Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Comeback Award: Flexible Repeatedly Jumped the Obstacles of Obscure Lameness Setbacks

The 18-year-old show jumper Flexible has made a name for himself in the show ring--and in the vet clinic. Flexible has been named the first recipient of a new award, the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation Comeback Award. In tribute to him, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky has donated $10,000 to the foundation for equine research. Flexible will receive his award Friday at the National Horse Show at the Kentucky Horse Park. (Photo courtesy of client)

He's one of the most outstanding horses to represent the United States in recent years and he probably has no business even being in the show ring. His medical history is as thick as the Manhattan phone book. And just as complicated.

But this horse doesn't know that he has cheated death, retirement and/or life as a cripple more than once in his career. He just wants you to point him at the next fence, and get him ready for the next show.

Could there be a more deserving recipient for the inaugural Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation Comeback Award? There are few horses with more fans and honest admirers. 

"He", of course, is the Irish Sport Horse show jumper Flexible, owned by Sam and Mollie Chapman and trained and ridden by Rich Fellers. Everyone knows about his triumphs, his Olympic performances, his World Cup victory, and his big honest face. 

But how many people know that this horse suffered three distinct and seemingly career-ending lameness problems over the last decade? And his lameness problems weren't the common ones. They involved fracture, atrophy, and vascular blockage.

Yet, he overcame them all with expert veterinary care and Fellers’ own acumen, and this year at the age of 18, Flexible and Fellers won the $55,000 Land Rover Grand Prix of Sacramento. Fellers has already begun making plans to try for the 2015 Longines FEI World Cup, which they won in 2012.

Here's the official announcement for Flexible's award, including a condensed description of his lameness issues from the past.

Flexible's first lameness crisis: Vascular blockage in a front leg

Rich Fellers was asked to elaborate on the amazing sequence of problems and expert solutions Flexible has experienced. He began

 “The first of his three career-ending issues began in the fall of 2003 (when he was  seven years old). He started going very lame on his right front about 15-20 minutes into a ride. After a few minutes of rest he would be sound again. Needless to say, there were many different diagnoses from different vets. As he lost fitness over time the issue became more severe.

“Late Summer 2004 we took Flexible up to Washington State University Vet School where Dr. Robert Schneider went to work on solving the mystery. He discovered a blockage in the main vein that drained blood out of his right front leg. After numerous practice procedures on test horses he executed angioplasty on Flexible's vein with little hope that it would help. 

"Afterward, Dr. Schneider advised me to take Flexible home and let him be a horse again. He would monitor his own pain while turned out by resting. We brought him home in early September and gradually started back to work.

Second crisis: Nerve damage and atrophy after shoulder fracture

 “Next ‘career- ending’ injury occurred late summer of 2005. After a successful circuit in Calgary (Spruce Meadows), we shipped back to New York for two weeks of competition at the new HITS venue in Saugerties. During a rest week at Castle Hill farm in Brewster, Flexible had a bad accident in a grass paddock. He fractured his left scapula. We left him at Castle Hill for 5-6 weeks until he was sound enough to load on a trailer and airplane to fly home.

“ A couple weeks after returning home we noticed all the muscles in his left shoulder were atrophied. Diagnostic work revealed damage to his Supra-scapular nerve. He had a condition known as ‘Sweeney Shoulder’. In rare cases the nerve repairs itself and the horse recovers. Most cases the horse is a cripple for life. You know the outcome.

Third crisis: Arterial blood clots in a hind leg

 “His most recent issue showed up in June 2013 (17 years old). He started going very lame on his right hind leg 5-10 minutes into a ride. After a couple minutes of rest he would be perfectly sound again. This didn't take long for my vet, Dr. Mark Revenaugh, to diagnose as the lameness pattern was very similar to that of the vascular blockage issue he overcame 10 years prior. This time it was clotted arteries to the right hind leg. 

"With extensive diagnostics at University of California-Davis vet hospital, Dr. Monica Aleman was able to diagram all of the clotted vessels. The treatment options were: 1) A five and a half hour surgery to clean out the arteries that were accessible or 2) put him on a daily blood thinner to hopefully halt the clotting process so he could have a somewhat comfortable retirement.

 “The experts all agreed that the existing clots would never disappear.  We started Flexible on Warfarin upon his return home from UC Davis (end of August 2013). We gradually increased his exercise each week and never looked back.” 

About the award

Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital announced today that the award honoring the remarkably hardy Flexible has been added to the schedule of the Kentucky Experience on Friday, October 31, during the National Horse Show at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. 

The Comeback Award is being presented by Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, an all-breeds organization whose mission is to fund veterinary research for the benefit of horses.

 “We are pleased that one of the co-sponsors of our Kentucky Experience has stepped up to further recognize the relationships between research, veterinary practice, and sport horse competition," said Dr. Tom Riddle of Rood and Riddle. “Our practice will donate $10,000 to Grayson to further its program of funding research projects for the betterment of the horse and we challenge Flexible's fans to also contribute to Grayson.”

“The ultimate benefits of equine research require various stages,” noted Edward L. Bowen, president of Grayson. “We seek the best research projects available, but the expertise of research scientists is then handed off to veterinarians who must be up to date and willing to accept new science. Of course,  the owner/trainer also has to be ‘flexible’ enough—so to speak---to accept change as well.”

The Grayson Comeback Award trophy will be accompanied by a $500 check to the groom and will be presented on the evening of Oct. 31 during the Rood and Riddle Sport Horse Seminar. 
About the Foundation

The Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation, which relies on private donations, is funding 19 projects for slightly more than $1 million this year and since 1983 has provided $20.9 million to underwrite 310 projects at 41 universities.

 “Although we are affiliated with the Thoroughbred industry, the preponderance of the research we fund is as helpful to all other breeds and activities as it is to Thoroughbreds,” noted Bowen. “We like to call Grayson ‘The Friend You Can’t Do Without,’ and regardless of your specialized interest in horses we are there for you by funding research on laminitis, tendon and ligament issues, placentitis--the whole gamut.”

Edited from a longer press release..

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