Most of the time, our Lost and Found subjects are horses or people who have disappeared from public view for a while, leaving readers to wonder what they've been up to lately. Six-year-old Silent Ruler is somewhat the opposite scenario; for most of his career, he toiled in obscurity and only made headlines this fall after he was discovered in his stall at Penn National, physically stressed from the pain of a fractured sesamoid. Since we first started reporting on his case in early December, many readers have been asking where he has been since then.
After track and commission officials were alerted to the horse's condition, owner/trainer Mario Rafael Rodriguez signed ownership of the horse over to Pennsylvania Racehorse Rehoming, Rehabilitation and Rescue, which was founded by veterinarian Dr. Kathryn Papp.
At first, Papp suspected Silent Ruler would be a euthanasia case. The severe nature of Silent Ruler's injuries gave him a slim chance for survival, even with surgical intervention. Sesamoid fractures can often be associated with fatal breakdowns, depending on their nature and severity, and recovery would put considerable stress on the soft tissues in the horse's legs. Laminitis is also a concern with any horse requiring a long recovery and a long time with extra weight shifted onto one leg. Papp knew even with discounted veterinary services, this horse was not going to be a cheap one to fix. Still, she wanted desperately to give him a shot at a better life.
“The horse wasn't asking to be put down,” said Papp. “There are some that are because they're in so much pain. Reading back on his history I thought, you know this horse gave everything to this industry, running as many times as he did. After all of us had been around him for a week, he had grown on us.”
When Papp learned a qualified adopter was interested in the horse and wanted to provide him a pasture home, she set out to try raising the $10,000 she estimated she'd need for the horse's surgery and recovery. (That figure later would later jump to $12,000 when veterinarians encountered a complication requiring more monitoring of the bandage area and a longer hospitalization.)
“I did agonize over whether it was right to spend $10,000 to save a horse that was only going to be a pasture ornament,” Papp said. “Normally, I wouldn't. You can save so many horses with that money. There are a lot of horses at my farm that I've spent money to do surgery on that are still there because adopters don't want a horse with screws, they don't want a horse that's had an injury, but this horse had people who offered to give him a forever home.”
Papp put out a call for help and got a response from the racing and veterinary industries. The Pennsylvania Veterinary Foundation (PVF), the charitable arm of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, provided $6,000. The PVF's Last Chance Fund was started in 2009 to give veterinarians funding to care for animals from abuse or neglect situations.
After The Finish Line also stepped up with a $2,000 emergency grant. Dawn Mellen, president/founder of nonprofit fundraising group After The Finish Line, said she was happy to pitch in toward Silent Ruler's care, despite the high price she knew it would take to save him.
“At least we know we tried,” said Mellen. “The failure is not giving the horse the opportunity, the horse not recovering. I'm fine giving horses the chance, knowing there's someone like Kathryn there who's so dedicated and wanting to make this right.
“We don't just donate to horses with famous sires. We donate to all horses because we treat all horses equally.”
Papp has also seen a good response to a GoFundMe page, including a $1,000 donation from Big Chief Racing, which owned Silent Ruler early in his career. Silent Ruler was claimed away from Big Chief in early 2015 and changed hands a few more times before ending up with Rodriguez.
The GoFundMe page has surpassed its $3,000 fundraising goal, but Papp said the website has taken a sizable cut of the money and she's still looking for donations.
Dr. Jennifer Smith, chief of surgery at the New Jersey Equine Clinic, consulted with Papp on the horse's radiographs and thought an arthrodesis might make Silent Ruler pasture sound. A fetlock arthrodesis insets a plate across the front of the leg and additional implants through the ankle to stabilize it. The advantage to this type of procedure is it can relieve pain more quickly, allowing a horse to use the injured leg sooner and reduce the risk of supporting limb laminitis.
Smith performed the arthrodesis – a four-and-a-half-hour surgery – soon after Silent Ruler's discovery and he has been hospitalized ever since to monitor for infection, laminitis, colic, or other serious postoperative complications. A few weeks in, the horse has a small sore near the insertion site for one of the screws, but careful monitoring seems to be staving off serious infection for now.
So far, Papp said, he's “doing really well” and is going for daily walks in a lighter bandage. The horse has lost weight since he left Penn National due to inactivity since the surgery, but he continues to eat well and displays no signs of stress behaviors. Speaking in mid-December, Papp was cautiously optimistic Silent Ruler would be discharged later in the month.
Papp said Silent Ruler (who is known in the barn as “Jet”) will always walk with a limp, since the surgical implants will prevent his ankle from dropping down normally in the back, but the movement will be a “mechanical abnormality” and not due to pain. She already suspects, based on his condition, the arthrodesis has done what it was intended to and removed the pain he had been feeling from the fracture. She said Silent Ruler is already shaking his head during his walks, showing the spirit she was hoping he had all along.
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