In the end he died like the warrior he had been in life.
Wracked with severe colitis that rapidly spread deadly infection throughout a figure of a horse so fine that even in the hours before death he stood defiant and beautiful, refusing to buckle, willing his body to stand.
“Any warrior would have been proud of him,” says his grieving owner Mellisa Davis Warden. “He fought and he just kept on fighting. I heard him snorting and pawing, and later, his doctor came to me and said, ‘Horses don’t come here this sick. This horse is very, very sick, and I want you to know he’s amazing for even standing at this point.’ ”
With a tangle of tubes hanging from him as he stood in a stall at the University of Georgia’s veterinary hospital, Warden hugged him through all that emergency apparatus and said goodbye to an animal who had for a short time, “breathed fire into her life.”
Warden purchased Davy Jones last spring from an owner in Aiken, S.C. and for 10 months the horse who could bite, and was known to chase wise old horsemen from his stall, became the family pet. He carted Warden’s daughter at horse shows, and was learning to stretch and to connect at dressage and held the promise of a really talented Eventer.
Sire: Sea Salute
Dam: Lady by Design
Foal date: May 16, 1998
Earnings: $300,945 and 100 starts
But on Sunday at 5 p.m., after a “fantastic” dressage lesson, the best he had done, she put him back into his stall, blanketed and ready for dinner. The finicky eater took a few nibbles, turned away, and instead of taking a few more bites, he lifted his left, hind leg and looked at his stomach.
Seeing this, Warden froze.
Her previous horse had died of complications from colic and she knew to administer Banamine and walk him around. When he did not improve she quickly enlisted the help of her local veterinarian, and for 48 hours, the pair struggled to save the stoic animal.
“The whole time, he showed no appearance of being sick. He had a brightness to his eye, and he looked so beautiful,” she says.
A regimen of drugs was administered as Davy’s condition, which began as colic, worsened as his colon became displaced over the top of his spleen. An ultrasound revealed that his kidneys had also been displaced and the local veterinarian began consulting with the surgical team at the University of Georgia.
“By Monday at 6 p.m. we debated whether we should take him on a three-hour van ride to the hospital, or administer drugs to shrink his spleen and hopefully let his colon move back into place,” she says, noting that she and her vet agreed to administer [phenylephrine].
Once administered, in order for the treatment to be safe and effective, the horse was required to move around for a half hour. But Davy felt too sick to move, and he refused to budge on the lunge line.
Going quickly to Plan B, Warden laced up her running shoes and ran up and down small hills with him. “I’m recovering from a knee injury, so I held onto his mane, and he literally pulled me along,” she says. “I told him, ‘We’re running for your life right now.’ ”
When the running was done, another rectal exam revealed the entrapment had been resolved, but before the pair could celebrate, the poor horse started in with explosive diarrhea.
What followed was a series of blood work, tests and regimen of fluids, and when Davy failed to improve, they loaded him on a trailer bound for the University of Georgia.
“As I was walking him toward the trailer I stopped and turned and asked my vet if we had any chance,” she says. “I don’t have a lot of money, but I was ready to do anything for him.”
After a three-hour drive on twisting Georgia back roads, a team of seven hospital personnel met them at the end of their journey. And after a battery of blood work and other tests were performed, Warden asked the doctor to give it to her straight.
“He said to me, ‘You’re looking at a standing corpse in front of you,’ ” she says. “But he also said something that gives me peace. He said that if I had a billion dollars and I told him to do everything I could, he couldn’t have kept him alive ‘til morning.”
Though there hasn’t been much time to think, much less accept that the stall that once housed her dream horse is empty, she is comforted by the knowledge that she did everything that could be done.
“It’s really sad and it’s heartbreaking,” she says. “I made the decision when Davy first came home that he would be my last horse. I don’t want to do it again.”