Margin Call survives devastating injury
story by Hope Ellis-Ashburn
On Feb. 9, Mikaela Del Giudice went to bring Margin Call in from the pasture. There was nothing unusual about this routine chore, but what she saw made her heart almost stop beating.
“He was on three legs,” said the Scandia, Minn., resident. “We had no idea what had happened. We hoped he would improve, but in two days he was no better. So, we decided to have our vet out for X-rays. It was then we learned that he suffered from a radial fracture of the left knee. While the bone was broken in a single spot, it had shattered into five pieces of bone.”
Although Del Giudice operates on the business side of horse ownership, she knows what it means to love a horse deep down in your soul, and from the beginning, Margin Call, or “Moo,” had a personality that made it difficult not to fall in love with him.
“He is one of those horses that is always making faces, interacting over the stall door, and acting like the class clown,” Del Giudice said.
In March 2014, she even captured a video of the now 8-year-old son of Revenue S – Caffeine Freak reaching over his stall door playing tug of war with her dog. She posted it on her Facebook page where it quickly collected 11,000 likes and 82,000 shares. It was then that Margin Call’s gregarious personality officially caught the attention of more than just his team.
But while his antics around the barn were comical, working with and training the gelding could be infuriating.
“We first saw and wanted Moo as a weanling, but his owner passed on selling him,” Del Giudice said. “However, as a yearling he went through the [2012 Blooded Horse Sale] where we were able to pick him up. We bought him as a gelding, but he initially displayed some very stallion-like behavior. We later learned that he was a cryptorchid, a condition that required surgery to correct.
“Later, as a 3-year-old, he was very challenging to train. He had speed and could trot, but like many sired by Revenue S, he was slow to mature.”
As if those obstacles weren’t enough, Margin Call was trotting inconsistently, requiring Rick Magee, his trainer and driver and Del Giudice’s partner, to get creative. Still, Del Giudice knew in her heart the horse was a keeper.
“After a lot of experimentation, Rick decided to try something he had never done before and applied a different type of shoe to each of Moo’s feet,” she said. “With the change in shoeing, something clicked. After that, he trained in (1):56 with no urging and went (1):56 again at Delaware (County Fairgrounds.) Though Rick was the only one who could drive him, we knew then that we had something special.
“At 4, he began setting new lifetime marks. At 5, he had his best year in terms of wins and money earned. By age 7, he had laid claim to his best, most consistent year yet.”
Margin Call compiled a record of 80-16-16-10 and a mark of 1:56.1 prior to Del Giudice providing him a brief vacation before starting to prepare him for a 2019 campaign.
Then the unthinkable happened.
“Radial fractures almost always result from external trauma, often a kick from another horse in adults, or from being stepped on or kicked by a mare in foals,” wrote Dr. Lance Bassagell and Dr. Mike Ross in Diagnosis and Management of Lameness in the Horse. “Clinical signs depend on the severity and location of the fracture. Horses with complete fractures (which are nearly always displaced) are severely lame (non–weight bearing, grade 5) and have marked soft tissue swelling associated with the fracture itself or the site of the original wound. The limb may have an unusual angle, and crepitus is usually audible and palpable.”
After examining Margin Call, the veterinarian relayed the news the fracture was so severe nothing could be done to save him.
In shock, Del Giudice could not immediately accept losing the horse that possessed her heart. Determined to save the gelding’s life, she began calling veterinary surgeons in the surrounding area for other opinions.
“Horses with complete or displaced radial fractures require open reduction and internal fixation, but the prognosis in adult horses is poor to grave,” wrote Bassagell and Ross. “The current method of choice is the application of two bone plates, one on the cranial surface and one on the lateral or medial surface, depending on fracture configuration. In adult horses, use of the dynamic condylar screw plate can be considered and use of locking compression plates should be encouraged. Repair of fractures located at the most proximal or distal aspect of the radius or those with severe comminution is considerably more difficult, and these horses have a grave prognosis.”
Resolved to provide Margin Call with every opportunity to survive, Del Giudice decided to proceed with surgery. Already shaken to the core of her being by the gelding’s odds of a full recovery, she was absolutely devastated when the required plates were not immediately available. They would have to be overnighted and would cost roughly $10,000.
“I called Rick in tears,” Del Giudice said. “He was racing at The Meadows. We talked about the X-rays. Rick pointed out that the bones were not displaced and actually where they should be. We also talked about Moo’s demeanor. He was still eating and playing. What if he could become a pasture pet? We considered all the options and ultimately decided to give Moo a chance without the surgery. Instead, he would go on stall rest.
“Once that decision was made, several of the veterinarians we consulted told us to tie him in the stall so that he could not lie down and damage the knee even further. However, Moo pawed and became agitated when tied. Founder was a big concern too. So, in an unorthodox method, we decided to turn him loose.”
Margin Call swiftly showed he had no intention to leave Del Giudice anytime soon.
“Moo demonstrated that he could care for himself and essentially saved his good foot from founder,” Del Giudice said. “When his opposite foot would begin to get hot, he would lie down. In the beginning, he could be found lying in his stall for close to 20 hours per day. Sometimes, when I went in his stall and he was lying down, he would lift his head up so that I could sit with him and he could put it in my lap. Gradually, as he healed, he lay down less and less.
“As Moo recovered, I posted about his journey on Facebook. He had so many fans, I wanted to share about how he was doing. It was from this process that I received many, many supportive messages. One friend even sent horse treats for Moo with encouraging notes. But not every message was reassuring. Some of the messages were downright nasty. They told me that I wasn’t doing the right thing and that I made them sick. They went on to say that if Moo wasn’t pain-free, that I should put him down. But Moo was still playing; he was still trying. Those messages only made me more determined to save him.”
Margin Call continued to progress, but the road to recovery was not without impediments.
“At eight weeks post injury, we had another set of X-rays taken because his knee was very swollen,” Del Giudice said. “One veterinarian was encouraging and told us that this was Mother Nature’s way of splinting the knee, but it seemed as if every time I heard a positive interpretation from one veterinarian, I would hear a negative one from another. I went from being happy to crushed.
“It was around this time that a friend recommended a new vet with a specialty in knees. He listened to us and looked over the X-rays. I was elated when he told us that Moo could live a long and happy life. He explained to us that the swelling was extra bone that would eventually shrink to a smaller size. He also said that Moo’s leg, which was bowed as a result of the injury, would continue to straighten over the course of the next year. I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”
Upon the veterinarian’s recommendation, Del Giudice placed Moo on Equi-Bone, a supplement that aids in the development of healthy bone. Rick also designed a special shoe that evenly dispersed the weight on the leg so it would not continue to bow. While the experience had caused Margin Call to lose weight, he was still in relatively good condition. It was not long after he was shod that Del Giudice was able to post a video on Facebook of Margin Call’s first steps outside.
Margin Call now has his own Instagram page, @respect.the.moo, where his fans can follow his progress. He is putting on weight. His knee is gradually growing smaller and the leg straighter. He is pasture sound and loves to gallop with his miniature horse, Sai Sai.
While the gelding will most likely not race again, if his leg continues to straighten, Del Giudice may start him in a career under saddle and possibly show him.
“But, if he never becomes more than a pasture pet, it’s OK with me,” she said. “I am very thankful that he’s still with me.” HB
Hope Ellis-Ashburn is a freelance writer living in Tennessee. To comment on this story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.