned to running barrels, but the mare was also back to winning the next year.
When Crowther found a new prospect named Grandiose Guy, or “Mater,” she turned to Dr. Davis to ensure her intended purchase would be a good fit. The Quarter Horse gelding was named the Barrel Futurities of America (BFA) Horse of the Year just after she purchased him, crowning him the top four-year-old in the country.
“When I was thinking about buying him, I called Dr. Davis and sent him videos of the horse working to review,” said Crowther, who started the purchase process late last year and chose to involve Dr. Davis in all aspects of the pre-purchase evaluation. “The horse was in Georgia, so he reviewed them from Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington and gave me the stamp of approval. Once a pre-purchase was performed, I sent all the x-rays to Dr. Davis and he told me to move forward.
“I trust Dr. Davis and the team at Palm Beach Equine Clinic so much!” continued Crowther. “Barrel horses work hard and it’s so important to have a great relationship with the vet who oversees their care and knows them well in order to keep them happy and healthy.”
Regardless of breed or discipline, a pre-purchase exam involves certain steps that allow the potential owner and veterinarian to investigate the horse’s health and condition. The veterinarian gathers and interprets information by physically examining the horse’s body systems and conformation, as well as reviewing the health history. A lameness assessment is completed, including flexion tests, soft tissue structure palpation and movement evaluation. Diagnostic medical imaging tools, such as radiography, ultrasonography, endoscopy, magnetic resonance imaging, nuclear scintigraphy, or computed tomography, may be used to provide a more detailed and comprehensive profile of the horse.
Crowther purchased Mater and started running him at the beginning of last year, bringing him to the largest one-day rodeo, The American, in the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Texas in February. The competition had a $1 million payout and Mater and Crowther placed fifth.
“After so many runs, we brought him home from Texas and got him over to Dr. Davis for any maintenance work that needed to be done to keep him feeling his best,” said Crowther. “I am very picky about where I take my horses; there has to be good ground and I will not run their legs off. In conjunction with that, maintenance work with Dr. Davis is important. He performs flexion tests, utilizes the imaging at Palm Beach Equine Clinic if necessary, and makes recommendations about my horses’ health and overall well-being.”
Dr. Davis sent Mater home from Palm Beach Equine Clinic with a clean bill of health and Crowther gave the gelding a little time off before their next run. After returning to work, Mater headed to the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) Florida State Championships in Kissimmee.
Crowther’s diligence and Dr. Davis’ knowledge paid off when Mater won both his runs and clinched the open final at NBHA Florida State Championships. With more than 700 entries, Mater and Crowther topped them all and were crowned overall champions of the event.
“Palm Beach Equine Clinic and Dr. Davis have been a huge part of the success I have had with all of my horses,” said Crowther. “They are always there when I need them, whether I’m headed to the clinic in Wellington or they are coming to me in Fort Meyers. It’s nice to be able to know your vet will be there for you whenever you need them.”
When dressage rider Meagan Davis and owner Scott Durkin think about the goals they have for their dressage horse Royale, they have tunnel vision for the grand prix ring. Royale, a 16-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Routinier x Ironman) was well on his way to accomplishing that goal during the 2019 season when something strange started happening.
After arriving at their winter home in Loxahatchee, FL, from a northern base in Stone Ridge, NY, Davis kicked off Royale’s winter competition schedule with a show in January. The horse was coming off a very successful fall season that included CDI Intermediaire I and CDI Prix St. Georges victories at the New England Dressage Fall Festival and Dressage at Devon.
“Our first show was unusually chilly and I noticed that Royale was breathing a little hard and didn’t sweat very much,” recalled Davis. “I didn’t think that much of it because of the weather, but when we returned home and it warmed up, he wasn’t sweating at all.
“He could not catch his breath after being perfectly fit a month before,” continued Davis. “I rely on Palm Beach Equine Clinic for the care of all the horses in my barn and I immediately turned to Dr. Robert Brusie.”
Dr. Brusie is a Board-Certified Surgeon at Palm Beach Equine Clinic and was diligent about ruling out any physical causes of Royale’s obvious discomfort and decline in performance. After flexion tests, checking for musculoskeletal problems, and assessing soreness or wear and tear, Dr. Brusie turned to Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s Internal Medicine Specialist Dr. Peter Heidmann.
“Dr. Brusie was watching me work him one day, noticed the decline in muscle, the lack of sweating, and labored breathing, and recommended we take a deeper look with a specialist,” said Davis. “That is why I trust Palm Beach Equine Clinic with the care of my horses. They have so many tricks up their sleeves, and their clients are fortunate that the veterinarians collaborate so well together in order to do what’s best for the horse.”
Dr. Heidmann’s first step was to asses any neurological causes by testing for equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) and Lyme disease. Both were negative. He then moved on to a nutrient analysis.
“When you see weakness and poor muscle mass in a horse, two of the things you test for right away are vitamin E and selenium deficiencies,” said Dr. Heidmann. “Both are common causes of decreased performance due to low concentrations in local soil or the soil where a horse’s hay derives from.”
No deficiencies were found in Royale, which prompted Dr. Heidmann to move on to muscle testing. He drew blood from Royale, put him in work, and then drew blood again four to six hours later. When comparing enzymes in the blood from before and after work, Dr. Heidmann looked for any large increase, which would indicate the problem was in the muscles themselves. Royale’s tests, once again, came back normal.
At this point, Dr. Heidmann returned to the case history and started following the shortness of breath symptom, noting, “Breathing abnormalities in horses are difficult to diagnose by simply listening because their chest wall is so thick. What I wanted to asses was prolonged recovery. This is done by placing a bag over a horse’s nose to get them to breathe deeply. Once the bag is removed, breathing should regulate within two to three breaths. Royale needed four to five breaths.”
Once Dr. Heidmann identified a possible cause, he performed abronchoalveolar lavage (BAL), which is essentially a lung sample used to identify abnormal cells. He inserted a small-diameter tube through the trachea, flushed saline into the lung, and then suctioned it back out.
“Sure enough, when I examined the sample, there was mucus and abnormal cells,” said Dr. Heidmann. “Despite his bloodwork being normal and no obvious infections, Royale was battling equine asthma or ‘heaves.’”
The treatment for asthma in horses is very similar to what’s done for humans and includes an anti-inflammatory bronchodilator drug and inhaled steroids.
“While his breathing issues were significant enough to affect performance, Royale’s treatments were relatively mild with immediate and substantial improvement,” said Dr. Heidmann. “I used nebulized herbal remedies, steam, and Ventipulmin, which is an oral syrup.
“I’m a less-is-more person and veterinarian,” he continued. “I try to have the best outcome with the least amount of medications. Additionally, we created some routines that would minimize environmental dust and allergens, such as using a hay net, wetting down hay and bedding, or using chopped newspaper as bedding.”
Royale stayed on the prescribed medication through his trip home to New York and came off them at the end of May. Today, he is back in work and has regained the fitness and muscle he had during the fall. According to Davis, their goal is to step into the grand prix ranks during the upcoming season.
“My favorite cases are the sickest of the sick and the most elusive needle in a haystack,” concluded Dr. Heidmann. “Royale’s case definitely fell into the latter. It was really challenging, but rewarding because the outcome was a horse that is dramatically different than he was four months ago. But the most important part of this case for me was working together with Dr. Brusie. I would have not been successful in helping this horse if he hadn’t done all the work prior to coming to me. That kind of collaboration is what contributes to our success and sets Palm Beach Equine Clinic apart!”
When Margo Crowther of Fort Myers, FL, was looking to add a new addition to her string of barrel racing horses, she made one very important phone call. That first call was to Palm Beach Equine Clinic (PBEC). Dr. Weston Davis, board-certified surgeon and veterinarian at PBEC, has been working with Crowther for several years and has helped maintain her horses and even performed some career-saving procedures.
In 2016, Dr. Davis helped Crowther and her 2012 Quarter Horse mare Shes Packin Fame or “Sissy” return to the ring after what could have been a detrimental injury. Sissy suffered a rare slab fracture to the central tarsal bone in her left hock while competing in a barrel racing competition. After a diagnosis aided by PBEC’s state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging equipment and a surgery performed by Dr. Davis, Shes Packin Fame not only returned to running barrels, but the five-year-old mare was also back to winning the next year. Click here to learn more about Sissy!
Crowther Meets “Mater”
This time, Crowther turned to Dr. Davis to ensure that her intended purchase of a new horse was a good fit. When she met Grandiose Guy, known to her as “Mater,” she had to have him. The Quarter Horse gelding was named the Barrel Futurities of America (BFA) Horse of the Year just after she purchased him in 2017, crowning him the top four-year-old in the country.
“When I was thinking about buying him, I called Dr. Davis and sent him videos of the horse working to review,” said Crowther, who started the purchase process late last year. “The horse was in Georgia, so he reviewed them from PBEC in Wellington and gave me the stamp of approval. Once a pre-purchase was performed, I sent all the x-rays to Dr. Davis and he told me to move forward.
“I trust Dr. Davis and the team at PBEC so much!” continued Crowther. “Barrel horses work hard and it’s so important to have a great relationship with the veterinarian who oversees their care and knows them well in order to keep them happy and healthy.”
Crowther purchased Mater and started running him at the start of 2018, bringing him to the largest one-day rodeo, The American, in the Dallas Cowboys stadium in Texas in February. The competition had a $1 million payout and Mater and Crowther placed fifth.
“After so many runs, we brought him home from Texas and got him over to Dr. Davis for any maintenance work that needed to be done to keep him feeling his best,” said Crowther. “I am very picky about where I take my horses; there has to be good ground and I will not run their legs off. In conjunction with that, maintenance work with Dr. Davis is important. He performs flexion tests, utilizes the imaging at PBEC if necessary, and makes recommendations about my horses’ health and overall well-being.”
Dr. Davis sent Mater home from PBEC with a clean bill of health and Crowther gave the gelding a little time off before their next run. After returning to work, Mater headed to the National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) Florida State Championships in Kissimmee in mid-June.
Success for Crowther and Mater
Crowther’s diligence and Dr. Davis’ knowledge paid off in full when Mater won both his runs and clinched the open final at NBHA Florida State Championships. With more than 700 entries, Mater and Crowther topped them all and were crowned overall champions of the event.
“PBEC and Dr. Davis have been a huge part of the success I have had with all of my horses,” said Crowther. “They are always there when I need them, whether I’m headed to the clinic or they are coming to me in Fort Meyers. It’s nice to be able to know your vet will be there for you whenever you need them.”
When Grand Prix dressage rider Meagan Davis needs to make sure her horses are feeling their best, she turns to Palm Beach Equine Clinic, located in the heart of Wellington, FL. Palm Beach Equine Clinic has invested more than 30 years and the work of talented veterinarians in evolving the most advanced diagnostic imaging, surgical skills, alternative therapies, and overall care of sport horses across varying disciplines.
Meagan Davis Dressage, based in Loxahatchee, FL, and Stone Ridge, NY, has entrusted Palm Beach Equine Clinic with the care and maintenance of their string of dressage horses for nearly a decade. Drawn to the personalized care provided by Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s team of veterinarians, which includes six boarded specialists, head trainer Davis was immediately comfortable turning to the clinic for the care of her horses.
“Palm Beach Equine Clinic is the premier facility in South Florida,” said Davis, 28, who has been traveling to Florida to compete at events that include the prestigious Adequan® Global Dressage Festival since she was 18 years old. “If I am going to have a horse undergo any kind of surgery or maintenance work, I will choose Palm Beach Equine Clinic every time without a doubt.
“Knowing that I can compete well in a CDI because my horse is feeling his best gives me valuable peace of mind,” said Davis. “Being that we have a couple of older horses, maintenance is huge in keeping their longevity. We have a 19-year-old horse who could go out and compete fourth level tomorrow because he is so well cared for by our vets. For my younger horses, it’s about keeping them feeling their best so their careers are as long as these older horses we have.”
A Quick Look at Meagan Davis Dressage
Davis herself competed internationally for the first time at age 11 in the FEI Pony Division at the America’s Cup in Blainville, Quebec, while riding under the tutelage of U.S. dressage rider Lendon Gray. The appearance earned her the distinction of being the youngest rider to represent the United States in international dressage competition. She won the USEF National Young Rider Dressage Championship in 2010 and went on to compete at the Young Rider World Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, that same year. There, Davis earned a title as the only U.S. rider to finish in the “A” final, where she was seventh.
Davis later rode under the direction of 2004 Olympic and 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games team gold medalist Hubertus Schmidt of Germany before launching her own business at the end of her junior career.
“I built the business up from there,” said Davis. “I got a couple low level green broke horses to start and continued their education up through the levels. Clients started to see us at shows and were coming to me.
“When I turned 21, I started to bring clients down to Florida with me,” continued Davis, who runs her boarding and training operation out of a Loxahatchee farm owned by her parents, Bill and Karen Davis.
Davis currently oversees the care and training of 14 horses ranging in age from three to 23. Her own mount Royale, owned by longtime client Scott Durkin of New York, NY, is currently competing in the small tour division and contested five CDI events during the 2018 winter season. Davis is also currently producing a young horse, Damocles HLF, which her father found at an auction in Orlando. At only eight, the gelding is competing in the Developing Prix St. Georges ranks.
Davis also has a three-year-old gelding she is starting herself for Durkin, as well as clients competing at second and third level. There is even a dressage pony rounding out the string!
Trusting Palm Beach Equine Clinic
For Davis, the correct maintenance of the horses under her supervision is the cornerstone of her training program.
Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s own Dr. Robert Brusie, who graduated from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine and is a board-certified surgeon, pays a visit to Meagan Davis Dressage when they arrive at their southern base each November. Giving all the horses a comprehensive exam, Dr. Brusie evaluates the needs of each individual horse to keep them fit and happy during the show season.
“He does a full work-up – flexions, injections, x-rays if needed,” said Davis. “There was a time when we weren’t doing these checks and what would happen is we would get going and I would find that something didn’t feel right and we would be missing shows during the season.”
Dr. Brusie is also responsible for vetting the majority of Davis’ horses. One, in particular, was a 14-year-old Westphalian who had a late flying change.
“We discussed how the flying change was so late and if we would ever be able to fix that situation,” said Davis. “Dr. Brusie watched the horse go, I schooled the flying changes for him, we did the vetting, and he said, ‘You’ll have this change no problem.’ He gave me what he thought would be a good program for maintenance and muscle building and the next year we had changes. I competed him through fourth level.”
When the Unexpected Happens
Every horse owner knows that when it comes to a horse’s health, the unexpected is always a looming possibility. For Davis, however, the anxiety of caring for top level sport horses is slightly assuaged by having PBEC in her corner.
“We have a Friesian who was losing weight with no clear reason why,” said Davis. “I was referred to Dr. Heidmann, who was able to correctly diagnose a colon ulcer over the phone after listening to his symptoms. He told me exactly what to do and the horse was almost magically better!”
Dr. Peter Heidmann is the PBEC resident internal medicine specialist and rounds out a diverse group of veterinarians and specialists who provide comprehensive diagnostic and treatment care.
“It’s nice that they have such a wide variety of vets on staff,” continued Davis. “We have used their MRI machine to help diagnose a torn check ligament on a horse that has since made a full recovery and is back to work, we have had them quickly assess a minor colic that had the potential to be very serious, and we have had PBEC vets here for everything from gelding stallions to teeth floating.”
With the care of her horses always at its best, Davis has big plans for her clients and herself, saying, “I hope to move Royale up to the Grand Prix level in the next year, and I would love to qualify Damocles for the USEF Young & Developing Horse Dressage National Championships. As for the clients, they will all be qualifying for regionals, which is a big deal for adult amateurs at second level. It’s all made possible because Palm Beach Equine Clinic keeps all of our horses feeling their best.”
Have further questions about the services available at Palm Beach Equine Clinic? Call the clinic today at 561-793-1599 to learn more.
Any horse owner’s worst nightmare is realized when their mount begins to show the dreaded signs of colic. For Jody Stoudenmier, a Wellington, FL, resident and avid dressage rider, she knows the symptoms all too well.
Stoudenmier owns an 11-year-old American-bred Dutch Warmblood mare that joined her string of horses at the end of 2016 and has competed through the Intermediate II level. Sidelined by a suspensory injury last year, Beatrix was prescribed stall rest to aid in her recovery by Dr. Robert Scott of Scott Equine Services based in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. An unfortunate but common side effect of the necessary stall rest was colic. Beatrix suffered from six bouts of colic that were resolved without surgery when Dr. Scott referred Stoudenmier and Beatrix to Palm Beach Equine Clinic.
“She is such a wonderful mare; a nice mover, very athletic, sweet, sensitive, and easy to handle in the barn,” said Stoudenmier of the mare that regularly competes at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival during the winter season. “When she was recovering from her injury we tried everything to prevent her from colicking – diet, medications, hand walking – but, nothing seemed to be working.”
“Her colic had never progressed so far that we needed to do surgery before,” explained Stoudenmier. “But, at that point, I was open to anything! After speaking with Dr. Davis, I immediately had a positive feeling about it.”
Dr. Davis’ Surgical Procedure
The procedure that Dr. Davis suggested was an endoscopic ablation of nephrosplenic space. In layman’s terms, as a result of Beatrix’s colic, her colon was essentially getting caught or entrapped over the nephrosplenic ligament, which connects the left kidney to the spleen. When the colon is entrapped in this position, its contents cannot move through it and the colon becomes distended, causing the horse considerable pain, and the inevitable colic.
Dr. Davis’ solution was to close or perform an ablation of the nephrosplenic space to prevent further entrapment. The procedure can be conducted endoscopically where the horse does not have to be anesthetized, but undergoes a standing surgery with sedation and local anesthesia. A small incision is made in the left flank and the laparoscope is inserted through a smaller incision close by. The nephrosplenic space is then sutured closed so that the trough that forms the space between the kidney and spleen is obliterated and can no longer entrap the colon.
On October 9, 2017, Beatrix underwent a successful ablation of the nephrosplenic space at the hands of Dr. Davis.
“In the past, I have had several horses undergo surgery where they had to be anesthetized and it was very difficult to get them standing again after surgery,” said Stoudenmier. “We did not have that worry with Beatrix and the approach absolutely made a difference in her recovery.”
Post-Surgery Care and Recovery
Beatrix remained at Palm Beach Equine Clinic for a week and a half after surgery to jump-start her recovery before returning home to Stoudenmier, who has managed her post-surgery care with the help of both Dr. Davis and Dr. Scott.
“Dr. Davis was absolutely wonderful to work with,” said Stoudenmier of her experience at Palm Beach Equine Clinic. “He listened to my concerns, was patient, and kept his mind open.”
Dr. Davis paid a visit to Beatrix in mid-November to perform an ultrasound and together with Dr. Scott approved the mare to return to work. Stoudenmier has begun to introduce trot work into Beatrix’s routine and is optimistically expecting a full recovery, saying, “She looks super and everything looks good for the next two months. My goal by the end of the season is to get her back in the show ring!”
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.
Emergency Veterinary Care
Recognizing the extreme peril facing Freeman, Pine Hollow immediately called for help from Palm Beach Equine Clinic, 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. “Palm Beach Equine Clinic 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 Palm Beach Equine Clinic were able to free Freeman from the trailer door.
At the Equine Hospital
From there, Freeman was transported to the nearby Equine Hospital, where he spent a few days recovering 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 Palm Beach Equine Clinic’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.
On the morning of December 30, 2015, Laurie Waggoner, director of rescue operations and founder of the South Florida SPCA, got a call that she gets all too often. Agriculture patrol had received reports of three emaciated horses in Miami Gardens, FL, that needed immediate care. Waggoner took action and hooked up her truck and trailer to make the drive to pick up the three horses. When she arrived, she found an Arabian and a Quarter Horse, both severely underweight, and a pony she estimated to be two years old laying in the mud, too weak and malnourished to even stand.
The pony, who was quickly named Amazing Grace or “Grace” had been down for more than 24 hours. Despite Waggoner’s best efforts, her team was unable to get Grace on her feet and decided the most humane option was to end Grace’s suffering. Calls went out to local veterinarians, but were met with a slow response the day before New Year’s Eve. While they waited for a veterinarian to become available, Waggoner and her team rolled Grace onto a blanket and carried her onto a trailer to make the trip back to the South Florida SPCA.
“When we pulled her off the trailer, she immediately started grazing,” said Waggoner. “The vet was on the way to euthanize her, but I saw that there was fight still left in her. We were able to pick her up and she stood with help. She was not ready to go.” Grace was made comfortable in a stall at the South Florida SPCA and stood with assistance over the next day. But, on the second day, she was no longer willing or able to make an effort to stand.
“I knew we were going to need help, but it was a holiday and locally everything was closed,” said Waggoner. “I called Palm Beach Equine Clinic (PBEC) and they told me to bring her right in.” Grace arrived at PBEC on New Year’s Day and was greeted by a team of veterinarians led by Dr. Scott Swerdlin, president of PBEC. She was treated for extreme starvation and neglect, which included constant blood work to monitor organ function, the administration of fluids, several meals of senior feed and alfalfa each day, and a lot of compassion from PBEC veterinarians.
Watch Amazing Grace’s Full Story
“She spent eight days at PBEC and returned to the South Florida SPCA ranch with the same will to live,” said Waggoner. “Five days later, I came out in the morning and she was standing on her own.” Grace was completely rehabbed in four months and put up for adoption at the end of 2016. On December 31, 2016, one year after she was found on the brink of death, Grace made her way across the U.S.-Canadian border to her new home at Sherwood Farm in St. Catharines, Ontario, with adopter Marilyn Lee.
“I knew she would need special handling to give her the chance to succeed, which we were fully prepared to do,” said Lee, who also adopted a Thoroughbred from the South Florida SPCA in 2012. “I saw her current photo on South Florida SPCA’s Facebook page and thought, ‘Now there is a lovely pony’. Then I saw the photo of her laying in the dirt, and that was that.” One of Lee’s young riders, Abby Banis, had also learned of Grace’s story on social media and was waiting for the pony in the early morning hours the day she arrived at Sherwood Farm.
The two have been inseparable ever since. Grace’s training began immediately under the direction of Lee’s daughter, Robin Hannah-Carlton. Impressed by the pony’s love for jumping, Lee made plans to start showing Grace. The rescue pony won a reserve championship in the pony hunter division at the very first show she competed in with Banis in the irons.
Today, Grace is happy and healthy with the care of Lee and her staff, and the love of a little girl. The South Florida SPCA operates under the motto, “Your next champion just might be a rescue”, and for Grace, nothing could be closer to the truth.