When Bad Things Happen to Good Horses – Beating the Odds After Injury & Illness

When Bad Things Happen to Good Barrel Horses – Beating the Odds After Injury & Illness

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Below I’ve shared inspiring personal stories submitted from members of the BarrelRacingTips.com community whose horses have experienced major physical setbacks, and eventually BIG TIME comebacks!

If you’re needing support through a challenging time with your horse,
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I bought a mare three years ago broodmare sound. When I met her something kept tugging at me. I needed to figure out a way to get her back into the arena. She foaled the next spring and I started digging deeper into her issues. She had several scars on her legs and a previous major injury on a hind leg. She had trouble keeping weight and despite all our efforts, looked terrible all the time. I went to vets, naturopaths and acupuncturists. My naturopath/acupuncturist came to the conclusion that the mare has a compromised immune system. Anything chemical makes her SICK.

We have spent the past year and a half basically cleansing her body and dealing with any health issues that arise (eg, she was diagnosed with severe inflammatory airway disease this summer). Ironically, the health issues were the main reasons for the apparent unsoundness. Not only is my mare sound, healthy and happy, but she’s also a competitive 1D horse. She is the definition of what it means to not give up.

Jennifer Bobbie Robinson


My horse severely broke his pelvis as a five year old. We were told we may have to put him down but on the slight chance a child could possible one day ride him, the vet gave him a chance to heal. Thousands of tears & prayers later, I’m riding Ben all the way to the pay window! God is good!

LeAnn Sierman Smith


Barrel horses beating the odds.
Nexavar as a yearling.

We purchased Nexavar in December of his yearling year. Just two weeks after getting him home he got terribly sick. It began with colic symptoms which we were not able to manage at home with the help of our local veterinarian so we quickly made the decision to take him to Cornell University Veterinary Hospital.

He spent several weeks there, where we were told several times that we “wouldn’t be wrong to put him down and take the insurance money.” As the bills were mounting and veterinarians were working tirelessly, a clear diagnosis still eluding them and Nexavar was becoming more and more depressed. We opted to take him home and do our best to treat the symptoms and save him.

Barrel horses beating the odds.

The recovery was long and slow, the diagnosis came six months later as a rare DOG virus which Cornell had seen only a few times previously in a horse, and he recovered fully.

Nexavar is now a WORLD CHAMPION, Quarter Horse Congress Top Ten, arena record setter, Futurity Champion, and State Champion! He was recently invited into the Future Fortunes program, as well!

Mike and Nicky Kurty


I had a nine year old gelding suffer a kick to the left hock while off at roping training. He had multiple fractures and two lameness specialists said we had about a 5% chance of getting him pasture sound and for certain he’d never be ridden again. We spent an hour staring at this horse and decided to give it a chance.

He spent six months on stall rest where we did a 50/50 sweat every second day, used Back on Track boots, Duratech Magnetic boots, massage, and IM Glucosamine. It was every day of wrapping and unwrapping during the freezing Canadian winter months. After six months he was on limited turnout an hour a day increasing to 8 hours. Once he hit 8 hours we started lunging him at 5 minutes of trot per day increasing to 30 minutes.

We spent a year rehabbing and it paid off. Not only is he pasture sound, he’s sound under saddle and at all gaits. We baffled both vets. When we purchased the horse a year before we felt his name didn’t do him justice so we changed it to Legend. After all this he certainly is Legend(ary) to us.



I had a horse act sore when I pulled him out of the pasture. Four vets later we found a tear in the sesamoid ligament. Not just any tear but a complete separation from the bone. I followed doctors orders to a “T” and bought every supplement and therapy treatment I could find to help “heal.” The vet tried everything in his power (and my budget) to jump start the healing process. The more stall rest my boy had, the WORSE he got! This guy was running 1D times with a little soreness but as he healed he couldn’t hardly walk!

After a year of treatment the vet was stumped. He told me he would never be back fully. After some research I found a UltraOz ultrasound machine to increase blood flow to that area and start to get him back sound. It worked! Almost two years later he is back stronger than ever!



My horse fell at the first barrel as a four year old. When he fell he broke a bone in his knee. I was convinced he would never run again. After several visits to several vets we decided to try stall rest, joint supplements, magnetic therapy, and sweats. He made a full recovery, is 12 years old and back to his old barrel racing habits. Never had a problem again.



My mare, Dinamite Tradition, aka Red Rocket, was passing blood in her urine. An ultra sound showed a “mass” on her left kidney. Fast forward to a very risky surgery. (She could die from blood loss on the surgery table.) Her left kidney and the mass (which was Valley Fever encased in a tumor) were removed successfully by Dr. Carter Judy at Alamo Pintado Clinic. A year later, and lots of care and blood tests, Rocket returned to rodeo competition.

Cindy Roberts


My 14.2 hand Doc Bar six year old mare, better known as Cinderella (’cause she thinks she’s a princess) is a firecracker. Go-go-go is her mantra. She is a natural barrel horse, athletic and smart beyond anything I’ve owned before. But over a period of time, she soon became calm and quiet. My, wasn’t I quite the trainer!

In October 2013 after a training session, when putting her away quite late in a dark barn, I noticed she hadn’t eaten all her grain from that morning. I checked her again sometime before midnight – she still had not eaten. I took her from the stall. She did not want to move, her legs were trembling. I immediately called my “small-town” veterinarian who seems to work all day and night. Of course, he answered the phone at midnight. He said to bring her on in or wait until morning, it was our choice. We took her right then.

Barrel horses beating the odds.

Two blood tests showed her platelets were at 17K. Normal is 100K. He said it was a wonder she could stand up. She was diagnosed with Thrombocytopenia, an auto-immune system dysfunction occurring when the immune system makes antibodies that destroy platelets or platelet-producing cells. The treatment was Dexamethasone, prescribed in a delicate balance between varying daily dosages and the length of time that it is administered, if it is to succeed. We watched her closely. Because the blood cannot clot, tiny, blood spots on the gums appeared and there were small nosebleeds, but luckily, no bruising or bleeding into the bowels. Also, over time “dex” can cause a hormone imbalance and founder. Week after week, her count stayed around 70K or below.

Due to hormone imbalance, she got fat in weird places. One time her hooves got hot, so we went to Phenylbutazone until they felt normal, then back to the dex. Several times, her platelets rose to around 100K and she had begun to feel better. We weaned her from dex several times, only to have her platelets fall again. It was disheartening. My veterinarian contacted a friend veterinarian who worked with 50 other Veterinarians in a Kentucky horse park treating high-dollar thoroughbreds. They finally worked out a dosage-time method of administering the dex. The goal was to make the platelets “lose their memory” and cease to destroy themselves.

In May of 2014, eight months after showing symptoms, her platelets were above 100K after being weaned off the dex for a week. It is now October 2014. She is back to being feisty and we will take her next week for a blood check-up just to be sure she is still sound. I never thought “my” horse would have this type of serious problem. I know now not to take anything for granted with our horses, behavior or otherwise. This was a stressful learning experience. There are things out there we have never heard of that can and will afflict the things we love.

Caral Locke


In my senior year of college I had two horses that I competed in barrel racing and rodeo with. My older horse Go Man had been with me since I started college and was the most consistent horse I had ever run on. He ran in the 3D but I knew I could always count on him to have a perfect run. My other horse Slide was my 1D competition horse.

One evening I went out to feed and I saw that Go Man had sliced open his fetlock on his back leg. I rushed him to the vet and they did surgery three days later. As he was getting up from surgery he broke his front leg and I had to say goodbye to my one in a million horse. Exactly a week later my other horse Slide opened up is coffin bone and I didn’t know if I could ever compete on him again. Having both my horses seriously injured was devastating and made me want to get out of horses all together.

After about six months he was given the clear to start legging Slide up and see how his foot reacted. With an amazing horse shoer and an awesome vet we are back competing again. It took about a year and his foot doesn’t look very pretty but both my vet, horse shoer and myself are amazed that we can call him 100% sound! My horse Slide knows his job and loves it even more. It was his fighting spirit that helped me enjoy competing again.

My advice is to find a great horse shoer if your horse experiences a leg injury. There is so much modernization going on in the horse shoeing world so find one that is keeping up with the times and takes pride in helping your horse improve.

Larissa Teltschik


My horse somehow manage to puncture his inside hock joint in the pasture which resulted in an infection in the joint. The diagnosed as staff infection in the joint and flush the joint to wash away the infection. He spent a week at the vet get daily profusions in the joint to get rid of the infection. After three months he was still lame and the vets who had been treating him were out of answers.

I requested a second opinion from Dr. Chad Hewlett he recommended we try Adequan by the end of the loading dose there was significant improvement. After that we used prolotherapy injected into the hock joint within three treatments he was flexing better on the injured hock than on his good hock. I have continued with the Adequan for maintenance and I am using prolotherapy for maintenance once a year.

Angie MacDonald


Barrel horses beating the odds.

In 2010, my roping horse (barrel horse in training) was attacked by a bull that had huge horns. He cut her at the top of her right front leg, it was so bad that you could see the tendons, and she could barely walk at all. The vet thought she would be a broodmare the rest of her life.

I stalled her for weeks and doctored her twice a day. I would run cold water over her stitches, she had 25 stitches and 25 staples, and then I would use Vetericyn on it. She healed up great with a scar that you can barely notice. She still wins in the roping pen and is making a good barrel horse also.

Kristen Smith


Barrel horses beating the odds.

She was born in the middle of a sweet Texas storm. A culmination of three generations of a program I had been building. I raised her daddy, her mother, and her mothers sire is my heart horse. She was perfect – palomino with wild face markings, gorgeous headed, and perfect legged. This was the one.

As she grew she was proving she was more than just a pretty face. Smart, unimaginablely athletic and kind. Flash forward to her two year old year. You send the best ones off to the get the most opportunity they can. The trainer had weekly rage reviews. The top two year old, she is ahead of the game, etc. Then came the phone call… We turned her out to relax…. It’s not good… You better come get her. She had done the splits behind, and with a loud crack, my golden girl was now but a hollow shell asking for help.

That four hour ride to Texas Equine Hospital was the longest of my life. The whole way Dr. Honnas kept in close contact. He too had known her since the day she was born. As I unloaded her he continued to reassure me. Pelvis fractures happen all the time. As long as it’s not in the joint she has a chance. She stood kind and quiet as the beep went off with each radiograph. One final picture and I could see it all… the unthinkable. A pelvis fracture that unmistakably involved the hip socket. Dr. Honnas in all his years hadn’t seen many of these. We both sat in silence comparing the right to the left. How??? Why???

Barrel horses beating the odds.

I took a deep breath and was preparing myself to say goodbye. When he looked at me and said let’s hang with her, as long as she is happy we can keep the pain managed. Put her in the deep sand paddocks outside… “You can always say goodbye but you can’t resurrect them.” So we did we gave her time and helped along the way with inflammatories, Adequan and Legend, and a whole lot of prayer. She was smart and laid down in the deep sand to protect her feet from laminitis. Stayed happy and never missed a meal.

She stayed with Dr. Honnas 6 months under his watchful eye. We are now 8 months post injury. No one dreamed we would be this happy or that she would even have survived. Her hips are asymmetrical and her muscle is atrophied. But she runs and bucks and plays. She took care of herself and we did our best to take care of her. Sometimes it takes a veterinarian with a true love and appreciation for the horse, trust the horse to tell us, a little bit of time and a lot of faith can make the unthinkable a reality.

Skye Mize


Also enjoy this touching video of Casey Dean’s journey with her special horse, Little Man. It’s a must watch (have the Kleenex ready)!

If you enjoyed this post or have your own miracle story to share, you’re invited to please do so in the comments below!

Click here to open and save a Prayer and Collection of Bible Verses for Healing.

7 replies
  1. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    Fortunately, I have not had to deal with these types of issues with my horses, but I have with both my cats (a stroke) and dogs. It never ceases to amaze me the power of love and the will to survive/heal that our animals have and the deeper bond it seems to create having gone through the crises and coming out on the winning end.

    I enjoyed reading these stories and I’m sure it was difficult for you to have to pick from so many.

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      Glad you enjoyed this, Nancy! My hope is that they’ll especially be valuable to barrel racers when they’re facing hard times with horse health issues. Good reminders here for anyone, anytime, though. 🙂

  2. julie
    julie says:

    cannot believe how big a heart can be when they have that strong will to survive! he gave it to her totally…what a great partnership..just made me cry how beautiful this is..

  3. Sasha Miller
    Sasha Miller says:

    On March 16th 2015 I got a call that my horse Ryons Winning Bid wasn’t doing good. When I show up to where my horse was boarded, he was covered in sweat and mud from head to hoof. I called the vet out and we treated it as a colic, gave him banamine and pumped him full of oil, which in the end didn’t work. He passed the oil as he should have but didn’t get any better. All he wanted to do was lay down and do nothing. Wouldn’t eat and somewhat drank but that was it. So at the end of the day I took him to the vet and the ultrasounded him and asked “is surgery an option?” My response was….. “I ain’t got that kind of money!” And I left him at the vets office as I made my way home balling my eyes out calling the person I bought my horse from a little over 2yrs ago to tell her the terrible news, thank god I did because she was the one that made me realize I needed to try to save this amazing horse. Don’t get me wrong when coliced he wasn’t a finished barrel horse but he had put me in the 1D and brought me home multiple checks and a saddle in the process of me putting the finishing touches on him to be that finished barrel horse I was looking for. I am glad I did because I know that when he comes back and is able to run again he is going to be a force to be reckoned with cause he was just coming around and make the most easy, flawless, awesome runs right before his surgery. I saved my gelding because I know he has the potential to be an amazing champion barrel horse when he is finished. I have only just put the first ride on him since his surgery which only involves walking but he has made it thru the worst and I know he will come back stronger than ever.

  4. Amber Reimer
    Amber Reimer says:

    Thank you for putting together this article, Heather! I needed it today especially. Last summer, after saving FOREVER and working with my colts for 2 years (out of competition) I bought an amazing finished barrel mare from a rodeo family in MT. She was 8 years old and perfect. In fact, everything about her (especially her heart and love for barrels) reminded me of my once in a lifetime LG gelding. This was my chance! Two weeks later I pulled her out to take her to a barrel race and she has a HUGE bump on her shoulder. Bug bite reaction? Bee sting? No, my awesomely amazing first pro mare ever decided to run into a tree and shatter her scapula. After 10 months off, we are bringing her back slow. She is working awesome, but I still don’t know if she’ll ever turn a barrel competitively again. On top of that, my 5 y/o that I was getting ready to run this spring has had a major inflammatory issue in her left hip that we’ve been battling with since January and she is still not better. I can’t even ride her yet! So I feel a little hopeless at this point myself. All that being said, I also injured my groin last weekend working out so now I can’t ride either. Such is the life of a horse firl, there is always something. I needed the encouragement of this article so much today! Hoping months from now I will be smiling and looking back at all these trials. We’ll see :).

    • Heather Smith
      Heather Smith says:

      So happy to share Amber… there are so many miracle stories of successful comebacks that just don’t match up with in reality they horse should be able to do. We have to stay strong and remember that what we’re deal with now doesn’t have to limit our future – have faith in the unseen. 🙂


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