Before blood filled the nostrils of the flashy race mare Portfolio in an abortive race at Thistledown this May, the beautiful mare’s breeder died, with one last wish left unfulfilled.
To bring the mare home was all Phyllis Lambert wanted. To get her off the racetracks and onto a pasture where she could dawdle, was much of what the sick horseman thought about in her last year.
At one point, the well-respected California horse trainer and breeder tried to buy the mare outright, but the race owner declined her offer.
On March 27, Lambert succumbed to chronic pulmonary disease and never saw her favorite horse come home.
Sire: Indian Country
Dam: Strand of Pearls
Foal date: April 16, 2007
Breeder: Leigh Ann Howard &
Phyllis LambertTwo months later, the flashy chestnut mare she raised with an abundance of hands-on care, failed to finish her 39th start when she bled from both nostrils at Thistledown.
At which point, Lambert’s friends decided it didn’t have to end like this.
Come hell or high water, friends and sympathetic horsemen vowed to get the horse retired.
First they tried to purchase the animal outright, and were refused, says Gail Hirt of Beyond the Roses Equine Rescue and Retirement. So working with racehorse owner and horse-welfare advocate Maggi Moss along with race trainers willing to help, the mare was claimed June 14 for $4,000 at Thistledown, and shipped to Hirt’s Michigan facility for a brief layup before traveling on to California.
“This is where the story begins,” says Hirt, audibly exhausted from an unforeseen turn of events that left the mare battling for her own life, and Hirt scrambling for funds to pay for emergency veterinary services.
“The day she arrived and unloaded from the trailer, the trainer brought to my attention that she had a lump on her neck,” Hirt says. “Within three hours it grew to the size of a Nerf football. We didn’t know what it was. It was huge.”
Her vet Dr. Jessica Younk of Blue Water Equine Hospital raced to the barn on a Sunday night and identified the mass as gas gangrene (medical term: Clostridial Myositis), a potentially fatal side effect of an intramuscular injection gone wrong, Hirt explains.
Four days later, after the mass had traveled down the mare’s neck like an invading creature in a horror movie, her very life lay threatened.
Out of options and desperate to save the beautiful horse, the doctor opened up the gruesome infection to expose it to air, and physically drain it. High doses of antibiotics were administered, and Hirt spent weeks nursing the mare back to health and fundraising for emergency veterinary services on the Go Fund Me me site.
“Once they cut her, I had to irrigate and clean her sores twice a day. The vet was concerned I might get nauseated. But it didn’t bother me. The only thing that bothers me is having to euthanize a horse,” Hirt says. And Portfolio, who stood quietly, without so much as a pinned ear or anxious sidestep, leaned heavily on her ground manners, learned so long ago.
“Phyllis (Lambert) imprinted her when she was first born, meaning that she handled the young foal a lot to get her used to human interaction. She handled her feet, her ears, her mouth, and she was bottle-fed because her mother’s milk was bad,” Hirt says.
Lambert would have been proud to see her mare so well behaved, so classy. And Hirt admits she understood in those long days and nights why Portfolio’s breeder longed to take her home.
“I don’t usually cry when horses leave me. But I’m going to cry when she goes. If she didn’t already have a new home to go to, and I didn’t have the horses I have, she would not be leaving,” Hirt says. But by the first week of August, she plans to put her on a van headed west to California, where an owner hand-selected by Lambert’s friends will offer her the retirement that Phyllis Lambert had dreamed for her. ♥