A mare slips away, her owner battles onward

Kalu's Heart was euthanized March 17 after suffering four serious impactions this past year. The sweet mare has inspired her owner to help other Thoroughbreds.

Kalu’s Heart was euthanized March 17 after suffering four serious impactions this past year. The sweet mare has inspired her owner to help other Thoroughbreds.

Gently sliding the downed animal’s head onto her lap, she looked into the sick mare’s eyes. Where she once saw a spark, she now saw surrender. And what she had feared for so long had finally come. And it was over.

After a year battling back from three bouts of impactions so severe they time and again threatened the 6-year-old mare’s life, Lisa Bernard’s horse seemed to plead for mercy.

“I felt like she said to me, ‘Let me go.’ ”

And just like that, Kalu’s Heart was humanely euthanized on March 17, leaving in her wake an indelible mark on the heart of her bereft owner.

“The story of Kalu is a complicated mess, about a horse’s will to live and the true courage and fight of a Thoroughbred,” Bernard says. “I wanted to tell her story in case it might help others going through something similar.”

Bernard first met Kalu’s Heart a year ago, in January.

The face of the dark, nearly black mare beckoned from an online advertisement. And soon after, around mid-January, Bernard purchased the ex-racehorse from owners who had run her at Mountaineer.

Kalu’s Heart
Sire: Kalu
Dam: High Hearts
Foal date: April 9, 2008
It was an uphill battle the moment she arrived.

In a blizzard that piled up snow at a rate of six inches every few hours, Kalu’s Heart rode in a van that inched its way to a country farm in West Virginia. “I worried the entire time because we were having a terrible snowstorm,” she says. “It ended up being 9 at night when she arrived, and as she stepped off the van, the snow was still coming down hard.”

Five days after she arrived, Kalu’s Heart fell ill with the biggest impaction Bernard’s vet had reportedly ever seen. “She spent a week-and-a-half in the hospital, there were two nights when we almost lost her,” she says.

At the worst of it, the new owner received a text at 1 a.m. from her vet at the Rappahannock Equine Clinic asking her to fill out euthanasia paperwork.

“It was a miracle she pulled through,” she says. “She went down in the clinic; her heart rate spiked up and she started turning purple.”

After an aggressive treatment, which included IVs, fluids, Banamine and tubing, the former beauty returned to her new owner looking strung out and thin. But she was better.

Kalu's Heart during her healthy months.

When Kalu’s Heart was healthy, she was invincible. She loved to learn and to please.

By March, Kalu’s Heart had made giant strides and was kicking up her heels and chasing other horses around the paddock.

“I knew then that it was time to ride her. I saddled her up for the first time and she was just so good,” Bernard says. “She was your typical racehorse, stiff as a board and not supple at all, but she was so willing, and proud that she puffed out her chest. It was like she was ready to rock on.”

From March to November, the pair enjoyed eight months of typical everyday pleasure, learning to jump, and relocating to a new facility and life in New York.

But on Nov. 15, another serious impaction was detected.

Back to the hospital they went, where the mare once again received round-the-clock care. “She ended up making it through, but she was never the same after that,” Bernard says.

“I started riding her again after a month, and she had some good days. She’d puff herself up with pride and seemed to stand two feet taller on those days. But on other days, her ears would flop sideways, and she just wasn’t the same horse.”

Three months later, the mare suffered her third impaction, and finally, on March 17, she went down with her fourth and final attack.

Bleached out from the sun, and worn out from illness, Kalu's Heart was a trooper to the end.

Bleached out from the sun, and worn out from illness, Kalu’s Heart was a trooper to the end.

Throughout the past year, Bernard did everything possible to protect her mare from illness: she wetted her hay, had her on a low-starch high-fiber diet, wetted her grain, treated her for ulcers, treated her with oil, heated her water, and gave her probiotics to support hind-gut problems. But in the end, her condition proved impossible.

When she said goodbye to her mare on March 17, she kept a few mementos; some nails from her horseshoes, her halter, which will be kept in a safe place. And, in the spirit of helping other Thoroughbreds, Bernard has started a small Thoroughbred re-training business, and named it with Kula’s initials.

The KH Equestrian Team, which bear’s Kula’s initials, will be dedicated to helping other OTTBs get a chance in the show ring.

“Kalu never got the shot she deserved in the show ring, but through her spirit, other horses can,” she says. “She lives on in my heart, soul.”

21 responses to “A mare slips away, her owner battles onward”

  1. Lisa

    This is the first time I have been able to manage holding myself together to read comments. Thank you everyone for your support and kind words. I am truelove touched and at a loss for words. Thank you is all I can say

  2. cheri vaughan

    Kalu’s Heart really loved Lisa, I am sure. Such a hard loss to come back from, but, Lisa, you are carrying on in a properly fitting manner… Kalu’s Heart is puffing up in heaven for you!

  3. Jon

    I had to put my first horse down on the 15th of March. He was a grade III black type sprinter that holds a stakes record and a track record. At 28 he was stricken with a ailment that there was little hope of any recovery. As I had promised to him, I made sure he did not suffer or want for anything. On the cold morning of March 15, I eased my friend from this life. I am comforted that my friend was with me until the end. “The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.” ~Arabian Proverb

    I hope that this is true.

  4. Paul Long

    It takes a lot of love and courage to let go.

  5. Linda R. Moss

    I really feel for KH and Lisa – last September my OTTB had colic surgery due to a huge impaction and I thank the OTTB Angles that he is still with us! Six months later, a lot of reconditioning and pasture time, he is returning to work under saddle – Hooves crossed he loves it the way he did!

  6. Lori

    Oh Lisa, I am in tears reading this…. I have such a deep respect for you. You were awesome with Kalu and she now knows the power of true love off the track 🙂 I know that you will do her proud in her memory, helping other OTTBs so that they too can know what it means to feel the love and gentle touch of their human. I knew you were a special person when I met you yrs ago…As they say in the horse business…”you have a soft eye” Love to you Lisa!

  7. Daryl

    YOu did the right thing for the horse, she loved you and she knew you loved her, they do ask in their own way, let me go I am tired, I had a App/walker I bought to resell, well I fell in love with him, & he stayed with me, I just got him out of where he was and half starving, other horses chasing him, and he had a good life with me, he was 5 years and 15 days old when I got him and he was 35 when I put him down, we had operations for cancer in several different places, 1/3 of an ear taken off, then an eye was taken out, when he became blind in the other eye and started to stumble in to things, he just was not him self. He had been running a temp and all week end i was givng him rinses to cool him down , in touch with the vet and on antibiotic’s he was tired, the vet came and he knew some how my sweet boy put his nose in my lap,head in my chest then raised his nose to kiss me, then to my husband same thing he said good by, looked at the vet and out the door , out the pasture gate and laid down under the tree he loved to stand under to never get up again …He was ready. It still hurt I had him for 30 years, the kid who never went ot college or left home, his name was El Parker Kid. He road me, my husband, my 2 kids and my 6 grand children and friends. There will never be another one like him, he is in my heart, and always on my mind but I know he is so much better off now, and waiting for me to join him again some day. My wonderful faithful, loving friend we had some many good times together & so many years we shared together, I was a better person to of had him in my life, and he was so much better off with me then he was the first owner, we were a good match. And had a rich life we shared.

  8. Sandy Carr

    Good for you for giving her love until the end of her life. It is the greatest love knowing when to send her over the Bridge. You will meet again in another life. Hugs from New Mexico.

  9. Tish Valentine

    What a touching and sad story but you did right by your mare to the end Lisa, Thank you! More than many would have done. She was only 6 – way too young to go for sure. I have a 27yr old OTTB mare and she had a bad colic bout about 12yrs ago had to have surgery at New Bolten Center here in PA – fortunately no resectioning had to be done and she pulled through with my husbands help and mine. I am curious if any body medical or not has any clues what caused this poor mare to suffer with impactions so much – conformational??? God Bless and best of luck helping other OTTBs – there’s many as you know:)

  10. Ellen Brayshaw

    I believe what’s most important is the bond of love. Death is only a part of love. The next part is the love you hold dear to your heart and take with you. Know by this, you will always be together….within love…!

  11. Canter Michigan

    So happy that you were able to experience the “Heart of a Thoroughbred” even if that time was not as long as you hoped. Giving your heart to an animal that gives everything it can back to you.. is a gift to be cherished and remembered.
    We wish you the best in making a difference in the lives of other thoroughbreds in the name of Kula’s Heart.. who made such a difference in your life.

    1. Liz

      The Heart of the Thoroughbred…love that, and it’s so true!

    2. Lisa

      Canter Michigan, thank you for the kind words. I have worked with Ottb’s for a longtime but my Kalu was that one special horse. She was the perfect example of the true heart and courage a thoroughbred has to offer.

  12. Susan Salk

    Jan/Springtime Farm,
    That’s what counts, isn’t it? Not the ending, but the joy in the middle.

  13. Catherine Rusty Johnson

    Lisa, your story is so sad. Our horses are so precious to us and every time I hear of someone losing one of their babies, I feel their sadness. I remember when I lost my Osiris to acute bronchial problems I felt I had lost a part of me. You did amazingly with Kalu and gave here a comfortable life during the last year of her life. Her spirit and your experiences with her, will guide you to do great things to benefit other OTTB cases!

  14. Liz

    What a great story…bittersweet ending tho. I went thru something similar with my OTTB several years ago. The first summer I had her, two months in she colicked so bad she nearly died. I spent the night at the barn with her as she was hooked up to IVs. She’d been tubed, had acupuncture, I did massage therapy on her…we did all we could do. There was a moment when we locked eyes and I told her it was up to her now and I would love her as long as I could. She pulled thru and in the morning the vet told me she didn’t expect her to survive the night and she said that “love saved that horse”. We had other bouts with colic, and I used supplements as you did, all kinds of therapies, etc. She eventually got to be pretty stable and healthy. I had her six and a half years before I had to give her up due to financial hardship. I’m sorry you had to say goodbye to your girl so soon. It always amazes me how fragile these animals are considering their size. Seems like the racehorses especially…but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything, and I know you wouldn’t either.

  15. Diane Maroscia

    Sometimes euthanasia is the last kindness we can do for our beloved horses and can be the most rewarding. You saved her once and now you’ve saved her again and other horses will benefit from her being.

  16. Jan/ Springtime Farm

    What a beautiful gift for both horse
    and rider that they were able to find
    one another, and have a special year

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