A Race Never Won – The Very Short Career of Witch’s Trail

The Belmont is over; we have a new winner; Summer Bird followed by Dunkird and Mine that Bird. It was a good race; all of the horses were safe. Only Dunkirk tied up after the race, but he was reportedly doing fine back at the barn. These are the horses that make headline news, and these are the horses that glorify the sport, but what  about some of the ones that never make it to the starter gate; never heard the roar of the crowd nor will they ever wear a blanket of flowers to celebrate their victory in the ” Winner’s Circle.” These are by far many more in number and  not nearly as talented and not nearly as lucky.

One such horse Witch’s Trail, a tall, grey 2004 model was bred to race, but he never made it that far. A local horse rescue answered a call a few weeks ago  from a man identifying himself as the trainer for this horse. Allegedly the trainer didn’t know what was wrong with the horse and was unable or unwilling to spend the money to have the horse diagnosed, but it was apparent that this horse would no longer be a contender in any future races. The woman who was supposedly rehabbing the horse had lost her farm due to the economy, and this man was having  “a rough meet at Tampa Bay Downs” and asked if this horse could be rescued. When the truck arrived, no one was there; apparently the owners had moved out and left the horse in a field. Witch’s Trail was out in the pasture standing alone, with no one to feed him no less even bid him farewell.

Witch’s Trail arrived at the rescue, and it was obvious  that he had received no type of rehabilitation; he could barely walk up the driveway, and  this was a 3 year old horse in training to race. Physically Witch’s Trail appeared to need some weight and needed his feet done so farrier services were immediately dispensed and a new set of shoes initially seemed to add support and comfort, but it was evident  there was much more medically happening to this beautiful creature.

A few days later a vet came out to examine Witch’s Trail, and from there the afternoon quickly deteriorated. He was originally  diagnosed with Wobbles/cervical vertebral spinal cord compressive disease. In addition, he was afflicted  with a left rear tarsal deformity with clinical bone spavin swelling. He was more than likely born with the latter and most possibly living with wobbles for a while. What makes this even more interesting is a follow-up opinion from another veterinarian. Upon the neurological exam, Witch’s Trail presented with a Grade 3/4 asymmetrical paraparesis. The left hind was worse than the right hind. There was also decreased neck bending to the right which is not consistent with wobbles. It was also suspected there might be spinal cord compression with possible cervical  vertebral instability due to a previous fracture since the  right sucrum was higher than the left. Radiographs of the left stifle  now show a severe injury at some time in the past. The second opinion from Dr. Dean Richardson who was Barbaro’s vet, thought that a traumatic cruciate ligament tear or rupture may have occurred resulting in the very abnormal radiographic appearance of the joint. The original diagnosis of Wobbles has now been ruled out. What makes this so hard to understand is the pain this horse was in – in training to race, left in a pasture, no food, no hoof care, lame on all four legs, but a true thoroughbred – stoic and brave and more than willing to run his heart out for the humans who betrayed him.

Witch’s Trail very well could lose the most important race of his career – the race for his life. Options include arthroscopic examination and debridement. Additionally injections of hyaluronic acid, IRAP, platelets and steroids are advised. His prognosis is poor and guarded at best. No matter what the outcome, he will be kept out of pain and treated to his favorite foods such as carrots, apples, and groomed, bathed and lavished by legions of volunteers loving on him for as long as he chooses. He is a horse that needs a miracle, but it isn’t something that I haven’t seen over and over again as thousands of horses go on to new productive and healthy lives after their horse racing days are over. Witch’s Trail isn’t ready to die – he whinnies to the foals; he is excited to watch the horses walk by; he is curious and affectionate; he is still full of life. Maybe there really is a miracle out there for this beautiful horse.

Cheryl Hanna is a freelance writer living in South Florida. A passionate horse owner and advocate, Cheryl primarily writes about animals, fashion, and current events. For more information, email cdh732@gmail.com or visit https://www.purethoughtshorserescue.com/ottbdivision/witchstrail/index.php