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Tracie Houle


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A Thoroughbred That Refused to Give Up, Part 2: The Comeback

Tracie and Toddy in June 2016 at a Lainey Ashker Clinic held at Bright Angel Ranch in  Campbellsport, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Tracie Houle. Tracie and Toddy in June 2016 at a Lainey Ashker Clinic held at Bright Angel Ranch in Campbellsport, Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of Tracie Houle.

Last December Tracie Houle shared with us the story of her OTTB eventer Palmetto Moonshine, “Toddy,” who beat a frightening episode of ventricular tachycardia (or abnormal heart rate, in simple terms). As Tracie put it: “the heart of a horse can surprise you if you let it, literally and figuratively.” Since then Toddy been given the clear to start work again and seems to be bouncing back with a vengeance. Tracie kindly shared with us this update!

“Every champion was once a contender that refused to give up.” – Rocky Balboa

We got back to work under saddle and did a slow, increasing conditioning schedule until April. Then it was time to visit our great staff at the University of Minnesota Equine Center again on April 1.

Toddy was hooked up to the EKG and I saddled him up for his final stress test. We trotted, cantered and galloped around the indoor as the staff monitored his heartrate. After a few gallop sets they gave me the thumbs up and the test was finished. The results were reviewed shortly after and Toddy was given the all clear to continue to pursue his career in eventing!

I considered this an amazing early birthday gift and put Toddy back into full work including jumping weekly. We have since schooled cross country multiple times, had some amazing showjumping lessons with Allison Springer and Liz Lund, and most recently drove to Wisconsin to ride with Lainey Ashker at the beginning of June. Toddy has been feeling strong, willing and open to new challenges. This horse continues to impress me and I have no doubts he will continue to do so.

Toddy and Tracie at the Lainey Ashker clinic in June. Photo courtesy of Tracie Houle.

Toddy and Tracie at the Lainey Ashker clinic in June. Photo courtesy of Tracie Houle.

He has taught me that even a sliver of hope can lead you to the outcome you desire. He has taught me that good things do come to those who wait and he has reminded me on multiple occasions to always be grateful for what you have in your life. Gratitude is an amazing gift, and while I have galloped around Prelim cross country courses on a previous horse there is something extra special about riding Toddy that I will always treasure. The way he pricks his ears during a cross country schooling and looks for new challenges. He is a fighter, he is an OTTB and he is a survivor.

He is signed up for his first event of the year at the Otter Creek Summer horse trials in August! This has always been my favorite event in Area IV and I’m delighted that this is where Toddy will make his comeback. This journey would not have been possible without my mother Karen, husband Joe, and close friends that have supported myself and Toddy unconditionally. We love all of them!

Until next time my fellow eventers, eyes up and kick on!


A Thoroughbred That Refused to Give Up

This a story about Palmetto Moonshine, an off-the-track Thoroughbred with a goofy personality and one heck of a heart. Tracie Sathoff is an eventer since the age of 11, soon to be 25, and she believes that "the heart of a horse can surprise you if you let it, literally and figuratively."

Palmetto Moonshine at the U of M vet clinic hooked up to a 24-hour EKG. Palmetto Moonshine at the U of M vet clinic hooked up to a 24-hour EKG.

This sport has taken hold of me and never let go — as has the fight and spirit of my favorite breed: the Thoroughbred. Palmetto Moonshine, affectionately known as “Toddy,” is a 9-year-old off-track Thoroughbred gelding. I bought him in the spring of 2015 from Matthew Ulmer in Aiken, South Carolina, and he was shipped home to me in Chisago City, Minnesota.

Toddy quickly took to eventing, and after he figured out the game of cross country, I could feel him really gain confidence. He completed his first Beginner Novice event at the Otter Creek Horse Trials in August in sixth place.

August 21 seemed to be like any other day until I got on Toddy for a quick flat ride. I felt something was off right away and took him back to the barn. I quickly noticed I could see his pulse high up in his neck. I called the vet, and they came out and confirmed his heart was in an unusually fast rhythm and he had a high fever of almost 103 degrees.

I loaded him on the trailer and took him to Stillwater Equine Clinic, where Dr. Brian Dahms treated him until we loaded up again and went to the University of Minnesota Leatherdale Equine Center for a full cardiology exam. Vets suspected Toddy got sick from a tick-borne virus, anoplasmosis. This was tested for after Toddy had been on three days of antibiotics; Toddy had all the symptoms of it.

An echocardiogram showed there was fluid in the sac around Toddy’s heart but no structural damage, which was the first good news in a few days. Toddy spent two weeks at the Leatherdale Equine Center under the care of Dr. Molly McCue, Dr. Ann Kemper, Dr. Jenny Brown, countless vet techs, internal medicine staff and the cardiology team.

His two weeks of treatment could be a novel in itself. Long story short: Toddy’s heart rate when he checked into Leatherdale was between 145 and 160 beats per minute, and he was diagnosed as ventricular tachycardia. (A normal range is about 30 to 45 beats per minute.)

His first week was ups and downs. He had one night where his cecum became impacted, and surgery was not an option. Luckily that cleared up, and the fight to get his heart converted to a normal rhythm continued. On his sixth day at the clinic and after 26 hours on his sixth medication — Amiodarone, a beta blocker used in humans — his heart finally converted to a normal rhythm.

On the morning of Aug. 30, Toddy’s heart was stable in a normal rhythm, but sadly he had a new side effect. His body was reacting to the Amiodarone, and his lungs began to fill up with fluid. The team pulled the Amiodarone and started medication to treat his lungs and prevent a secondary infection.

He spent the next few days under close monitoring and was finally approved to come home to me on Sept. 6! Toddy had a follow-up echocardiogram in October, which showed no fluid around his heart and no structural damage to his heart. This was a great day!

In the last few weeks we again returned to the amazing Leatherdale Equine Center for a follow-up appointment and exercise stress test. Toddy was hooked up to a mobile EKG to track his heart rate and put out on the lunge line. The cardiologists reviewed his stress test and saw no abnormalities in his heart rhythm — again, an awesome piece of news!

The first ride back!

The first ride back!

I returned from a weekend visit this past weekend to saddle up my horse Toddy for the first time in four months. He faced a life-threatening illness and stood strong throughout the chaos. He has shown amazing strength and given me hope in what originally looked like a dismal situation.

Horses are amazing animals, and they continue to help me see hope in dark times. I have joked around with friends who know my whole history of horses and believe I need a T-shirt or bumper sticker with my favorite quote from the movie Seabiscuit. “You don’t throw a whole life away just because it’s banged up a little.”

Toddy has an amazing spirit, and I hope his road to recovery continues to go well and we will be saddling up for a cross country round yet again. I hope this story has given you hope if you need it or just a smile for a horse you don’t know that faced death but was able to stand strong and fight. Kick on, my fellow equestrians, and have a great holiday season and happy New Year!