of Mrs. Carey’s horses and one seems
to be ill.”
“Which horse it is?” I asked.
“Oh, I don’t know their names. The
Grace must be out of town, I
reasoned. I pulled up to her barn,
noticing with surprise the overgrown
fields and dirty catch pen and recoiled
at the sight of Spanky. He was
grossly overweight and was hunched
miserably in the classic stance of the
severely laminitic horse.
Laminitis, a nasty disease of the
feet, is probably one of the most
devastating and painful conditions
to affect a horse. While laminitis has
many different causes, clearly the
reason for Spanky’s condition was his
obesity and neglect.
A woman was walking down the
driveway toward me. Manure and
shavings littered the barn’s normally
immaculate breezeway, and heavy
dust coated the windows and stall
doors. Something wasn’t right.
An Unexpected Passing
“What’s happened here?” I asked her.
She shrugged. “After Mrs. Carey
died last year, the family didn’t really
know what to do with her horses.
I’m afraid they’ve mostly been left in
the field. The little one hasn’t been
I had to take a few deep breaths.
“I had no idea about Mrs. Carey. I’m
“Yes, it was very sudden. They
found her in the barn, apparently.
And her family has no interest in
the horses, so as you can see, things
have really gone downhill. I don’t
know anything about horses, but I got
permission to call you about the little
Poor Spanky was huddled against
the side of his pen. His heart rate
was high, the pulses in his feet
bounding, and he was very dehy-
drated. I X-rayed his feet, and was
relieved to see that the bones
were all in a normal position.
He was very ill, but I knew we
could get him better. I detailed
the treatment plan to the
woman who looked doubtful.
“There’s no one to tend to him,
Doctor. He has to go back onto
the pasture with the others.”
I shook my head. “He’s too ill.
Besides, ponies can’t be on such
lush grass for more than a few
“Well, we can call the family.
But I think I know what they’re going to say.”
Sure enough, the instructions came in. Spanky was to be put down at once and
the rest of Grace’s horses were to be sold at auction.
I looked at the faded rosettes and ribbons lining the walls of Grace’s barn, some dating 60 years back. Cobwebs hung from the corners, and framed pictures of a young
Grace astride a chestnut hunter, a bay, a black, a roan, were covered with dust.
I spied a photograph of a gleaming Spanky clearing a modest jump in a field
with a little girl astride, and picked up the photo and wiped it off on my shirt. I
knew that I wouldn’t be able to end the little pony’s life.
After a few phone calls to Grace’s family, Spanky was released into my care,
and I’d arranged a contact to sell the other horses to good homes. Soon, a family
with a little girl offered to take the pony and follow all of the detailed instructions for his care.
A friend pulled up the very next day with a large trailer, thickly bedded with
straw, and Spanky was loaded carefully and driven to his new home. Grace’s
other horses all found good homes as well.
Salvation for Spanky
I received pictures and updates on Spanky’s condition regularly. His new family was thrilled, and he looked better and better in each photo that I received.
Six months later, there he was in a shining saddle, his mane braided, and the
little girl on his back. He was lean and muscled again and remained on a very
I don’t know what became of the remainder of Grace’s mementos, and her
property was sold to someone who turned the barn into storage, the boxes and
crates crowding the stalls and aisle where her beloved horses had once stood.
I like to think of Grace watching over Spanky and his new rider as they trot
around their little arena, perhaps chuckling to herself as the little girl struggles
to muck his stall and fill his hay feeder. I framed the dusty photo of Spanky
along with a rescued rosette and mailed it to the little girl with instructions to
hang it in the barn, a new beginning for their memories together.
COURTNEY S. DIEHL, DVM, has been an equine veterinarian since 2000. She resides in Steamboat
Springs, Colo., where she is in private practice. Her first book, Horse Vet, Chronicles of a Mobile
Veterinarian, was published in 2014, and she is currently at work on her second book.
Laminitis is one of the
most devastating and
painful conditions to
affect a horse. While
laminitis has many causes,
clearly the reason for
Spanky’s condition was
his obesity and neglect.