Megan McDermott felt she had a good shot at the top spot going into the $250,000 BlackBarn Junior/Amateur-Owner/Amateur Jumper Prix at HITS Saugerties (New York) in 2018. Since getting her partner Tizimin LS the previous year, she’d made huge steps in her riding, moving from the medium amateur-owner jumpers to the highs and eventually into her first Fédération Equestre Internationale classes. With their consistent placings throughout the year and a win at the Hampton Classic (New York) the previous week, her confidence was high.
As she galloped the 12-year-old warmblood (Dollar De La Pierre—Sonora La Silla, Polydor) to the final fence, she couldn’t help but think, “Great, we’re jumping clear. We did it.” But when “Tizi” landed, she realized something was very wrong as he tried to canter away on three legs. McDermott immediately hopped off and tried to keep him quiet as a trailer was driven into the ring to take him to Rhinebeck Equine for evaluation.
Though it’s unclear exactly how it happened, veterinarians determined Tizi had fractured his pelvis. That kind of injury is rare in sport horses his age, so his veterinarians had a hard time finding previous cases on which to base their treatment. For the most part, his treatment involved waiting and hoping.
The injury required three months at the clinic, where he was tied long enough to allow him some movement but not enough to lie down. Once he got home he required another month of stall rest before they could reintroduce turnout.
“My life just became about making sure that he was mentally OK because with the injury there’s not a whole lot we could do other than keep him still…make sure he doesn’t lie down, doesn’t walk around,” McDermott said. “And they [said] a lot of horses will not get out of that because they mentally cannot handle it. But he’s a super positive horse, and he made me a more optimistic person, so I was like, now it’s my turn to give that back to him. And we were super lucky that we were able to keep him happy and fighting.”
Right Horse At The Right Time
McDermott got the gelding shortly after graduating college, while taking occasional lessons from her friend Vasco Flores.
Her only horse at the time was injury-prone, and she was between trainers, so she was at a crossroads when Flores started talking about “this horse Santiago Diaz owned.” The next thing she knew, Flores had set up an appointment for her to try the gelding.
“He is an angel. He’s so magical and special,” she said. “From the first second it was like, ‘OK, this horse is a life-changer.’ I had a total moment of this felt so scary to invest in something and to trust any person, but the horse, he made everything feel super good. He gave me so much confidence over the first two years that I had him. I went from in the 1.30-meters and was mentally a disaster, and he gave me so much confidence. He [took me to] my first FEI classes, my first proper grand prix, U-25, night class, all of it. He did totally everything for me and gave 100%, 100% of the time. He is the cutest horse in the world, just absolutely like a pet. He’s just golden.”
McDermott knew she had to try to help him heal, despite his uncertain prognosis.
During the three months at Rhinebeck, McDermott made daily visits from her base in South Salem, New York. While imaging showed the fracture was healing, the veterinarians based many of the next steps on Tizi’s comfort level and soundness. After another month of stall rest at home, Tizi was brought to a small paddock to graze in hand. Once he was quiet, they let him loose for a few minutes, gradually increasing the time he was left alone.
After consulting with her regular veterinarians, Dr. Richard Wheeler, BVetMed, MRCVS of Palm Beach Equine (Florida) and Dr. Kit Miller, DVM of Miller & Associates (Florida and New York), McDermott devised a rehab plan.
“Kit was a big proponent of ‘the more he can do, the sooner he can do it, the better,’ mentally as well,” McDermott said. “He’s going to have to figure out how to work—his anatomy was a little different because his hip remained a little bit displaced, and it healed not in the same posture. He was very like, ‘You have to keep him working, keep him in the barn, keep him seeing you every day.’ ”
After two months of handwalking, Tizi began interval work under tack. While they’d come up with their own timeline for increasing work, they also let Tizi dictate his needs. While he was generally good-natured, as soon as he started getting fresh, they knew he was ready for an increased workload. Throughout the process, McDermott utilized chiropractic work and acupuncture, and eventually therapeutic ultrasound to help with his comfort level.
“When he first got hurt, I called his previous owner, Santiago Diaz, who had him since he was 4, so he knew him as well as anyone, to let him know what happened and the prognosis, and he was like, ‘Don’t worry, it’s Tizimin, he will come back 200 percent, and he’ll be as good as ever,’ ” McDermott said.
Nine months after the initial injury, Tizi jumped his first .90-meter class. By October, he was back to competing in the high amateur-owners, and in 2020 Tizi returned to FEI competition. At the end of the year, McDermott decided it was time to let him have an easier job, so she leased him to Claudia Villamil, who competed him at 1.20- to 1.30-meters. At age 15 he’s now he’s teaching a younger rider the ropes.
“He’s so special, and he deserves to be No. 1,” McDermott said. “I have other horses that are jumping bigger, and he’s older, and he deserves to jump a little bit lower. He doesn’t like feeling like he’s second string, so he’s got to go do what he did for me with some other people, and he for sure has.”
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 email@example.com with their story.