Kimberly K (March 16, 1997-January 9, 2024)

Kimberly K, known around the barn as Gina, died peacefully at home in Oklahoma on January 9, 2024 at the official age of 27.

Attending my wedding in 2015

Gina, a registered Thoroughbred, was born March 16, 1997 in Cimarron, New Mexico. Her sire, Look See, was a stakes winner and a leading sire in New Mexico in 1999 and 2000. Her dam, True Brilliance, produced several stakes winners during her lengthy breeding career. Gina was sold to a sporthorse breeder in Oklahoma as a 2 year old, where she was added to the Main Mare Book of ISR/Oldenburg NA and produced two premium Oldenburg fillies. She also produced an Appendix Quarter Horse colt.

When Gina’s breeding career came to a close, she was sold to a hunter/jumper trainer in Tulsa, Okla. She spent the next few years competing in both the hunters and the jumpers and moved to other Tulsa-based barns several times as she was sold to various professionals. Eventually, she was purchased for a junior rider, who competed with Gina until she started college. Gina was then donated to a therapeutic riding center as a potential vaulting horse.

I met Gina in 2011 when I was hired as the equine manager of the therapeutic riding center to which she had been donated. My first task at that center was to prep Gina for sale, as her size and temperament made her unsuitable as a therapy horse. I liked Gina immediately: she was well-built, well-mannered, and had the most beautiful, floaty gaits I’d ever ridden. When she was put up for sale at a public sealed-bid auction, I submitted a bid and anxiously waited to find out if I had won her. I did, and so began our long and happy partnership.

Combined training, 2014

Originally, I purchased Gina with the idea of eventing her. She was good at dressage and seemed unfazed by the terrain and obstacles on the center’s outdoor sensory trail. When I moved her away from the center to a farm with jumps, I quickly discovered Gina did not enjoy show jumping. She frequently stopped or ducked out when asked to jump anything in an arena. However, she enthusiastically approached and jumped cross-country jumps. For several years, we competed at dressage shows or combined tests consisting of dressage and cross-country. Gina also did a stint as a dressage lesson horse at my neighbor’s barn, where she was somewhat unpopular due to her brisk pace and bouncy trot.

Hunter pace, 2014

After taking Gina to several hunter paces, I joined Harvard Fox Hounds in 2015 and began foxhunting. Gina found her true calling in the hunt field. She was tireless, sure-footed, and brave. She jumped any obstacle, slid down any steep hill, climbed every narrow and winding trail, crossed deep and swift-running creeks, tolerated horses jostling and bumping her, listened for the hounds, and galloped across every kind of terrain with a sure and even stride. In the off-season, Gina and I logged many hours on the trails in northeastern Oklahoma. In 2017, I bred Gina. In 2018, she foaled a little chestnut colt, Marrakesh. Unfortunately, he and Gina were hospitalized for most of his short life and he was euthanized as a result of a joint infection when he was only a month old. Gina recovered quickly, and we were back in the hunt field that fall.

Swedish oxer at home, 2015

Gina was semi-retired by 2020, when my work and school schedule made it difficult to keep her fit enough to hunt. She remained healthy and generally fit until late 2023, when she was diagnosed with EPM.

While Gina was never an affectionate or particularly personable horse, she was polite and hardworking. She was impeccably behaved for the vet and farrier, never put a foot wrong under saddle (show jumping excepted), and could generally be relied upon to conduct herself with dignity and grace.

When I think of Gina, I think of many adventures we went on, of course – the time we finished the hunter pace in just over an hour when the optimum time was about two hours; the time we got lost riding at Heyburn Lake and spent an extra two hours riding back to the trailer on the road; the time an official at a schooling show tried to disqualify us for going too fast because we cantered the entire Starter level cross country course; the time she got loose at my wedding and evaded capture for something like an hour. But mostly, I think of the little things that made Gina, Gina: her awful whinny that sounded like she’d smoked a pack of cigarettes every day of her life; how she could never roll over and always had to roll on one side, get up, then roll on the other side; how she stood at the very furthest edge of the paddock when she heard me hooking up the horse trailer; how the little asymmetries in her gait made every blanket she wore crooked except for an ancient Weatherbeeta I’d spent more money repairing over the years than it was worth; how she hated being closed in a stall while she ate.

from left to right: Moe, Gina, Madigan, 2023

I miss Gina. She’s buried in the paddock next to her friend Candy. It’s both sad and comforting to know my longtime companion is under that mound of earth. Sad, because Gina’s no longer here to stare at me suspiciously as I walk toward to barn or pin her ears at the geldings while she waits for dinner. But a little comforting, too – I know I gave her the best life I could, right up until the very last second. She didn’t meet her end in a terrible place, alone and anxious and in pain. She’s right here, where she was laid to rest with the same dignity and grace she had in life.

EPM Strikes Again

Several years ago, Moe was diagnosed with and treated for EPM. I was surprised- he presented few symptoms and I assumed they were signs of age-related maladies. When he began stopping at jumps, I knew something was wrong. This was extremely unusual (I think I can count on one hand the number of times he’s stopped at a jump), but I assumed he had a touch of arthritis bothering him, as he was in his early twenties. I scheduled a lameness exam with our regular vet, who picked up on subtle signs of neurological disease. She ordered a blood test for EPM, which was positive, and Moe was treated with ReBalance (sulfadiazine + pyrimethamine). He recovered well and went on to continue jumping and doing dressage until I fully retired him a couple of years ago.

a queen

Gina was diagnosed with EPM last week and her presentation could not have been more different. She and Moe were turned out with Madigan and Story for several days, as their usual paddock didn’t have water due to plumbing work at the barn. In the evening, I brought Moe and Gina in the barn to eat (and to treat Gina for a small ulcer on her eye) before turning them back out. Last Tuesday, Gina didn’t come to the gate at dinner time. I thought that was unusual, but not extraordinary. Gina is a deeply suspicious horse and will often try to avoid being caught if something sets off her internal alarms. (This can be something as benign as a person opening and closing the horse trailer tack room door.) She let me catch her and lead her in. I noticed she was moving slowly and thought perhaps she’d overdone it running around or had kicked too vigorously at Madigan. She let me treat her eye and ate dinner without a problem.

she was never really much for jumping in an arena but she was good at it

I called the vet Wednesday morning to see when someone could come out to check her over. No one would be in my area until the following Tuesday, so I offered to haul Gina in if it meant she could be seen quicker. An appointment was available Thursday morning, which was fine with me. But by Wednesday evening, Gina was significantly worse. She didn’t come to the gate and struggled with balance and coordination during her walk to the barn. She staggered as though she had no control of her hind legs. My immediate thought was that it would be a terrible idea to haul her to the vet in the morning- I was afraid she would fall in the trailer or fall trying to back out of the trailer. Since water was restored to the barn, I left her and Moe in their usual paddock overnight and resolved to call the vet clinic first thing in the morning. At this point, I suspected Gina might have EPM- it’s common in our area and her symptoms (ataxia in rear limbs, muscle atrophy that I’d chalked up to old age and lack of work) matched those of the disease.

always at her best on the trails!

On Thursday morning, I called the clinic to let them know I wouldn’t be in because I had concerns about safely trailering my horse. They were understanding and made room in their schedule to send a vet out Friday afternoon. I was relieved. I was also worried and upset that Friday might be Gina’s last day on earth. She is 26. Her symptoms seemed severe. Did she have a chance for recovery? Would the vet recommend putting her down? I wanted to do what was best and kindest for her, but that doesn’t mean I was less sad or distressed about what that might mean.

Fortunately, the vet didn’t suggest that at all. She agreed Gina had EPM and recommended beginning a course of diclazuril + levamisole immediately. She also gave Gina a steroid injection and advised me to give her Banamine for a few days. I was so relieved I nearly cried.

Gina has improved a little over the last few days. She walks more confidently and staggers less. Her appetite remains good, and she is very good about taking her daily medication. She is not back to normal, but she’s making progress. The vet is optimistic Gina will improve enough to get back to her favorite retirement activity: chasing Moe around and threatening to bite him on the butt. I sure hope so! Gina deserves to enjoy a long and luxurious retirement (well, as luxurious as we get around here).