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Beyond Grateful

Filed under: Current Articles,Featured |     

By Delores Kuhlwein & Ava Holman

Ava and Frisky, April 2024, photo by Shane Rux Photography

Whiskey MadeMeFrisky demonstrated early in life that he was a special horse, particularly in the show pen. The 2015 bay gelding by Machine Made and out of Onlythebestchocolate (by RL Best Of Sudden) earned numerous accolades with amateur Samantha Stubblefield, such as an Amateur AQHA Champion award in 2022, as well as sweeping the $7,500 NSBA Green Trail Sweepstakes in 2022 at A Sudden Impulse with Sara Simons, just to name a few titles.

When Ava Holman of Metamora, Michigan, acquired him as her youth horse in August 2023, she knew she was getting a great horse.  At their first show together, they won several circuits, and he was the Reserve Open All Around Horse with trainer Shannon Walker at the IQHA Fall Classic.  Then when they tried their hand at the 2023 All American Quarter Horse Congress, Ava and Whiskey earned a 4th out of 71 in the L1 Youth 14-18!

But it was in December 2023 that Ava found out exactly what she really had.

A Shocking Discovery

“Back in December, Whiskey’s airway closed, and he almost stopped breathing,” explains Ava. “He was found in the stall by Kris Nizzi early in the morning barely breathing and clinging to life. Immediately Kris called one of my trainers, Spencer Groth, who drove over and started giving medicine as directed by Dr. Todd until he could get there.”

Their vet, Dr. Todd Roseberry, arrived to cut a hole in Whiskey’s neck to open his airway.  Vets don’t typically carry tracheostomy tubes, adds Ava, “so figuring out how to keep Whiskey’s airway open on the way to Iowa State was the first challenge.”  Spencer drove to a nearby gas station to buy a jug of milk so they could use the handle as a tube.

“The milk jug handle worked for a while, but when Whiskey loaded in the trailer it moved and Whiskey started panicking. The handle was not going to work, so a tracheostomy tube had to be picked up. It took around 45 minutes for the tube to get to the barn, so during that time, Whiskey’s airway was held open by scissors,” Ava continues.

Once it was in place, they rushed Whiskey to the Iowa State University Vet Hospital. “Dr. Todd had to ride in the horse trailer from the barn to the hospital with Whiskey to ensure the tube stayed put and Whiskey stayed stable,” Ava says. “Once Whiskey got to the hospital, he was sedated, scoped, and given medicine to try and bring the swelling in his throat down.” None of the vets had seen such a case before, and they believed it had started when Whiskey developed a cellulitis infection in his throat.  It took three weeks, but the swelling came down.

A Dire Diagnosis

It was during that period in which Iowa State veterinarians told them Whiskey may never ride or show again, and when he worked, it was possible he would make a “roaring” sound.  They also warned of potential upcoming surgery.

But somehow, Whiskey persevered and got better.

Despite the diagnosis, Whiskey fought his way to health.

“Thankfully none of those scary possibilities ended up happening. Once the swelling had come down enough, Whiskey was brought home to start rehabbing and slowly going back to work,” Ava says.

What followed was a rehab program at his own pace, thanks to his trainers, Shannon Walker and Hannah Lind, who brought him back to the show pen five months later, despite his odds.  It’s his support team, Ava says, that is the reason Whiskey is here today!

“When Whiskey first got sick, my parents assured me they would do whatever needed to get Whiskey healthy again. My mom supported me so much emotionally. Kris Nizzi and Spencer Groth saved Whiskey’s life, finding him early in the morning, holding his airway open and taking him to the hospital. I can never thank them enough! They didn’t hesitate to jump into action.”

In addition, she’s profusely grateful for Dr. Todd Roseberry, who placed the tracheostomy tube in the barn and made sure Whiskey made it to Iowa State, and for Dr. Mike Bowman, who supports Whiskey’s soundness and helped get him back in the show pen.

A Triumphant Return

Ava and Whiskey at the AQHA East L1 Championships

When it came time for his return to the show pen this April, at the AQHA East L1 Championships, Ava and Whiskey made up for lost time. “Whiskey and I were Reserve Champions in 14-18 Western Riding (my first time ever showing western riding!), Reserve in the youth performance halter geldings, 5th in the 14-18 trail, and Bronze 14-18 all around champions,” Ava explains.

Then in late May, the duo earned a Reserve Championship in The Premier Magazine Novice Non Pro Showmanship at The Premier to the tune of $550.

Ava has realized that part of what makes her horse special is much more than talent – it is also his fighting spirit.  “Whiskey was able to overcome this illness because he never stopped fighting. I just got Whiskey in August of 2023, but this event showed me so much about him. He is a fighter! He wanted to live and tried his best to cooperate with vets even when his whole body was trying to give up on him. Not to mention the amazing team around him who found him, jumped into action, and carefully rehabbed him at his own pace. With Whiskey living in Iowa and me living in Michigan, I was never worried about the care he was receiving at Iowa State Vet Hospital or at Avis Farms.”

She says this experience has additionally taught her never to take a trip around the show pen for granted, not to mention taking her horse’s health for granted. “It is my last youth year and missing some of the early shows put into perspective how lucky I am to be able to do this. This experience humbled me a lot and reminded me how much of a blessing riding and showing is! Whiskey is truly such a talented horse and I never let a day go by without thanking God for keeping him alive!”

Although Whiskey had to be taken care of when he needed them, he still does not hesitate to take care of Ava each and every time they’re together, “especially in events that are new to me, such as Trail and Western Riding,” explains Ava.  “I am so happy that my family and I were able to take care of him when he needed us. He is the best horse in the world!”

Ava and Whiskey – Photo by Cody Parmenter Photography

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