Photo by Stuart Vesty
By Ally Nelson
Waking up on April 3rd, 2008, I started my day like any other and headed to work at Southwest Equine, where I was the lead Veterinary Technician and ran anesthesia for all surgeries. Little did I know that this day would be unlike any other. This day would change my life. It was mid-morning, and one of the surgeons asked me to prep the surgical suite as we had a very important stallion in transport to the clinic with a life-threatening injury. I quickly prepared for his arrival. The anesthesia machine was ready, the X-ray machine was warming up, and medications were on hand. As this gorgeous chestnut stallion carefully hobbled off the trailer, it was clear he had broken his leg. Of course, the leg was incredibly scary, but that is not what caught my attention first. This horse was beautiful; He was brave, and with all the adrenaline coursing through his veins, he still had a very kind look in his eye.
MPA Giovanni was a US National Champion. He was an incredible sire and a cherished family member to his owner, Mr. Larry Jerome of Jerland Farms. It was made clear from the second he arrived that we were to do everything in our power to save this horse’s life. Generally speaking, a broken leg for a horse is a death sentence, but not for Gio. After careful evaluation of the limb, communications with the owner and the insurance company. Due to the value of this stallion, the insurance company played a role in the decision-making of the horse’s treatment. The insurance company had one opinion, and Gio’s surgeon had another.
At this moment, I realized what an incredible owner Gio had. Larry looked at the surgeon and asked, “Do you feel your plan is the best outcome for Gio?” Dr. Alldredge replied, “Yes.” Knowing there was a disagreement with the insurance company and that should the stallion not survive the surgery, Larry would be forgoing his insurance claim. Larry didn’t want the money; he wanted his horse to survive, and with that, we went to surgery.
I weighed Gio so that I could draw up the proper medications to begin the surgery. He laid down gently, and I intubated him. As we began to use the crane to lift him onto the surgery table, it was apparent he was not quite asleep enough, so additional medications were administered. This happened a few times, which was incredibly rare. Through the many surgeries I had assisted with, I had never come across this. With a combination of adrenaline and the strongest will to live, I knew right away that Gio was a fighter!
For those of you with equine surgical experience, you know that often, the most challenging part is not necessarily in the surgical suite; it is in the recovery stall. As horses wake from anesthesia, they are disoriented and do not have complete control of their limbs; being that they are flight animals by nature, it can be expected for them to struggle while regaining full consciousness. On top of that, Gio had just undergone extensive surgery to repair the broken leg. The results could have been devastating had he not been so smart.
Once the horse is lying down in the circular, fully padded recovery stall, two technicians climb onto platforms just outside the stall; one holds onto a rope attached to the padded halter, and the other holds onto a rope attached to the tail. These ropes are designed to assist the horse as they regain their footing.
With great anticipation and concern, we waited. It was clear that Gio was waking up. Softly, I spoke to him in an attempt to reassure him that he was okay and to take his time. Take his time, he did. Gio never once thrashed; it was like he knew exactly what to do. Slowly, he sat up dorsal and began to nicker at us. He knew his body was not ready to stand yet, and he protected himself until he was confident that he could stand without causing further injury. It was the most graceful surgical recovery I had ever witnessed.
Southwest Equine in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Throughout Gio’s six months in our care, he had to undergo many procedures and cast changes to ensure the leg was healing to the best of its ability. He did not like the small dremel saw used to remove the cast, so we had to lay him down for each change. His recovery each time was equally as graceful. We got to the point of trusting him that I would simply sit with him in recovery until he was ready to stand. His head was in my lap as he regained consciousness. He knew my voice, and I like to think it brought calmness to him. He and I knew each time he was ready to stand. And up, he went like a complete gentleman.
Gio’s ability to protect himself did not end there. We knew it was a long road to recovery, as did he. With a tall white cast on his front leg, he methodically lived each day. Gio laid down often, which was a blessing as his body was healing from the repaired fracture. We knew that his opposite front leg would be taking much of the burden of carrying all his weight. This caused great concern that he would damage his other leg/hoof; however, he knew this and rested both legs perfectly.
For months, Gio remained at Southwest Equine, and I remained his caregiver. We grew an incredible bond. Many people around the country loved that horse, and he received more care packages than any other patient I had cared for. Opening his gifts, baskets of carrots, horse treats, and jolly balls was always fun! Mostly, he loved the jolly balls, swinging them around and tossing them over the walls to his neighbors. Gio made the best of his time at Southwest with us.
On September 2nd, 2008, the time had come for Gio to move on to the next phase of his recovery. It was decided that swimming was his best option to regain strength and reduce the stress on his still-healing leg. I’ll never forget the day we loaded him onto the trailer, and he headed off to Gallun Farms, an 8-hour drive to the beautiful town of Santa Ynez, California. I cried tears of sadness for losing who had become one of my best friends, but also tears of pure joy as we had done it. We had saved this beautiful soul’s life.
Gallun Farms in Santa Ynez, California, where Gio continued rehabilitation.
Not only had I grown close to Gio, but I had also grown close to his owner, Larry Jerome. Larry is one of the kindest people I know. My respect for this man and how he handled Gio’s care is exponential. To him, nothing came before ensuring Gio had the best opportunities in life. As the years went on and Gio continued to thrive, Larry and I remained friends, with a strong passion for the Arabian horse, especially MPA Giovanni.
Fast forward to 2023, MPA Giovanni is now 21 years old. After his swimming days in Santa Ynez, he moved back to his true home, Jerland Farms, located in Barron, Wisconsin. Just last month, I received a phone call from Larry; these phone calls always make me smile. Knowing that Larry was now fighting a battle for his own life with stage 4 cancer, these calls are even more special to me. I answered, and Larry said, “Ally, it’s time for you to come and visit me. As you know, I am not doing well, and Gio is 21 years old. You need to come see us.” Within minutes, I had my flight booked, and one week later, I arrived at Jerland Farms. My anticipation to see Gio was through the roof, wondering if he would still remember me, remember my voice. The staff at Jerland brought Gio out, and I was flooded with emotion. To see this horse alive and well 15 years after his accident! Gio still has the same kind eye; he still has the fight within him to live and live happily!
Me, Gio and Larry at Jerland Farms in Barron, Wisconsin in November 2023.
21-Year-Old MPA Giovanni in November 2023.
As we proceeded to see the many generations of horses at Jerland Farms, I realized that saving Gio was so much more than just saving one life. The legacy he has created at Jerland Farms will live on through his daughters and granddaughters. Seeing the pride on Larry’s face as Gio came out, followed by the generations of “J” horses that carry Gio’s blood, brought everything full circle to me. We all worked together, a large community of people, to save this horse’s life.