It was a cold afternoon in early January, 2007 when she first crossed my path. A tiny 3 year old miniature named Velvet came into the vet clinic where I worked suffering from a severe sand impaction. She was covered in scabs, matted hair and had a rusted hanger tangled in her tail. The owners were not prepared nor willing to spend a lot of money on her. It was suggested she needed surgery but they stated “she was not worth it” and instead decided to wait and see if the sand would pass – in essence, waited for her to die.
I had only worked at the clinic a few months but I made the decision right then to do whatever I could to save her. I didn’t know how, I just knew it had to be done. After four agonizing days of pleading with the owners and waiting, I finally convinced them to sign her over to me to get the surgery needed to save her life and not a moment too soon – she was barely clinging to life. I rushed her to the nearest hospital capable of doing such a complicated surgery – CSU in Fort Collins, CO. It was a 3 hour drive in a blizzard with white-out conditions where I nearly slid off the road more than once. Upon arrival Velvet was so distended she had pitted edema on her belly as well as grossly enlarged pitted edema on her stifles. The vets had never seen such a severe case and frankly were concerned that she would even survive anesthesia induction. They said any other horse in her condition would be thrashing in pain. Velvet was standing and walking on her own but was not going to last much longer.
It was a tense surgery fighting to keep her alive while they removed nearly 100 pounds of sand from her tiny body. Dozens of people busily flurried around her for several hours working feverishly to complete the surgery. I had only owned her for a few hours and already we had been through so much together. Against all odds, she survived the surgery and now had the daunting task of recovery. It was at that time we discovered her true condition – she had been severely malnourished and must have been eating sand to keep from starving. This made recovery more complicated. She did not have much to fight with – weighing in at only 148 pounds – half of what a healthy miniature horse is supposed to weigh.
Velvet’s story got out and support poured in from all over the world. Words of encouragement, donations and even an art auction were held on Velvet’s behalf – and it worked! Ever so slowly, she began to eat and regained strength. She fought through sand colic, surgery, recovery, avoided laminitis, infection and depression and now lives every day vivaciously. With Velvet’s incredible determination and will to live and the support of hundreds of people from around the world, she could now begin her new life with me.
Today, this little girl has defied the odds and runs in a pasture behind my house – fat and sassy. She touched me from the moment I first laid eyes on her tiny face and she touches me every time I see her or hear her tiny whinny.
She defied the odds. And I was able to live the dream.
Since writing this story Julie and Velvet developed an incredible lifelong bond with each other.
While Velvet was fighting for her life and during her recovery there were hundreds of people from around the world who contributed to her care by donating supplements and supplies. People from Australia, England and Canada not to mention the United States organized a benefit auction where donated tack, collectibles and original artwork were put up for bid in order to raise money to help pay for her extensive surgery. It was the generosity of all those individuals who made it possible for Velvet to have her second chance. She has not wasted a moment of it either.
During Velvet’s fight for her life and subsequent to her recovery, Julie created videos documenting Velvet’s story to keep all of her supporters updated on her progress. You can view those videos on YouTube at these links (We hope you will watch and post comments):
Velvet’s amazing story was published in the October issue of the Equestrian magazine in 2008 entitled “My Horse and Me.” Equestrian is the official magazine of the American Equestrian Sports since 1937 and the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010. It is printed by USEF.
The story was again published in Hoofprints magazine which is a national magazine for the Hooved Animal Humane Society (http://www.hahs.org) in fall of 2011.
Next on her list of accomplishments, Velvet inspired a well-known miniature artist, Randall Zadar, to create a tiny 3/4″ bronze figurine in her honor. Its debut was referenced in the December issue of “Miniature Collector” magazine in 2011.
Randall Zadar is a miniature bronze sculpture who creates hand painted limited edition miniature bronze figurines and is world renowned for his talents. Some of his pieces have been displayed in museums around the world. He chose Velvet to be the center point of one of his amazing works of art. There are a few pieces of this tiny sculpture still available if anyone is interested in having a piece of history. Visit Randall’s website at: www.zadarstudios.com to see his amazing art. You can purchase a sculpture at www.shoaltscollectibles.com. Velvet’s piece is #191.
After several years of recouping from her ordeal, Velvet was introduced to her new job. Julie decided to offer velvet an opportunity to extend her knowledge and had her trained to drive in 2010. Velvet was a natural and seemed to love her new talent. They decided to try and expand on this and Velvet began her public career. Her first public appearance was the Westernnaires Breed Show at Jeffco Fairgrounds in 2011 where she represented the miniature horse. She was solid as a rock and not once did she lose her cool; even with more than 50 horses warming up in a small arena with her.
By this time Velvet was a pro and began her parade career in 2012. On her very first parade appearance, Velvet and her driver, Lisa Corneau, along with her brother Gus, won the prestigious “Outstanding Mounted Riding Group” award at the 2012 Cheyenne Frontier Days Parade. This is a national annual event and one of the largest rodeos in the region. Our hearts overflowed with pride. More recently, Velvet appeared in the 2014 Frontier Days Parade where she debuted their latest costume creation. Her image was used for the KGAB AM650 website!!
There have been many parades since. Velvet has thrived and is actually rather feisty. She has 3 forever hooved pasture mates, countless fans and supporters and a family who adores her. She continues to touch the heart and soul of all who meet her and who hear of her incredible journey. Like her brother, Gus, her talents are limitless. Julie claims “it wasn’t me who rescued Velvet, but rather Velvet who rescued me.”
Sadly, after several boughts with unexplained lameness and founder, Velvet was diagnosed with insulin resistance in the Spring of 2016. Although she has always been on a strict low sugar/starch diet (as every mini should be), she continued to have laminitic flares. Shortly after her diagnosis, she was retired from pulling a cart and will no longer perform or appear in parades. We are told the chronic flares are to be expected with insulin resistance which is unfortunate. The constant foundering due to her chronic condition means her little feet never fully heal and so she is always in some discomfort despite our best efforts. All we can do is make her as comfortable as possible until she tells us she no longer wishes to fight. There is no cure and the only treatment is a restricted diet (which she is already on), pain medication (which she is taking) and keeping her hooves trimmed and providing cushion. It is believed her traumatic medical history may have triggered the metabolic condition.
Typically, keeping her in a small area, such as a stall, is recommended for a horse that suffers from chronic foot pain. She would have the stall to herself so as not to be hassled by her pasture mates when she needed to lay down for relief and would have thick bedding to help cushion her feet when she was up. She would never be too far from her water or food and would not be able to wander out to the far reaches of the pasture unable to come back in for a drink because she is too sore to walk (which was happening on a regular basis). But our current setup meant she would be inside our barn unable to see outside and completely isolated from her siblings. After discussing it with our vet, we decided being outside in the sunshine with the ability to see her siblings would be best for her spirit and frame of mind. So we rearranged our pastures and set up her own private dry lot pen on our property where she shares a fence line with her siblings. We do the best we can to maintain a substantial layer of shavings in her own loafing shed despite the high winds we receive on a regular basis so she has the option of a soft place to lay down when her feet are sore.
Because of the chronic nature of her condition, she has a LOT of hoof growth. So much so that she has a standing appointment with the farrier every two weeks to keep optimum angles and length. He was so amazed at the amount of hoof she grows, he even brought in another farrier so they could consult with each other as the best course of action. Shoes were discussed, but her feet are extremely tiny (even for a mini) which does not leave a lot of room for nails. And since she pretty much needs a trim every 2 weeks, gluing shoes on would become labor intensive and not very cost effective. Instead we ordered a pair of special orthodic boots for when she is particularly sore. This wasn’t easy given how tiny her hooves are. They are a bit big on her, but they will give a little extra when she is having a particularly bad day. She has been visited by the chiropractor to make sure she is in alignment, especially with how much she lays down and she also receives acupuncture which seemed to offer a bit of relief. She is on daily pain medication and for the most part is relatively comfortable. She remains bright and alert and still has a very healthy appetite.
It is up to Velvet to let us know when she can bear no more. Until then, she will live out her days, however many that is, here with us. She has an unbelievable will to live and continues to be an inspiration. We love her so very much and only want what is best for her. She deserves nothing less.
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