Jan Vandebos: ‘I wasn’t prepared to let her go’

Diorella survived a serious head fracture two years after receiving extensive care through the efforts of her owner Jan Vandebos.

Diorella survived a serious head fracture two years after receiving extensive care through the efforts of her owner Jan Vandebos.

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.”

Sire: Betrando
Dam: Specific Gravity
Foal date: Feb. 9, 2009
Like 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.

Diorella is released from the hospital. Her head was still swollen, and a long road to recovery awaited her.

Diorella is released from the hospital. Her head was still swollen, and a long road to recovery awaited her.

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.

Jan Vandebos enjoys a moment with her prized filly.

Jan Vandebos enjoys a moment with her prized filly.

“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.

7 responses to “Jan Vandebos: ‘I wasn’t prepared to let her go’”

  1. Jay Romig

    did a great job to prevail

  2. Jan Springtime Farm

    Dear Jean, Diorella continues to amaze us daily
    with her intelligence and fortitude. This past year, she has continued to make amazing
    progress. She is hand walked, and self exercises over ground poles in a deep sand arena. In the evening, she is turned out to a pasture
    where I can see her upon rising in the morning.
    She is the last horse I see at night and the first I see upon rising.
    She has been an incredible inspiration to all who have worked with her or who have known her.

    We plan on starting her back again in a few weeks. She receives equi vibe therapy each day, which has helped with any residual effects. Thank you for your interest
    In our lovely Diorella.

  3. Mary Murphy

    Beautiful story of dedication with a miracle outcome.
    I breed thoroughbreds and as many know it can be tough going for those foals born not “right”. I had a vet say to me while watching my 4 month old trotting at pasture that he would have given up on her months before. He ended by saying “but look at her now, would have never believed it”.
    If there is a possibility of recovery…never give up.

  4. Viktoria KS

    A huge win-win for all! The universe provides that which we need to be our best selves and live out our purpose here on earth. Diorella and Jan have blazed a new trail of love and whatever it took to come out the other side with the best result possible. Look how many things were learned along the way and how many people were given the opportunity to stretch beyond what they already had learned. That’s the miracle of LOVE and Trust!

  5. Jean

    Thank you to Jan Vandebos for loving Diorella so much and giving her a chance at a good life and for all of the people that were involved in her recovery. Diorella is beautiful. Have you been in touch with her since this story? I would love to know how she is doing.

    1. Jan

      Hi Jean, I missed your response to a story written a few years back about our lovely Diorella. Yes, I see her daily. She is the Queen here at my farm in the Santa Ynez Valley. She has recovered fully, and is the most intelligent Mare of all. She is beloved by those who have helped bring her back to her full being. Her dam who is 25, as well as her full brother who is 18, all reside here as well. They recognize one another as family. I am so blessed to have been able to save my Diorella. I hope one day to bring a foal into the world out of her.

      Thank you for your kind words…. her energy, fortitude, and bravery are what fuels me to help all of the sick and injured who have left the track and reside here with me.

  6. Victoria Racimo

    Truly a miracle story. Uplifting and reaffirming that perseverance AND a luck win the day. Thanks for bringing us this story. And continued success to Diorella and Vandebos.

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