An all-out effort to save the filly Diorella began in the horse’s third year of life, after she flipped on the lunge line and fractured her skull.
So severely was she hurt that she writhed and seized in the dirt, unable to stand without falling back down.
It was horrifying to witness, says her owner Jan Vandebos. She had stepped away for a brief moment on June 28, 2012, and returned to find her horse, who had just been lunging with a groom, crumpled in the dirt.
But she did not flinch away from the animal she loved.
Moving quickly on what she recalls as the “worst day of her life,” she carefully checked the filly’s nose and eyes for evidence of blood, and finding none, made the decision to do everything humanly possible to save her.
“I wasn’t prepared to let her go unless I felt I had taken every avenue to save her,” says Vandebos of RanJan Racing, which she owns with husband Robert Naify. She had brought the young filly into this world to be a riding horse and was determined to save her: “I wanted to make her whole again.”
Dam: Specific Gravity
Foal date: Feb. 9, 2009Like a commander of a military MASH unit, Vandebos first quickly arranged to have a throng of people on scene to assist, and immediately contacted her personal veterinarian Dr. Phoebe Smith, who was on site within 20 minutes.
What followed was controlled chaos.
Diorella’s eyes darted back and forth as she tried to make sense of her world, and struggled to rise. Working quickly, Dr. Smith administered medicine to quell her seizures, as Vandebos and others tried to calm the frightened animal. “I kept thinking that if we could get her calm, and get her to the hospital, we could save her,” she says.
Diorella was anesthetized, rolled onto a tarp, and lifted by 20 people onto an emergency van and taken to Alamo Pintado Equine Medical Center in Los Olivos, Calif., where she would spend the next two months in intensive care.
Dr. Erin Bryn, DVM, Diplomat of the American College of Internal Medicine, took over the filly’s care, and stood with the entire staff, who lined up outside the medical facility the day Diorella arrived.
A radiograph of Diorella’s skull, taken immediately after she was unloaded, revealed she had fractured bones at the base of her skull, causing her to have seizures, Dr. Bryn confirms.
“We treated her immediately with anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and anti-seizure medication,” Bryn says, noting that it was unusual for a horse with this degree of head trauma to make it to the hospital.
“We probably get one or two cases a year of horses who have flipped over.” Many die before they reach the hospital, or are euthanized on the spot, she says, noting that it is a rare horse to recover from such an injury.
Within 12 hours, however, Diorella was able to stand on her own!
For two months after those perilous beginnings, if a prognosis was issued, it was only in terms of whether the horse would survive. “It’s important to set the expectations low in a case like this,” Bryn says, adding, that the future ride-ability of a horse such as this is spoken of in terms of “miracles.”
Diorella was eventually led on wobbly legs over an outdoor path, which had been carpeted in case she fell, to a waiting van.
Her next stop was the J & M Thoroughbreds farm in Santa Ynez, Calif., where Greg Fanning had stepped up as the sole volunteer to help Diorella with her physical therapy.
“I couldn’t find a farm for her. This was before I had my farm. Nobody wanted to take a brain-damaged horse who was falling down,” Vandebos recalls. “Then a friend of a friend stepped forward and said, ‘I will help you fix her.’ ”
Greg Fanning admits he took on a project that many expected would fail.
But he never gave up on Diorella. Knowing she could fall at any point, and that it was dangerous work, he babied the filly at every turn.
“I couldn’t turn her loose, and would walk her. Her recovery took little baby steps and lots of elbow grease.”
For months he worked with her in a deep-sand arena and when she became steady on her feet, moved her to an equine exercise machine. Here, she trotted and eventually galloped. The filly stayed with Fanning for approximately six months before being moved to Vandebos’ new farm, where she was reunited with her dam Specific Gravity, purely to enjoy turnout, grazing, and idyllic pasture life.
And oh yes, there was one more little miracle: about three months ago: Diorella and Vandebos went riding!
“We had started placing her in a paddock close so she could see her friends being ridden and worked. Then we started to tack her up, and two weeks after that, I decided very spur-of-the-moment to hop on her,” Vandebos says. “We walked for about 10 minutes and then I asked her for a trot. She remembered all of her cues, and I could tell she was very proud to be a riding horse again.” —This story was originally published on May 16, 2014.