I’ve had a whirlwind of a summer filled with riding horses, teaching, helping run horse shows, networking, taking care of my family, and house- and farm-sitting.
Surprisingly, I’ve even found a couple times to do fun activities with friends to help alleviate stress. I spend a good portion of my days in my truck, driving from place to place to fulfill my many responsibilities.
Unfortunately in all of my running around, my personal horse Angel has taken a bit of the back-burner, enjoying her summer in a grassy turnout field under my best friend Kathleen’s watchful eye. When I had her at Top Brass, I used to show her when I could and had time to. It was normal for me to ride her after work at least four times a week to keep her fit.
My favorite part of my workday used to be the end when I would take Angel for a ride in the front field or on a walk through the hay fields. Angel is normally ridden and cared for every day by me, but since the Faircloughs’ divorce and my change in jobs, I have not been able to afford to board her where I work.
Since I came home to New Jersey, I’ve gone to see Angel when I can and was able to ride her a bit in June and the beginning of July. After that, I became too busy preparing for the Sussex County Farm and Horse Show, and then I was too busy with work at Amanda Steege’s to get down to see her. But Kathleen sends me Snapchats and pictures every day, and she calls to update me on Angel all the time. I’m not thrilled about not seeing my horse on a daily basis, but at least she’s well cared for.
All seemed to be working out fine. That is, until last week.
On Tuesday morning, Kathleen called me shortly after 8:00 a.m. to tell me that Angel was breathing hard when she went to bring the mare in from night turnout. It had been close to 30 degrees overnight, so I wasn’t excessively concerned. Maybe Angel had wanted to come in and got hot from walking the fence line to come in. I was shortly proven wrong: Angel’s temperature was well over 104 degrees.
Kathleen called the vet while I continued to ride at Amanda’s. I had two sales trials at noon, so there was nothing I could do for Angel until the vet looked at her. Around 11:00, the vet had determined that Angel’s high fever was due to anaplasmosis from a tick bite. She took blood for further testing and gave the mare OxyTete and then Banamine for her fever. Relief washed over me; I had just dealt with another horse with the same issue the week prior. A couple days of OxyTete, lots of temperature taking, Banamine when needed, and leg wrapping would fix her up by the end of the week.
But then before I got off the phone, the vet asked if she could tube Angel. She had a hunch that Angel was slightly dehydrated, and Angel was not letting the vet look at her gums. I agreed, figuring it was better to be safe than sorry. I was halfway through my ride list when my phone rang again. The vet had gotten five gallons of reflux back from Angel’s stomach, a symptom that does not fit in with the anaplasmosis diagnosis. My heart pounded as the vet recommended bringing her to the clinic for further investigation.
Kathleen and her boss took Angel to BW Furlong’s Veterinary Hospital in Oldwick, N.J., and Dr. Rachel Gardner took over her case. Meanwhile at work, the clients showed up to try the two horses so I did both trials, rode four more horses, cleaned up around the barn, and then headed down to Furlong’s. They were ultra-sounding her chest when I got there, trying to figure out why she was still panting feverously. It looked like Angel had just run around a track for 25 minutes straight without a break. Four vets surrounded Angel in gowns and gloves, taking every precautionary measure possible. Dr. Gardner wanted to take a chest X-ray next and she promised to call me within a few hours to update me on what they had found.
The phone call that followed was not what I had expected: Dr. Gardner had determined Angel had a form of pneumonia, either from a virus or an irritant in her environment that had triggered her body to react this way. They had stabilized her for the evening, and Angel’s fever had come down a bit.
My heart plummeted. How could she have gotten it? There isn’t much activity in and out of the farm she lives on—rarely do any horses leave or come onto the property. Kathleen felt terrible, but this is part of owning horses. They’re just like children; they get sick too. It’s no one’s fault—these things happen. The important part was now to get Angel better.
I don’t deal with things like this well and do better when I stay busy and working. Every day after work I went down to visit her for a bit, getting dressed up in all of the protective garb and booties. Angel seemed to be getting better slowly, but her breathing was still high. By Friday, her respiration has slowed a little and the vets were feeling fairly confident that Angel was on the right track to recovery.
By Saturday morning however, her condition had taken a turn for the worse: her respiration was near 60, almost double what the normal rate is. Her fever spiked back to 105 degrees, and Dr. Gardner said Angel just looked very uncomfortable. Angel’s lungs were worse than she was indicating they were.
The vets tried to put in an oxygen tube to help her breathe, but as per usual, my stubborn and opinionated mare wouldn’t let them. Her hissy fit has distressed her greatly and now she was breathing heavily again. They warned me that if her breathing didn’t slow by the evening, things would only go south and I had to prepare myself to make that terrible decision no one ever wants to make.
I burst into tears at hearing that. I had a bad week personally and that just pushed me over the edge. I’ve witnessed several horses getting euthanized in my life, but it broke my heart to think that I might have to make this decision for my own horse. I felt numb—this was getting all too real for me.
I finished my work and headed down to see Angel, sitting in her stall for a while. She just looked miserable, standing in the middle of her stall and not wanting to move. She had lost so much weight from the effort of breathing, even though she had managed to maintain quite a healthy appetite through all of this. I felt helpless, even though the vets and staff were doing all that they could to make her better. She had to fight, she had to pull through.
Unfortunately, the only thing that would tell us was time.
Later into the evening, her breathing slowed a bit and her fever stabilized. She remained the same overnight. Her respiration was down to 40 by the morning, and she seemed to be back out of the woods. The vets assured me that Angel was very hungry, a good sign!
I visited her again the next afternoon, and she was much more active than she had been all week. Angel even came over to say hi over the stall door and really wanted to look out the window. Her eyes were bright and her expression almost back to normal. She gave me the white eye as she settled into the corner to take a nap, resting a hind leg comfortably.
As of now, Angel is continuing to remain stable and will spend the next several days at the clinic to make sure she is fully recovered. I’m keeping my fingers crossed as the vets and staff work tirelessly to make sure my girl is feeling better. I thank them all from the bottom of my heart for everything they have done to help save her. Angel is a fighter and persistent, just like I am. She doesn’t quit easily and loves a challenge. Going to visit her seems to brighten her day a bit, and it sure puts me at ease to see her recovering day by day.
Everyone always asks me why I keep Angel, why I continue to pay the bills on her and why don’t I just sell her?
The answer is quite simple: she reminds me why I love horses and why riding is fun.
I can take her anywhere–to any show, through the woods, ride out in an open field—and just enjoy myself for a half an hour. She’s game to gallop all over or work on a collected sitting trot. She likes her job and is good at it.
Maybe after she’s completely recovered this whole ordeal, it’s time I put her back to work and let us both enjoy it.
Nicole Mandracchia grew up riding in New Jersey and was a working student while in school. She graduated from Centenary University (N.J.) and has groomed and barn managed for top show barns Top Brass Farm (N.J.), North Run (Vt.), Findlay’s Ridge (N.Y.) and Ashmeadow (N.J.). Read more about her in “Groom Spotlight: Nicole Mandricchia Proves The Harder You Work, The Luckier You Get.” After more than a decade working back in the barn, she eventually hopes to establish herself as a trainer. Read all of Nicole’s COTH blogs.