Remington W (Barn name “Gunny”) is not only a champion in the show ring, but also a champion of beating the odds. His owner Beckey Downing and trainer Noelle Roberts share the story of how a mysterious, life-threatening injury nearly brought down their beloved gelding, and instead just made him stronger. Thank you for writing, Beckey and Noelle!
Gunny is my once in a lifetime horse. I have had amazing horses before him who I loved very much but there is something about him that is extraordinary. I bought him almost five years ago from someone who had him in their backyard and he was in training as an endurance horse. He was about 150 pounds underweight and was barely trained. We started dressage lessons just to get some basics but quickly moved to jumping as neither one of us had the patience for dressage! So at 46 years of age my jumping career began.
A year later we met and started training with Noelle Roberts of Delacreme Equestrian. Even though Noelle didn’t have much experience with Arabians she and Gunny clicked right away. Noelle is one of those unique individuals outside of the Arabian world that understands how they tick and is able to do a fantastic job training them. She also had quite a job boosting my low self-confidence which proved to be a more difficult task than training Gunny! Fast forward three years and here we are.
I instantly fell in love with Gunny and admired Beckey as a rider and a trainer. I say trainer because Beckey has worked with Arabians in a variety of disciplines for many years and has way more knowledge than I do in a variety of the nuances that come with the breed. She’s a talented horsewoman, who is very dedicated to her craft and more capable than she gives herself credit for.
And Gunny is just a gem. He’s such a special little horse, who has zero quit in him and tries his guts out every single day. He may occasionally try to tell you that he knows better, or that jumps stacked outside the ring are surely going to eat him, but on most days he’s perfect.
Beckey and Gunny have come a long way and Beckey did a majority of the work on her own, hauling him in for lessons for the first year and half. 2016 was gearing up to be our big year, with Regionals and Nationals on the schedule.
On January 13th I got a 6:30 am phone call from Noelle telling me that Gunny had a bloody nose and just wasn’t right. Noelle’s regular vet recommended that we take him immediately to the San Luis Rey Equine Hospital as Gunny was ataxic and his right pupil was completely blown. We had, and still have, no idea what happened to him.
At San Luis Rey they immediately took him in for x-rays which really didn’t show anything. We are very lucky that SLR had recently acquired a CT machine which allowed them to scan his skull. Up until this point Noelle and I had convinced ourselves that it wasn’t that serious and he would be fine after a couple of weeks off. We were gearing up for the biggest show year of our career we didn’t have any time to lose.
Noelle had gone to the hospital with me and stayed all day keeping me company, feeding me comfort food and waiting for test results. Eventually she had to leave to teach some lessons so I had her on speaker phone when Dr. Nick Huggons gave us the CT scan results. Needless to say neither one of us were ready to hear him say that this was a life threatening injury and the next few days would be touch and go as to whether he would survive or not.
Gunny broke his basisphenoid bone which is in the center of his skull. The big problem was that the fracture was letting air and bacteria into his brain and spinal cord; the risk of meningitis was very high as was the chance of seizures. He had also lost the vision in his right eye. Noelle and I were devastated and tried to wrap our heads around the fact that we might lose him.
I think being a trainer is such a unique perspective in situations like this. Our clients entrust the care of their loved ones with us daily. And most of us love our clients horses as if they were our own (truthfully we are all more animal people than people people). We feel extremely responsible and helpless in situations like these. Horses are incredibly accident prone and if they can self-destruct, they will. But logically understanding that, and feeling that are very different things. It’s hard not to blame yourself when something like this happens.
For the next five days Noelle would text me by 7 am looking for a Gunny report and I would receive a phone call from Dr. Huggons by 9 am giving me an update on his condition. After a few days Dr. Huggons was cautiously optimistic but would always bring me back down to earth with the warning that Gunny wasn’t out of the woods yet. For this reason I started calling Dr. Huggons Eeyore because he could never just give me good news without a gloomy warning!
On January 18th, my 50th birthday, Dr. Huggons finally gave me the news I had been waiting for: Gunny would survive but there was no guarantee that he would be able to jump again. He was still blind in his right eye but there was a chance that his vision could still come back. I didn’t care if Gunny was a lawn ornament for the rest of his life I was just happy that he was alive.
Gunny stayed in the hospital for another week and then came home to rest for two months. Every day for two months I would hand walk Gunny in the morning and my husband, Donnie, would walk him at night.
Gunny was cleared to go to back to work. His skull had healed and the air pockets had resolved themselves, but his eyesight would never return. I’ve known many horses that jump with only vision in one eye, and understand how horses process depth perception, but you just never know how these things go.
Gunny went back to Delacreme at the end of March. Gunny never seemed affected by his partial blindness and went back to work jumping better than ever. After a couple of local shows we were ready to head up to Elk Grove for Regionals.
We decided that we would show Gunny in the under saddle classes to try and qualify for Nationals even though he hadn’t done a flat class in a couple of years. Those, with his over fences classes, gave us four Regional Championships to compete in. By the end of the show Gunny had won all of his Championships, two with Noelle: Working Hunter over Fences Open and Sport Horse Under Saddle Hunter Type Open and two with me: Modified Hunter over Fences and Sport Horse Under Saddle Hunter Type ATR (Amateur to Ride). This show dispelled any doubts we had that he would be ready to go to Sport Horse Nationals in September.
At his first horse show back, he was absolutely perfect. As we rounded the corner to our last line (after having a near perfect round) he let out the cutest little whinny and I couldn’t help but tear up. After all he had been through, he was so happy being back, doing what he loved for his people. When I finished the round I hopped off and gave Beckey a huge tearful hug. He’s such a truly special horse, with more heart than I can describe. A once in a lifetime horse.
Noelle calls Gunny our “little miracle horse” because of his ordeal; he has shown such heart and courage through all of this. All three of us are looking forward to Nationals and hopefully bringing home some red roses but even if we don’t, the fact that we are able to compete at all is a miracle in itself.Beckey and Gunny. PC: Don Downing