Beckey Downing first set her heart on a national championship when she was nine years old. When 2016 started, she felt this would be the year, and she had good reason. After three years, her gelding, Remington W, was coming along nicely under both her as an adult amateur and also her trainer, Joelle Roberts of Temecula. With the Arabian Sport Horse Nationals returning to Nampa, Idaho, the stars seemed to be perfectly aligned this year.
Until the morning of Jan. 13.
Downing, of Anza, received a 6:30 a.m. phone call from Roberts that Remington W was found bleeding severely from his nostrils and clearly in stress.
“We had, and still have, no idea what happened to him,” said Downing, who sped to Roberts’s Delacreme Equestrian facilities at Galway Downs with trailer in tow. “He was ataxic and his right pupil was completely blown.”
They took the horse to the San Luis Rey Equine Hospital in Bonsall, where the equine medical team of Dr. Nick Huggons, Dr. Lindsey Porubovich and consulting internist Dr. Rob Franklin used new CT scanning equipment to diagnose skull fractures that had eluded X-ray diagnosis.
“Dr. Huggons said it was life-threatening and that he could die in the next few days if we don’t pull him through,” said Downing. “The fracture was allowing air up into his brain and into his spinal cord, and with the air comes bacteria. Bacterial meningitis was a huge scare. They thought he could start seizures at any point.”
That morning, Downing had gone from planning her horse’s first big show, the January Arabian show at the L.A. Equestrian Center, to making plans for the worst.
“I spent the next three days glued to my phone, terrified if it would ring,” she said. “I thought a call might mean he had died. We had convinced ourselves he would be fine, but here was the surgeon, telling us he was not fine, that he could die. Reality hit hard.”
Each night, Downing called San Luis Rey every few hours for an update on “Gunner,” his barn name, and each morning at 7 a.m., Roberts would text her a request for the latest word.
After five days, a call did come from Dr. Huggons. It was Jan. 18, Downing’s 50th birthday, and her wishes were granted.
“He said he didn’t know whether Gunner would ever be able to be ridden again or jump again, but he wasn’t going to die,” Downing said. “At that point, I did not care — obviously, he’s my baby. I live up here on five acres in Anza, and if he could not be ridden, I’d be happy just having him here.”
After another week at San Luis Rey for observation, he was released home for two months of stall rest. For two months, Downing would walk him each morning. Her husband, Don, would walk him each evening – -every day.
“We just got him out, let him stretch,” Downing said. “Not riding him was more for our safety than anything because he still had some neurological deficit. They didn’t want him to fall down or anything.”
After two months, they returned to San Luis Rey for a follow-up, including another CT scan.
“It was the happest I’d ever seen Dr. Huggins,” Downing said.
The fracture had almost completely healed. Fibrous material had filled it in, she said, so no more air was penetrating. All the air in his brain and spinal cord were gone, and so were the neurological deficits.
However, he had lost his sight in his right eye. Downing said the break in the bone affected the optic nerve.
“The eye itself is in tact and looks perfectly normal,” she said. “He just can’t see anything. That is the only thing that didn’t come back.”
And come back they did.
“We went from zero to 60, and within 2 weeks I had him back at Noelle’s,” Downing said. “He never missed a beat. He loved it — getting back made him so happy.”
After schooling at a show at Galway, they went to the Arabian Sport Horse Regionals in Elk Grove, where he won championships with both Downing and Roberts.
“At that one, we decided we were good to go to Nationals,” Downing said.
At dinner before the final in Idaho, Downing looked across the table at her Roberts, who earlier in the day had won a Reserve National Championship on another client’s horse, Dauntless Romeo, a Half-Arabian owned by Alana Hansen of Temecula. Downing told her trainer Gunner was going to win.
“I knew he was going to win because fairy tales don’t end in Top Tens,” said Downing. “I knew Noelle and Gunny would do it.”
They did, and so did Downing, as she rode Gunny to the Arabian Regular Working Hunter AAOTR Championship to satisfy that 41-year-old dream. Roberts won the Arabian Hunter Hack Open Championship.
“Winning a National Championship has been my goal for a long time — I’ve wanted it forever,” said Downing. “Now that it’s happened — even right after it happened — the championship ended up not being the best part. The best part was how good he was and how hard he tried and how well he performed — and the fact that we could go at all. I think the championship was a big bonus, but the best part was being there.”
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