Nikki had never had a single health problem in her life. That all changed suddenly this July. Christine Gentilhomme was visiting her family in Paris when she got the call from her husband in Nevada City, “It’s about Nikki, she got kicked by another horse. They don’t know if her leg is broken. They will take X-Rays and have the results tomorrow.” The next day, one of the X-rays, taken with her leg at a 90-degree angle at the urging of Dr Ormond, confirmed her suspicion that the 20-year-old Arabian mare had a displaced fracture in the upper part of her left front leg, the olecranon.
Nikki was originally rescued from slaughter as yet another unsold, untrained flea-bitten grey Arabian. She eventually became a very sweet and calm lesson horse in Castro Valley under the care of a close family friend, trainer Susan Tambara. Susan and Nikki have provided many students with their first introduction to natural horsemanship, a gentle form of training that calms horses and emphasizes communicating with them in their own “language.” Nikki’s students have ranged from adults returning to horses following confidence-shattering injuries to young children and even a little boy with cerebral palsy who was helped tremendously by natural horsemanship training.
The news of Nikki’s injury spread fast among the natural horsemanship community—and the next day Susan Tambara and another highly experienced horsewoman Lisa Stanley were trailering Nikki to UC Davis, California, for further evaluation.
At UC Davis Nikki, who arrived wearing a splint, was hung from a sling in a stall while conversations and emails buzzed between horse friends in Castro Valley, Nevada County, the UC Davis surgeon, Nikki’s regular vet Dr. Diane Isbell who was at a conference in Michigan and Christine in France.
Christine was dealing with problems associated with her mother’s worsening Alzheimer’s by day and staying up all night to communicate during California time zone hours and gather as much information as possible before deciding whether or not to euthanize Nikki.
Dr. Jonathan Anderson of UC Davis said that the fracture was in a very “good” place for surgery and the prognosis for full recovery was excellent but only IF the surgery went well and IF she did not kill herself in a panic upon coming out of anesthesia and finding herself confined in a sling and in a splint and IF she could stay quiet in order to heal. It became more and more clear that the biggest danger was the horse’s own natural instinct. However Nikki was already in a splint and sling and totally docile about it. She amazed everyone at UC Davis by continuing to be totally amenable to it for the next three days—especially unusual for a breed known for being high strung. Her behavior encouraged the surgeon greatly. Ultimately Christine made the decision to give Nikki a chance, and surgery was scheduled.
Meanwhile Nikki’s friends from Grass Valley, Mary Sanichas and equine bodyworker Joan Michelau, drove to Davis bearing homeopathic remedies, tinctures and medicinal herbs under direction of a naturopath friend with a practice in Alameda, Mair MacKinnon. They also scrambled to build a suitable area for stall rest within a larger barn at Mary’s property in Grass Valley where two of Nikki’s former pasture mates could stand close to her and be of comfort to her during her recovery.
A friend from North San Juan, Sunya Dickson, offered to trailer her from UC Davis to Grass Valley. Miraculously, everything was coming together.
On Friday, July 11, Nikki made it through surgery and came out of anesthesia with flying colors. Throughout the week in the hospital following surgery she again accepted the sling and splint and stood quietly for follow-up treatment and X-Rays without sedation. Christine returned from France on the following Wednesday and drove directly to Davis to see Nikki, then home to Nevada City. Two days later Mary and Christine met Sunya with her horse trailer in a parking lot and proceeded together to Davis.
Mary’s job was to trailer load Nikki safely with the quietest and fewest steps possible. She said, “The pressure was tremendous. I felt like a pinch hitter, that I traveled a long distance to be there for one thing only, one critical thing that lasts only a few seconds—but has to be done successfully. I didn’t want her to jump around or slip and undo $8,000 worth of surgery!” There were the distracting sounds and smells; a nervous horse spooked in front of them. Mary took her time keeping Nikki’s attention and walking her quietly to the trailer with frequent stops. Nikki stayed focused on Mary and loaded like a charm. Mary said, “At times like this, when all the years of natural horsemanship training pays off, you are so grateful you want to fall down on your knees and cry.”
Nikki was greeted by the whinnies of Mary’s two horses who hadn’t seen her for three years since they moved to Grass Valley from Castro Valley. They stand dutifully by her side and are helping her heal. When Nikki is receiving a tube full of antibiotics via syringe, Action looks pained. When it’s over Matisse sighs. As rescued horses who sustained injuries as racehorses, they seem to know what she is going through.
Nikki’s many friends await email reports from Grass Valley on her progress daily. Christine said, “Nikki has helped so many students and is such a sweet mare. I am so grateful for everyone’s help. Nikki's a blessing for me especially right now.”
A fund has been established for those who want to help with Nikki’s surgery expenses. Please contribute generously for this sweet horse who is a blessing to her owner and has taught so much to so many people over the years! Thank you so much!!!