Reinvigorated from a July 4th family vacation, Micah Wuhl’s happy bubble burst with fear as she returned home from a camping retreat.
While making her way down the long and winding road of a California mountain, her dormant cell phone sprung to life as she neared a cell tower. Ten emergency messages from her barn alerted her: Her horse was down.
Clutched in the throes of colic, Bert’ N The Group was in the grips of what would be the first of several health episodes that would wrack his body with pain and test his 27-year-old new owner’s commitment and strength in the coming weeks.
But first came the nauseating sight of her horse on the ground.
“I raced to the barn and got there by 8 p.m.,” she recalls. “I was so scared. Bert is this tall, dark bay who weaves and bobs his head and is usually so full of energy.” But when he looked at her from eyes showing fright, he was diminished, a horse almost unrecognizable from the feisty racehorse she’d adopted a month earlier.
As quick as she could, she administered a dose of Banamine to ease Bert’s pain and inflammation, and was rewarded when he scrambled back to his feet.
By 1 a.m., on July 5th, he seemed under control, and Wuhl breathed a sigh of relief.
But nine hours later, Bert was back on the ground, thrashing this time, and Wuhl was once again racing to the barn.
Race name: Bert’ N The Group
Sire: Bertrando, (retired)
Dam: Gather The Group
Foal date: Jan. 18, 2007
After an emergency visit by her veterinarian failed to offer sustained relief, Bert was helped onto a friend’s horse trailer and rushed to the veterinary hospital, where he would spend the next 10 days battling pain and other ailments triggered by his colic.
“I went through more sleepless nights and shed more tears with him than any horse I’ve ever know,” she says. “But he was mine; he depended on me.”
For a week Wuhl camped at the hospital, sleeping outside Bert’s stall, and only leaving him to return to work at her office job near Fresno.
Half sick with worry, she felt it was her duty to show him support, to let him know his new person was there for him.
“I would just watch him,” she says. “He would drop off to sleep and then open his eyes and look at me, and then close them again. It was like he needed to know I was still there.
“It just broke my heart.”
As vets scuttled about drawing blood, and performing tests that thankfully revealed no abnormalities, Wuhl spent hours on the phone with Valerie Rhoden, the trainer who had given her the horse in the first place.
Together they lamented Bert’s change in health as Rhoden tried to support Wuhl in her darkest hour. In his race days Bert had no history of colic and was considered quite healthy, Rhoden told her.
While it was reassuring to learn he was not prone to illness, the mounting vet bills were alarming.
“By this point, my vet bill was thousands of dollars and a lady I was riding with suggested I put him down. But I couldn’t do it. Other people said I should send him back. I just couldn’t.”
And they trudged onward, like soldiers in the thick of war, as Wuhl wished for a glimmer of hope. But the news only got worse.
The colic resolved itself, and Bert promptly developed colitis so severe that Wuhl’s vet said it was the worst case he’d seen; he warned it might be fatal.
“He was so sick that he was painting the walls of his stall,” she recalls.
Bert’s weight dropped by 200 pounds; the vet bills mounted, and on one particularly bad day, she questioned her own resolve to keep him alive.
“There was a point in all of this when all four of his legs became so stocked up that he couldn’t walk, and if a horse could cry, he was crying,” she says. “He made a moaning noise that made me cry.”
Wuhl’s life became a dizzying array of new diagnoses and suffering. An infection followed. Then ulcers.
And, even when Bert returned to his barn near Fresno, he was far from being out of the woods. And Wuhl was near financial defeat.
“I finally had to tell my vet that I couldn’t afford any more expenses,” she says, explaining that she could not keep paying him for three daily barn visits to administer Bert’s injections.
Without missing a beat, the vet generously took Wuhl under his wing and taught her how to handle the shots herself.
With things now in Wuhl’s hands alone, she cared for the tall, dark and handsome gelding with love and attention; never missing a shot, never missing a moment to talk quietly to him, reassuring the scared animal that he would survive.
The weeks passed and Bert seemed to perk up. As if he understood his new owner was helping him, he appeared so grateful at times that he seemed to want to “crawl” into her lap, she says.
By early November, he had regained his equilibrium just in time for that moment they had both been waiting for: the light at the tunnel’s end.
In this case, the light shone far from their California home.
Wuhl gave up her day job as an office administrator to accepted at a job with horses, something she’d dreamed of doing. With an invitation to relocate to Texas to become a barn manager and assistant trainer, the pair relocated in December.
While apprehensive about shipping Bert so far after such a health ordeal, she sensed something good was ahead.
And Bert picked up on it too!
The moment he stepped off the van for the first time and surveyed his Texas home, his ears pricked forward, and he seemed to come fully awake as he eagerly walked toward his new barn as though he’d lived there forever.
“I don’t know what it was, but he absolutely loved the new place,” she says. “Our old place near Fresno, California was really nice too, but for some reason, he just loved Texas.”
And life has been looking up ever since.
Wuhl is happy in her work at the Houston-area barn, and Bert is healthy, and learning to become a riding horse.
Even better is the lasting positive impression Wuhl made on Bert’s former owner, Valerie Rhoden. She was so impressed with Wuhl’s dedication that she gave her a second horse, her favorite gray gelding who was something of a star on the California circuit.
“Lang Field is this 10-year-old, gorgeous dapple gray! His father is Langfhur who’s an inductee in the Canadian Racing Hall of Fame, and he was one of Rhoden’s most successful horses,” Wuhl says. “He is completely sound, and is amazing to ride.”
Bert, she says, is her best friend. And now Lang Field, robust and ready for showing, is a second reward, another bright star at the end of a long, dark tunnel.