Our Dark Winter

Amanda & Athena

On October 31st, we moved my horse Athena from a dangerous situation to the Leilani Mae Horse Rescue, so that she could be vetted until I could move her to a boarding barn. You can read about how we first met and the crazy story of getting her to the rescue by CLICKING HERE.


When we moved Athena to the rescue,  we turned her loose she would glide across the round pen. Those standing around dropped what they were doing to watch her dance and move as she celebrated. It was breathtaking. It had been a long time since we all had seen a horse that moved that pretty. I started day dreaming about all the possibilities and left the barn with a hopeful heart.

I really had thought the worst was behind us but little did I know what was about to come. On November 2nd, just a little over 24 hours of Athena residing at the rescue I walked through the barn to see my bright copper paint. She was standing funny as I walked up to her but I dismissed it quickly and gave her some love. She was acting weird, so I stepped back off of her and when she took a step forward she could hardly put any weight on her back right leg. I walked around to her hind end; My heart dropped.

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I saw bright red blood dropping down Athena’s leg. I quickly called our vet and waited for one of his associates to meet us at the barn.

After cleaning up the wound, I was relieved when we saw that Athena had come down on the roundpen fence wrong and simply pushed up the skin on her back leg. No flesh was torn, we were in the clear! The vet quickly stitched Athena up and said she would be sore, but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. WHEW.

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Athena got better for a few days, then dramatically declined. It got to a point to where she preferred to lay down over stand, so we called the vet back out. I had this weird feeling that this time this visit was not going to lead to good news.

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She was given an ultrasound to see if the tendon had ruptured with the impact of Athena hitting her leg on the fence. It seemed to be ok, although a tad frayed but the vet told me that Athena would never be able to be ridden because she would never be sound again. It felt as if the world stopped. She said that this horse should probably be put down because she would just be a companion horse for the rest of her life. All those dreams I had of Athena and I vanished. I literally felt my heart break. I could feel the tears streaming down my face as the vet left. I sat in the barn aisle shocked, tears streaming down my cheeks about what had just happened and all of a sudden felt a warm breath on my back. I turned around to see Athena standing right behind me as she took another step forward.

I held onto her as I let everything out. How was it that we moved her out of a dangerous environment, with garbage laying around, barbed wire on the ground, no food, not water, and she got hurt HERE?! How fair was it that this horse who had been abused and neglected had to go out this way??? How could I be expected to end her life just because she would never be ridden??? How did this get so bad so fast???

As all these thoughts ran through my mind I stepped back to look at Athena. Although in pain, she held her head high and stepped towards me, putting her nose on my chest. You may think I am crazy, and maybe I am. But at that moment, I swear that Athena looked me in the eye and gave me this look that said “Please don’t give up on me. I am willing to fight if you are. We can do this!”. I know, some of you are thinking that this is all pretty dramatic, and that horses can’t communicate with us like this, but I believe Athena did.

I wiped off the tears off my face and decided that as long as Athena wasn’t in pain for the rest of her life, that she would have a home with me, even if that meant I would never ride her. Athena had gone through so much and deserved a loving home. No matter what it took, I was going to figure out a way to save Athena. We were going to do this together.

Over the next few days, I tended to Athena. We were told to leave her bandage wrapped and to keep an eye on her. She seemed to keep declining so we took off her bandage and this is what we saw.

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Horrified we called Doctor Garrett of the Animal Hospital of Fayetteville. He promised to be right out. I knew if anyone could save this horse, it would be Doctor Garrett.

Dr. Garrett saw the wound and said it was pretty bad. Although he had to do a culture to verify it, he was sure that the stitches didn’t hold and a flesh eating bacteria ate it’s way down to the tendon. It didn’t look good. I asked if there was anything we could do to save her, that I was willing to do anything. Dr. Garrett said he could do surgery, but there was still a large chance she wouldn’t be completely sound or ride able. He said it would require me to take off her bandage (which requires sedation since she kicked), scrub her wound, apply ointments and bandage it off every single day for the next 8 weeks then every other day for the next 8. He said she would most likely never be completely sound, but if I worked hard enough we could save her. I said let’s do it and we took her out of the barn for surgery.

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We had to knock her completely out, but for whatever reason Athena wasn’t very affected by sedatives and required expensive and hard sedatives usually. Doc said with her being such a fighter and immune to sedatives, he had maybe 15-20 minutes to work on her leg when most horses have about 45. He then went to work cutting away the proud flesh so we could get to the hole. He had to be extremely careful to cut away as much as he could without hitting the tendon.

NC Horse Photographer (7)Just as he said, Athena started twitching about a minute after he was finished and about thirty seconds later, she leaped up kicking and squealing. We got her calmed down and watched her for the next hour. Doc said the easy part was done, the hard part was keeping up on the bandage changes. He said if I was diligent enough that it would could work but there was no guarantee. Due to the infection, she was put on heavy antibiotics and special medication to fight the infection. Since her immune system was so weak and due to the state of her leg, Athena had to stay at the rescue until cleared.

I am so thankful for Doctor Garrett. Doc is the type of vet who will try anything to save a horse, and I was so grateful for him giving us the tools and the opportunity to save Athena.

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From the second week of November to the middle of January, I changed Athena’s bandage every day with the help from Deb from Leilani Mae Horse Rescue. She would hold Athena as I worked quickly getting her bandage changed. Often we had about 5 minutes of Athena being under sedation to work, and the cold winter air would numb my fingers and seemed to work against me as my fingers struggled to move.

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Over the weeks, Athena began to put more weight on her leg. It strengthened my hope that this would work and reassured me that this was the right thing to do. Since we couldn’t really ride or do hardly any ground work, I spent the day grooming Athena and reading to her. I would bring a huge mound of hay and sit next to Athena and read to her as she ate. I knew she didn’t understand me, but she would relax when I would sit next to her and talk to her. I would talk to her about what was going on in my life, any problems, stresses, fears. I would day dream out loud of all the things I wanted to do together. During this time I discovered a lot about my horse. Her favorite treat is apples, but only if my handmade treats aren’t around. She isn’t the biggest fan of carrots, or a lot of regular horse treats. She prefers to eat from a hay net over eating it from the ground. She loves to lay down when she sleeps and bathe in the sunlight. She loves to be scratched between her ears and loves it when I hold the curry up for her to rub her head against it.

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I started to see the wound heal faster and faster, and I couldn’t help but get more excited as the weeks went on. Doctor Garrett came out in January and said I could start taking her for small walks and soon I could change her bandage every other day. Progress people!!

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Slowly Athena’s limp started to go away. I smiled when I would see her walk up to me, her limp decreasing day by day. I could tell that she was no longer in any serious pain. When we first started our walks together Athena was absolutely wild! She would rear into the air, try to take off, spooked at EVERYTHING. Needless to say we got her a rope halter and did lots of circling and backing up. Our walks together at first would consist of both of us getting back to the barn sweaty and tired. Over time, she began to trust me a little more and our walks became more pleasant.

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Doctor Garrett came back out to the barn during the middle of February and was surprised to see how well Athena was moving. He finally cleared her to move away from the rescue and go to another barn, AND that we could start light ground work and riding! I hugged Athena as I felt tears streaming down my face and knew we had beat this dark winter together.

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There were several people in the beginning telling me to give up on this horse. They said the vet bills were too high, the work was too great, and the chance for her to walk away ride able was too low. They said I was wasting my time. But there were others, like Deb from Leilani Mae Horse Rescue, the Garretts, my family, and other friends who encouraged us and helped in any way they could. I couldn’t have taken care of Athena the way I did without their help and encouragement, from helping me hold Athena and change her bandage, to donating medical supplies, and so much more.

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I am proud to report that Athena has made a FULL recovery and is not limited by her injury in any way!!

If I would have listened to the first vet or all the negative people, I would have put down this amazing horse. Athena has gone from this aggressive, scared, crazy horse into the sweetest and most loving mare. She can still move the same as she always had, dropping jaws and catching the attention of anyone nearby as she dances, prances, and runs through her pasture.

Our beginning was hard and we overcame what people said would be impossible. I am so glad I had faith in Athena and listened when she said she had more fight left in her. Those four months were dark, cold, and sometimes absolutely exhausting, but I learned so much about Athena and had so many laughs and smiles too.

We have such a bright future, and I am so excited to see where Athena takes us next.

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