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.
Dam: High Hearts
Foal date: April 9, 2008It 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.
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.
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.”