Betty is a beautiful horse, dainty in her proportions with an expressive face, and her quiet grace suggests her extensive training in dressage. Betty was the first horse I had ever seen in a sling, a confusing tangle of black and yellow straps and shiny silver buckles. In a matter of days, she had lost a drastic amount of muscle mass in her hindquarters, her once well-rounded bottom now angular and pinched.
As the days passed, I listened as the vets and 4th years brainstormed various conditions, and bore witness to their frustration as diagnostic after diagnostic came back negative or inconclusive. I heard the vets express their amazement at how well Betty was tolerating the sling. She wasn’t getting antsy or depressed like some other horses they had worked with. Since she seemed to be doing well mentally, the vets and the owner decided to keep on supporting her and looking for answers.
Betty had been admitted at the end of February. Six weeks later, with inconclusive diagnostics and no improvement, the veterinary staff was reluctantly thinking about euthanasia.
I came back the next week to the news that over the weekend, Betty had stood on her own (without the aid of her sling) with the minimal help of a technician. From then onward, it was a long uphill trudge. Betty remained in the sling for many weeks afterwards, as she slowly built up the muscles that had atrophied during frequent short walks through the hospital corridors. Betty’s stall soon became the place to hang out: everyone loved to visit her, feeding her bananas, carrots, or peppermints from the rolling cart which her owners kept stocked with her favorite treats. It was amazing for me to see her progress, especially the change in her gait as she grew stronger. As winter turned into spring, and I learned more about neurological disorders, I began to notice what clues the vets were using to gauge her progress. As the semester wound down and I finished up my selective to begin focusing on my final exams, Betty was still there.
Out of her sling, her hindquarters slowly filling out, and able to walk several circuits around the hospital, I couldn’t help but remain in awe of Betty. In effect, she had done all the heavy lifting—in spite of not having a medical answer, Betty never gave up and just kept on trudging.