Olympic medalist and current U.S. Equestrian Federation developing dressage coach Debbie McDonald has had a scary few weeks.
On Aug. 14, Brentina, her 22-year-old former Olympic and World Equestrian Games partner, underwent colic surgery for the second time, and a day later McDonald was evacuating the rest of her 30 horses from her training facility, River Grove Farm in Hailey, Idaho, due to the devastating Beaver Creek wildfire raging nearby.
After leading the U.S. team to medals and top finishes in countless international competitions, Brentina, a Hanoverian mare (Brentano II–Lieselotte) owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas, retired from the spotlight in 2009. She suffered her first bout of serious colic and subsequent surgery later that year but fully recovered.
McDonald and the Thomases have kept Brentina fit during her retirement, including daily turnout and walks on the treadmill. But the mare colicked again this month requiring surgery once again, at Sawtooth Equine Service in nearby Bellevue, Idaho.
“We gave it a safe amount of time to correct itself but monitored all of her vital signs and continued to do so until it got to the point where the pain was not as manageable,” said McDonald. “So [the veterinarians] decided to go in, and [we thought,] ‘If it’s irreparable, it’s irreparable.’ Fortunately, it was just an impaction in the left colon with a 180 [degree] twist. We were very lucky to be able to rectify it that quickly and that well.”
Brentina is currently recovering at the clinic.
“They just called me and said that they took off the belly band and looked at the incision and that it looks quite good, so I’m optimistic that she doesn’t have any hernias or anything,” McDonald said.
While her veterinarians believe the mare is now healthy enough to head home, the Beaver Creek forest fire has meant she won’t have a home to return to until the mandatory evacuation order is lifted.
The fire, ignited by lightning on Aug. 7, has burned through more than 100,000 acres of land in the Sun Valley region of Idaho, spanning from Hailey to Ketchum. Nearly 10,000 buildings, including the Thomases’ River Grove Farm, which is also the home base of U.S. team rider Adrienne Lyle, were included in the forced evacuation.
McDonald and her hunter/jumper trainer husband, Bob, had to evacuate from their home, and their 30 horses were moved to a therapeutic farm with an open barn about 10 miles from River Grove.
“We couldn’t get them far enough out of the area to get them out of the smoke, but we took them out of the fire danger,” said Debbie, who’s been handwalking the refugee horses to keep them exercised. “We went into this thinking it was only going to be a couple of days, and this is going on Day 6, so it’s a lot longer than we had anticipated, for sure. But we’re lucky to have the horses where it’s safe.”
So far the fire has not resulted in any casualties, and only two structures have been destroyed, but it is now threatening populated areas. Firefighters have been working around the clock to check the flames, but due to the 90-degree weather, lack of humidity and high winds, they estimate it is only about 9 percent contained thus far.
“It’s really the perfect storm for us,” said Debbie. “I’ve felt for people [in situations like this] before, but you don’t really know until you are in their shoes what it’s really like. It’s pretty devastating.”