A light, steady rain fell as the Cooper Horse Transport van pulled up to the barn at Bruce Jackson’s Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center, located a stone’s throw from Graham Motion’s Herringswell Stable barn.
Inside the van, Paynter, wearing a thick green blanket, was getting anxious as preparation for unloading began. From Upstate Equine Medical Center to New Bolton Medical Center, Paynter was about to embark on the next stage of his incredible journey. But this place was different, as he could tell as soon as he walked into the barn and placed in his new stall, one very much like those he remembered from the racetrack -- fellow Thoroughbreds, activity, people dressed like normal racetrack people. Finally, after so many months, a room with a view. Outside the u-shaped barn, which also houses a number of Motion’s horses, was a brightly colored flower garden, around which was a large outdoor walking ring.
Tina Clark of Cooper Horse Transport, owned by Joy and Keith Cooper, said as she watched Paynter settle in, “He really wanted out of his stall at New Bolton. He was ready to get going. On the van he was the perfect gentleman and shipped beautifully. He was more comfortable once he got on the van. He’s thinking, ‘Ah, this is more like it. I don’t feel like something bad is going happen now.’”
As soon as Paynter was put in his stall, he began munching on his straw, occasionally sniffing his neighbor in the stall behind him. He was already becoming a horse again. A mound of hay was then placed in a corner of the stall and he proceeded to wolf it down, rarely picking his head up, except for an occasional mint and a drink of water.
Jackson was elated with everything he saw, and now prepares to begin Paynter’s rehabilitation from his near-death battles with colitis, laminitis, and surgery to remove an abscess from the cecum.
“As far as rehab, we’re just going to let him put on some weight and relax and just be a horse,” said Jackson, a former trainer who built this remarkable facility in 2006, along with his wife Amy, a former jockey. “He just needs to get his strength back and put some weight back on, and get everything behind him. We’ll check his temperature three times a day.
“Over the next month or two there is nothing we’re going to do from a physical standpoint, as far as exercise. But he’ll go out three or four times a day and graze as much as he wants. There will be no significant walking for the next two or three weeks, just walking from his stall to go outside and graze. We just want to let his guts get normal again after the surgery. He’s been through a lot and we just want to put all that behind him.”
Checking in on Paynter was Dr. Charles Arensberg, who is part owner, along with Dr. Kathy Anderson, of Equine Veterinary Care located on the grounds at Fair Hill.
“We’ll let him relax for a while and we’ll weigh him later,” he said. “Louise Southwood (the colitis specialist and surgeon who headed the team that operated on Paynter at New Bolton) will be in contact with us once or twice a day.”
Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center is a state-of-the-art facility that caters to a horse’s every need, from a Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber (which Jackson said was a significant investment) to an Aqua Pacer, an above ground underwater treadmill, to a Cold Saltwater Spa, and finally whole body vibration therapy that was adapted from human sports medicine conditioning and rehabilitation.
On the walls of the front barn that houses the Aqua Pacer are name plates of the numerous major horses that have received their rehabilitation at Fair Hill Equine.
Shortly after Paynter’s arrival, the electricity went out all over Fair Hill, giving new meaning to owner Ahmed Zayat’s now-familiar term, “Power up Paynter.”
Ever since Paynter became ill shortly after his rousing victory in the Haskell Invitational, Zayat and his family, especially his son Justin, have been on an emotional roller coaster. On several occasions it appeared as if all hope was gone. No horse could survive what Paynter went through.
Zayat still speaks several times a day with veterinarian Laura Javsicas, whose dedication and determination was so instrumental in saving Paynter’s life while at the Upstate clinic.
“She is so special,” Zayat said. “I remember getting a phone call from Dr. (Mark) Cheney, telling me, ‘We have to talk; he’s doing horrible. His bloodwork is insane, his feet are killing him, he’s not eating.’ Dr. Laura was crying, saying, ‘Let’s try. Give it a little more time.’
“I don’t know how this horse is still alive. I’m elated. I’m in heaven. There were so many peaks and valleys. I’m so grateful, happy, and touched by all the care he’s been given, especially by Dr. Laura, and by all the prayers he has received.
“My kids are begging me to see him, but I’m not ready for them to see him yet. I want him to put on more weight and look like the Paynter they remember. I just do not know how he survived. I can’t explain it. I keep living this whole ordeal it in my dreams. I’ve become so emotionally attached; it’s crazy. It’s like I’m obsessed. I keep asking, ‘How did he survive all these things?”
During Paynter’s battle, his trainer Bob Baffert expressed his feelings: “Paynter has to be the most courageous horse I have ever been around. I don’t know how he’s still alive. Don't give up now big guy.”
Recently, Baffert, who suffered a heart attack shortly after arriving in Dubai, said, “I think he had it tougher than I did when I had my heart attack. The odds were so stacked against him, but he’s beat them time and again. He’s always been a real tough horse. His attitude was tough. He’d run through a wall if he had to or run over top of you, but not in a mean way.
“I really didn’t think he was going to make it. If he had gotten on the plane after the Haskell it would have been disastrous, but we caught the temperature real quick. We both got lucky. We were in the same boat, and the timing saved us. If either of us had gotten sick that on the plane we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
One person who had mixed emotions seeing Paynter leave New Bolton was Dr. Southwood.
“It was sad to see him go, but we’re so glad he was ready to move on.” she said. “He’s such a special horse; it was a privilege to work with a horse like him. He was a great patient and really took good care of himself. He rested when he needed to rest, he had an extremely good appetite, and was an incredible trouper. He’s been through so much and never gave up. Most horses would have stopped eating, but he soldiered on.
“He would get really mad if you didn’t take him for a walk when he wanted to walk. I knew when he came here that Dr. Javsicas had fallen in love with him and it was easy to see why. That’s why it was hard to say goodbye to him. For the past two weeks he’s been a big part of our lives. He was still really sick when he came here, but he showed so much patience; he knew we were trying to help him. He still has weight to gain and it’s going to take a while. You get nervous letting him leave, but he was ready, and it’s reassuring to know he’s going to a good place. I really hope he can come back to the races; that would be awesome.
“If there is one thing we learned about him, regardless of what it might be, if Paynter wants to do something he will do it.”
As I left and took one final look at Paynter, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would ever see him again, and if so, where and when? In the end, it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is the happy, bright-eyed horse I saw stuffing his mouth with hay, showing not the slightest indication of how sick he was. He’s already won the biggest battle he’ll ever have to face and that’s special enough to last a lifetime.
All photos by Steve Haskin.
Paynter's new home
Paynter arrives all bright-eyed and ready to get off the van.
Led off the van to begin the next stage of his recovery as Bruce Jackson looks on.
Too hungry to wait for his hay. For now, straw will do.
Didn't take him long to settle in.
Of course, mints are always accepted.
Once the hay was brought out, it was nonstop eating.
Bright-eyed, alert, and happy; not a single sign of the ordeal he went through.
This is what Paynter has to look forward to.
Beautiful outdoor walking ring
Amy Jackson feeds grass to the Zayat-owned Eye on Jacob in round pen.