Last time you might have read about Houdini, aka The Hottest Breeze, in August 2021, he had just won a World Championship despite his struggle with his club foot and its complications.
Original story from 2021:
His owner, Julia Adams, reports that in 2022, that Houdini began to lose ground with his battle with his condition. Below she shares the heartbreaking lessons she learned while fighting with him side by side, along with the questions she asked herself that most horse owners know all too well – such as “What could I have done differently?”
Read Julia’s account below:
In December of 2016 my farrier looked at my newly acquired weanling colt and said, “we will need to keep an eye on that foot”. I nodded and said, “sure”, and trusted that it was just something that was a growthy baby thing. I was still on the “new horse high” and totally infatuated with my new baby. I didn’t think there was anything really concerning. After all, he was healthy, he was beautiful, and he was loved. But I was blissfully unaware of the reality we were about to face together.
Fast forward to October 2022, and I’m on the phone with my veterinarian to schedule euthanasia for my now crippled 6 year old gelding.
I often look back and wonder where that time went, and what I would do differently. My goal in his absence now is to remember him, and to share his story. The cosmos chose me as his mom and partner, and I made the promise to love him and help him, and now that he’s gone, I hope that his story can help bring awareness to the traumatic issues we faced and attempt to rewrite the stigma around resource sharing and public case studies across the country. His name was Houdini, and this is his story.
The events that took place between those two dates changed my life; simply put, this horse changed my life. His case study that I made public became my way of tracking his progress and marking the things that did and didn’t work, we dubbed it his “playbook”. It helped others in their journey and became an outlet for me to not just share what others deemed taboo, but to seek help from all corners of the country.
After all, a horse with a grade 4 club foot is as good as cursed. I don’t say that statement lightly. The old saying of, “no hoof no horse” is 100% accurate, and in Houdini’s case, it ended his life. The “form to function” rule is completely true. To look at my horse you would say he was stunning, and he really was. He was a deep, rich brown dun with lots of dun factor and just enough white to be flashy. He had a gorgeous eye and always looked happy and mischievous. He was compact and balanced.
But when you really looked at him, you saw the issues appear. Scissoring while eating, a steep shoulder and pastern angle, a slab of a shoulder on the right and a very high heel with a deep dish to the front of his hoof. When looking above his top line you could see the asymmetry of his muscling. When you watched him walk on uneven or hard ground, you saw the soreness appear. Let me be clear; there is no perfect animal, but there are some faults that mark a horse for a hard fought future, and a club foot is one of them. We joined the club we never wanted to be a part of, and it was a battle every single day of his life and our time together.
In the spring of 2017, we began to trim his club foot more aggressively. We changed farriers and the team we assembled around Houdini was born. We tried oxytetracycline injections, stretches on boards, bagging hay to get him to stop scissoring, acupuncture, chiropractic, magna wave, and a whole-body approach to help his growth and his fast growing hoof. I changed his diet and limited his turn out on grass, all while trying to avoid the one thing we knew was coming- the surgery to cut his check ligament. In the end, I ended up hauling him to Rood and Riddle in Saratoga, New York, to undergo the surgery and have his farrier needs addressed post-surgery by their podiatrist.
The surgery was done In September of 2018 and was deemed a success. We had some angle changes, but not great ones. Because we had waited until he was two to cut it, we had less than optimal results.
Lesson #1 learned: Do the surgery early. It may seem dramatic, but in the event of severe club, earlier is better.
My farrier worked with the podiatrist in the many months after surgery and things looked great for a while. I was able to start him as a three year old in April of 2019, and by July we were world show bound.
Here comes Lesson #2: Nothing stays the same. After a successful summer, we realized his feet were changing as his body was developing. We changed shoe packages from nail-ons back to glue-ons. We found the glass slipper that seemed to work: the Sigafoo Morrison Roller. This took us into and through his four year old season. For a while it worked, until it didn’t.
While we attempted to maintain soundness in his body and hooves, Houdini developed an amazing ability to compensate. I had him chiropracted multiple times a year and invested in therapies across the board to help him as he grew. My farrier and vet worked together to try new shoe packages and learn from other cases as we went. It was about this time that I started to realize that the horse community is a tight lipped bunch. No one posted case studies because no one wanted to admit their animals had an issue. No one wanted to affect the resale value of their horse. It was a very isolating and defeating road to travel.
This is where Lesson #3 came in: Trust your inner circle, and your heart. While I attempted to research methods and alternatives, my farrier networked amongst her colleagues across the country. Most of them gave her the same answer, to do what made him comfortable as long as we could manipulate it. Houdini would sometimes need her out two, three, four times a month for tweaks to his shoes. She was a relentless force behind his success, and I owe every ride I had to her ability to adapt to his needs. Despite his handicap, Houdini was turning into a beautiful mover. He was a true all-around horse with a voracious appetite to learn. Looking back now I am still in awe of him and what he accomplished between his 2-5 year old years. While he was growing we were able to stay in step with his needs, but that all came to a screaming halt at our world show in 2021.
I wrote an article about what happened for the Equine Chronicle after it happened. Long story short, we went, he strained his suspensory, and we scratched all but one class, won it, and made it home. It would be our last show together. The suspensory Houdini strained was his left. His body was so tired of compensating that his left side was then failing. Nothing we applied for shoes would help. If we manipulated the shoes, it threw his soft tissue off, if we left him shoeless, he was pasture sound, but unable to do anything besides be turned out. I turned him out from October through May of the next year and lasered him daily.
Enter Lesson #4– while waiting and hoping and wishing and praying, I learned patience. I learned to wait and watch and pray. I sat with him for hours. I stroked him and talked to him and just learned to be with him. He made me appreciate every moment I had in his presence. It was in the middle of this journey that I became pregnant. While sitting with him he would lick my face and nuzzle my belly. The connection we had was distinctly unique and loving and my goal for his future was to make sure he would be there for my daughter. He was made to be her horse. He truly knew I was trying to heal him; I know that in my heart, and I also think he knew she was in there, and she was his as well.
By the spring of 2022 I was hopeful that we would be able to apply shoes and be on our way to a routine of light riding by the fall. This was never to be. The last ride I ever had on him was in April. I was 28 weeks pregnant, he was barefoot and able to get around OK in the sand. I’m glad I didn’t know then it would be our last.
Enter Lesson #5: appreciate every, single, ride.
We applied shoes in May of this year and we quickly ran into the same soft tissue irritation problem. On veterinarian assessment it was deemed that his body could no longer support a working life. The goal was now to try to keep him pasture sound. All of those plans came to a stop when he became violently lame in both front feet. We suspected laminitis and treated it as such. When that calmed down we left him alone for the summer. Fast forward to August and I had just had my daughter. I booked a second opinion appointment with a sports medicine vet and we spent four hours doing a total comprehensive exam. My fears for Houdini were realized and concluded by the end of the day. His club foot had severely rotated. It was now worse than it ever was when he was young. Along with a bone spur, we found out he had navicular. I took him home from that appointment and told myself we’d try this fall one more time to get him comfortable. My farrier came every week for six weeks as we tried a shoeing package and adjustments. He was patient and willing, and I think we all had hope, even on the darkest days.
In the end, by the first week of October, he told me it was time.
When your horse is struggling you can stick it out with them when you know there’s an end goal and you can see progress little by little. When they start to digress and their pain level is a constant part of their daily life that limits them, you know you have to make a decision for them.
I have always listened to Houdini. He was one of those horses that it seemed odd to me that he never really spoke in the English language because he was so expressive that you could literally understand what he’d say if he could. This was the most important lesson of all, Lesson #6: Listen for them to tell you when they’re ready to leave you.
On a beautiful fall day in October Houdini staggered into the barn. He could hardly stand. The pain he was enduring had become so bad, I bedded his stall and he immediately laid down. He looked at me directly and I knew without a doubt he was asking for help. I made the call that day.
Houdini spent the last day of his life on earth surrounded by people who loved him. He was given enough medication to make it out to his favorite field for the day and spent it soaking up the sun. When the time came, he went quickly and peacefully in my arms and was buried under his favorite tree in his paddock.
My best friend Lindsy drove to be with me that day. I didn’t hear her pull in, but I felt her put her arms around me as I hugged him and said goodbye. Later that day my neighbor who adored Houdini messaged me asking what time he’d passed away. He said he was wondering because on that day it was warm and beautiful, but the air was still. At 2:22 PM he felt a warm breeze pick up and blow by him. He looked at the clock and thought of Houdini. I remember turning to Lindsy and asking her what time she had pulled in, because he had just passed when she had gotten there. She said, “my GPS said I arrived at 2:22 PM.”
The Hottest Breeze left this earth but I still feel him everywhere. He’s a part of me and will be a part of my story for the rest of my life. His heart carried him farther than his feet ever could, and no matter what happens in my horse career the rest of my days, I can look back and say I knew a true unicorn, a champion, a one in a million horse. Houdini was part of a club of horses who live with cursed feet. I hope his story and his success brings hope to others who struggle and are fighting for answers. Don’t be scared to share because in sharing there is knowledge, and knowledge equals power. Let his story be a reminder that if you surround your horse with love, anything is possible, no matter the detriment they face.
In loving memory of The Hottest Breeze
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