Saturday, Mar. 2, 2024

Back From The Brink: Student Gambles On A Dreamhorse Special

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The first time Paige Emerson saw the Dreamhorse.com listing for an American Warmblood mare who’d recovered from a broken leg, she kept scrolling. But a week later when the $1,000 listing popped up again, she decided to make a phone call.

At the time, Emerson was in college and had ridden on the University of Toledo’s (Ohio) equestrian team, but she didn’t have a lot of money and longed for her own horse to show. “Something just told me: Go visit this horse,” she recalled.

Paige Emerson took a chance on Simi OVS after seeing her classified advertisement online, and their partnership took them all the way to the U.S. Dressage Finals (Ky.). Sarah Danicke Photo

Emerson said Simi OVS was being sold because her owner couldn’t afford to keep her, and she hadn’t been in regular work. A Google search showed that the mare, a Shire-Thoroughbred cross, had done low level hunters and dressage with a previous owner at Albion College (Michigan).

Emerson was told “Simi” had fractured her left hock in 2016 and had been intermittently sound since then, but her owner didn’t give Emerson much information about her injury or recovery. The mare’s X-rays revealed an old fracture in her cannon bone and a serious injury to the coronet band, which affected the structure of her hoof and her coffin bone. The veterinarian could only guess it happened at the same time Simi injured her hock.

Despite Simi’s complicated medical history, Emerson took a chance, and on her 20th birthday, she acquired Simi (Whitesville—Fox Valley Raven).

“She was the most comfortable horse I ever sat on,” Emerson remembered. “It just felt like I belonged up there.”

Simi, who has large “dinner plate” hooves, had been barefoot and was footsore when Emerson brought her home, so the first priority was addressing the mare’s discomfort.  With careful farrier work and shoes, she gradually became sound.

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Emerson then began a conditioning program with Simi under careful guidance from her veterinarian, who advised her to take it slow and let the mare tell her what she could do.

After trying a local jumper show, Emerson, 23, realized Simi didn’t enjoy the environment. Emerson tried dressage instead. She turned to YouTube to learn the basics and entered a local show at Albion College in May 2021. The pair scored in the mid-60s at training level.

“I thought, maybe this is our thing,” said Emerson. “We made it all the way to Kentucky that year for [the GAIG/USDF] Region 2 [Championships].”

The pair moved up to first level in 2022 and qualified for the Region 2 Championships again, but in August, Simi started losing weight.

“We upped her food, and it helped, but at regionals I was like, man this is not the same horse I’ve had all season,” said Emerson. “About mid-October we noticed her losing weight rapidly, and she was losing muscle differently on both sides. We had tested for [Equine Protozoal Myeloencephalitis], and her score came back absolutely zero. They ruled that out, and we did probably $2,000 in various testing with no answers.”

Simi OVS rapidly lost weight last fall, and it took many months and diagnostic tests before her symptoms were successfully treated. Photo Courtesy Of Paige Emerson

By January 2023 they still had no explanation for Simi’s symptoms, so Emerson sought out a second opinion. The mare had begun displaying some neurologic signs, which led the consulting veterinarian to suggest treating for EPM despite her test results. To Emerson’s relief, Simi responded to treatment, and she started bringing her back into light work by March.

With all that the 17-year-old mare has accomplished despite the odds against her, Emerson decided this year’s Region 2 Championships, held Sept. 21-24 in Wayne, Illinois, would be their last hurrah.

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They competed in the training level adult amateur, first level adult amateur freestyle and dressage seat equitation championships. This resulted in a qualifying score at training level for the U.S. Dressage Finals in Lexington, Kentucky, in November.

Their preparation didn’t go to plan for various reasons, including Simi getting kicked in the field, so she only rode the mare a handful of times between regionals and finals.

“I kept saying, if she’s not 100 percent sound, we’re not going to bother going into the show ring,” Emerson said.

In Kentucky, they competed in three warm-up classes at training and first level, scoring in the mid-60s, before their training level adult amateur championship class Nov. 12. However, that day Simi took a few bad steps during their test, and they were eliminated.

While Emerson was disappointed U.S. Dressage Finals didn’t go to plan, she was happy to have a sound horse when she returned home. She’s planning for an official competition retirement in June at Dressage at Waterloo (Michigan) to honor the horse she took a chance on and who’s changed her life.

Paige Emerson and Simi OVS qualified for the 2023 U.S. Dressage Finals at training level. Sarah Danicke Photo

“I can throw a 3-year-old on her, and she’s great,” said Emerson. “She’ll test me; she’ll have fun, but it’s all in good faith. With me, she can be herself and express her emotions and have fun with it. As soon as I ask her to do something, she’s so excited to have a job, which is why I’ll continue to ride her. It’s not like other horses—it’s one where I always know that no matter what, she might test me, but she’s not going to do anything bad. I can always rely on her to keep me safe. Even when she’s scared, she’ll look at me and be like, ‘OK, what do I have to do here?’ ”


Do you know a horse or rider who returned to the competition ring after what should have been a life-threatening or career-ending injury or illness? Email Kimberly at kloushin@coth.com with their story.

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