Wisp thin but strong, 19-year-old Alyssa Hammond toughened up early in life.
Just 11-years-old when she lost her father Scott to brain cancer, the young Texas girl turned to horses to shore up her defenses. As she pressed on with her education, and other obligations, grief that could rush at her with dizzying force, could also be out run with the help of a red dun Quarter Horse named Will; the first of three she would treasure and love.
On him she flew over fields and ditches as she embraced the Eventing discipline. And at school where she excelled in math, she eventually entered college to study accounting. Her goal an MBA, and ultimately, a solid job in the oil and gas industry.
Throughout her young life, she maintained her levelheaded academic pursuits, and in no small part, because a horse was there when she needed him most.
Eight years after enduring the battle her 48-year-old father lost to cancer, the young woman of nearly 20 has had another health crisis emerge.
Only this time, it involved a young Thoroughbred who needed her as desperately as she once needed that Quarter Horse.
Sire: Tough Game
Foal date: May 3, 2011So many people told Hammond to euthanize her 3-year-old Thoroughbred Tough West when he developed Pleuropneumonia just a week after arriving at her Texas farm from California. He was a gift from a Golden Gate trainer; and seemed to be the perfect horse to train for Eventing as she eased her other two horses into retirement.
But soon after stepping off the shipping van Sept. 7, Tough West went off his feed, and a week later was rushed to Bravos Valley Equine Hospital in Navasota, Texas. “The vets said he had one of the worst cases of pleuropneumonia they’d seen,” she says. “Both lungs were filled with fluid and he had a 103.8 temperature.”
He was admitted to the hospital on Sept. 13, and what followed was a costly, confusing, exhausting battle to combat a Penicillin-resistant bacterial infection.
Chest drains were placed into Tough West’s beautiful hide to clear the fluid, and new antibiotics were tried when Penicillin failed. As each procedure was tried, a new complication would arise.
“His lungs were so weak they were leaking, so he had air in his body where there shouldn’t be any,” she says, noting that even the IV needles triggered an alarming blood clotting reaction that made the veins in his face swell like balloons.
“There were times I stood in his stall with him, hugged his head, and my tears would just roll down his face,” she says. “People told me I should put him down. I’m a part-time riding instructor and full-time student, and his bills doubled from the original number I expected. But the vet said he acts like a fighter, and I just couldn’t give up on him after coming all this way.”
Though her veterinary bills began to exceed $10,000, a big burden on the young student, Hammond could not in good conscience let a fighter go to his grave when he seemed so determined to hang on.
“He’s just such a sweet horse. He’s only 3, but he was always so calm. He would let me wrap my arms around his head and hug him. And when I walked away, he’d watch me like he was waiting for me to come back,” she says. “When I started off with all this, I thought his medical bills would be around $5,000, and I thought I could handle that. But, they’ve nearly doubled.”
Even after he was released back into her care last week, he has required constant attention and care. He is on a regimen of Chloramphenicol, an antibiotic that is working against his infection and which she administers four times a day. And his front feet, which have begun to grow warm, now require additional measures to stave off the dreaded Laminitis.
It’s all become something of a battle for both horse and human, but they each refuse to give in to illness, and fight like hell so that Tough West can live another day.
“I could not tell a horse who was a fighter, who is expected to make a full recovery, that this is the end,” Hammond says.
As she hopes against hope that his infection will clear and his feet will resist developing Laminitis, she is filling out a payment plan application with the veterinary hospital, and has also created a Go Fund Me account to raise money to offset his care. Recognizing that the horse’s care is ultimately her responsibility, she has been cheered by recent donations.
To date, Spring Creek Feed in Magnolia, Texas donated 12 bags of Equine Senior Feed and Charlottes Saddlery in Tomball, Texas donated a lightweight turnout blanket. In addition, some $600 has been donated toward a fundraiser. To donate to Tough West’s care, please visit www.gofundme.com/ToughWest.