It hasn't been an easy life for Bonnie (Dreaming DMV) of Dreamcatcher Meadows.
Bonnie was one of four horses to come over from England when Jill Giese and John Dingle were starting their dressage stable northwest of Pemberton in 2005.
From the day she was born the mare had to fight for her life — a fight that she continues to this day as her challenges continue — but thanks to her determined owners, her vet and her blacksmith, it looks like the mare may win this latest battle.
She was the "ugliest foal you'll ever see" with just one eye, said Giese, later noting Bonnie's story parallels the classic Black Beauty tale.
"It collapsed when the vet pulled her... The mare that was her birth mother was having some sort of fit, so he pulled the foal, and as a result, she lost an eye."
Then, when making the trip to Canada, Bonnie wasn't properly loaded during transportation suffering a leg injury after falling out of the vehicle and onto the highway. Giese said the injury wasn't much at the time, but later came to look like a clubfoot, though it didn't initially impede her movement.
But Bonnie overcame all these struggles becoming "the best broodmare you can imagine," Giese said fondly. Over time the bond between horse and owner has deepened. Bonnie grew up to be 18 hands high, and every one of her offspring entered into competition went on to impress. Leopold DMV, Lordsley DMV, and Ballerina DMV have all had excellent careers in various competitive disciplines, while D-Trix DMV hasn't yet gone under saddle.
But it is Bonnie's latest pregnancy that has her fighting for her life once again. While carrying Believe DMV last summer, her womb prolapsed and she nearly died — she recovered from that scare, but it wasn't the end of her troubles.
"After the prolapse, I don't know why, but she ended up with a very severe change of bone structure in the (injured) foot. If you were to X-ray a horse's hoof, it would normally look flat, the bone inside, parallel to the ground. Imagine that bone has moved to the point where you're standing on a tippy-toe," Giese described. "It was about to go through the bottom of her foot and we really thought we were going to have to euthanize her."
In the face of mounting costs that were only set to climb, even some of the most dedicated horse lovers would feel there's no other choice than to part with their dear friend. But with the tenacity Bonnie had already displayed in spades, Giese decided to give her every chance to make it through with some help from the ranch's closest allies. If Bonnie wasn't giving up then neither would Giese.
Blacksmith Dave Gilmour, who has worked with Bonnie ever since she came to Canada, said she had developed laminitis, an inflammation of the laminae, which joins the coffin bone to the hoof capsule.
"I wanted to do something different for quite awhile, so we got X-rays, and then we put on a wooden shoe," Gilmour said. "We put the wooden shoe on to start creating the de-rotation.
"(When trying to create de-rotation), you just trim to the heel angle, and then put the shoe on there. There's a big space between the toe and the shoe, but it's meant to make the horse have more toe."
Giese said Gilmour did all he could before an operation by Pemberton Veterinary Hospital's Dr. Laura White became necessary.
"(After the prolapse), she was holding her own, and then just in the later part of the summer, she deteriorated and was getting more and more uncomfortable," White recalled. "She was outside living with a couple of other mares, and it was getting hard on her to move around."
White said she had never seen a horse's coffin bone, located within the hoof capsule, rotated so severely — "just about vertical to where it should be."
White gave Bonnie a tenotomy, where the tendon holding the bone in place is released, in late October. Because the procedure requires great precision and White hadn't performed it before, she consulted with several colleagues, most notably Dr. Chris Bell from Cartier, Man., a long-time surgeon located just outside of Winnipeg in White's home province. White referred to the surgery as a "salvage procedure." In a fortunate and uncommon turn, bearing extra weight on Bonnie's good hoof didn't damage it, heightening her chances of recovery.
"We thought that we should give it a try because we didn't really have much to lose," she said. "If it helped Bonnie, then fantastic.
"Even after the surgery, walking out, she was walking better than I'd seen Bonnie walk in months and months."
When the stitches were taken out on Nov. 2, the results were encouraging, according to Giese, though Bonnie is getting six weeks of box rest complete with a therapeutic mat. In an update last week, Giese reinforced the attitude of cautious optimism, but was encouraged by the progress.
"The worst of it, we're through," Giese said. "She's bearing weight and the foot has relaxed down. It looks hideous, but the X-rays are showing what we'd hoped.
"Now, it's lots of care and attention."
The true test will come when Bonnie is walking on the gravel driveway or in the other barn.
"Walking her out there, it's leaps and bounds from what she had been," White said. "We're cautiously optimistic about how she's doing. She's been through a lot. Last year, it was amazing that she made it through having a prolapse.
"She pulled through that, and here we are with this."
White said Bonnie will always need therapeutic shoeing, but expects to eventually get her hoof back to normal.
Giese explained Bonnie will never have another foal naturally, but may be able to have one by embryo transfer.
"The point wasn't to compete with her anyway, and then she started to have these exceptional babies," Giese said. "That's what she's been doing for the last few years, so now whether it's retirement and enjoying life in the valley here, or whether she will have a role under saddle again or (through) embryo transfer, it's early days.
At this point, I want to make sure she's out of pain and can walk."