by Mary Johnson
For those who follow racehorse deaths on America’s tracks, the descriptions are all too familiar – “cardiovascular collapse,” “fractured cannon bones,” “severed spines” and “broken necks.” Gruesome descriptions as we visualize the sickening scenes that occur regularly in racing. However, there are horses who do make it out of racing alive only to die later in virtual anonymity. There are some whose stories are simply heartbreaking, not only because a young life was snuffed out, but also because of the sweet nature of a particular horse. One of those horses was Lovetobehappy (Lovey), and this is her story.
Lovey was first brought to our attention in late May, 2019. She was being offered as a broodmare prospect and was marketed as “a super opportunity to add to your broodmare band.” Over the next week or so, her price had dropped precipitously to a few hundred dollars along with the proverbial “OBO.” Rose Smith and I sensed the urgency of the situation, and we quickly decided to step up for her. An offer was made and accepted, and Lovey arrived at my barn on May 30th for three weeks of downtime before she shipped to New Bolton for an evaluation and possible surgery on her knees. We were cautiously optimistic since she was only three and had raced just six times, all in 2019, with the last being on May 7th (which she “won”).
Upon arrival, I was amazed at how sweet and docile this little three-year-old was, especially since she had just left the track. I have been involved with OTTBS for well over fifty years, and Lovey was unequivocally one of the kindest horses I have ever encountered. She was simply a delight to have in my barn, which made her physical issues even more troubling. When walking, she seemed to have great difficulty knowing where to place her feet, and we initially suspected a neurological issue. We also thought she just might be body sore but, again, we were hopeful that with time and good care, her issues would resolve and she could have a normal life. An appointment was made with my equine vet for the following week, and I began limited turnout in a smaller pasture with my old Standardbred gelding, Friday. She adored my old guy and followed him around like a puppy dog, but was always ready to go back into the barn when I approached the pasture.
My vet took initial radiographs of both of Lovey’s front knees and found chip fractures in both middle joints. She also thought that Lovey was body sore plus she had thin soles, so a treatment plan was initiated. The bloodwork came back fine, with no significant abnormalities, and neurological issues were ruled out. However, Rose and I realized that in order for Lovey to lead a relatively comfortable life, the chips would have to be removed and we both wanted to give her that chance. Her next stop would be New Bolton. Rose and I mistakenly believed that things were looking up for this incredibly sweet filly.
Lovey’s surgery was scheduled for Monday, June 24th. Prior to, New Bolton took additional x-rays of both knees as well as her head since she had an indentation next to her left eye. Kelly Smith had graciously offered to rehab Lovey as well as take her into her adoption program at Omega Horse Rescue. On Monday morning, Kelly called and told me that it didn’t look good for Lovey. Chips were successfully removed from the left knee, but the right knee was in bad shape.
I immediately called NB and spoke to the surgeon about the prognosis. Here is what Dr. Levine shared with me: The cartilage in the right middle carpal joint had been “hammered” and was virtually nonexistent, making her prognosis for a long-term, pain-free life poor. He also said that Lovey was the worst case he had ever seen except for horses who had entered NB in order to have their joints fused, and those were usually high-end broodmares. I asked him if anything could be done for her and he said the ONLY possibility was to have the knee fused (a $20,000 procedure) down the road. In addition, he believed she had previously suffered from a fractured skull.
After discussing Lovey’s poor prognosis with Rose and the surgeon, we made the difficult decision to let her go. She never woke up from the anesthesia. Both Rose and I were overcome with grief, and I still become emotional when thinking about my sweet Lovey. For three weeks, while at my barn, nothing was expected of her. She was given the freedom to just be a horse, which is something denied her during her racing days. Although she is gone, she will NEVER be forgotten. The racing industry took her life, just as it has so many others. Lovetobehappy is a racing fatality and the industry is responsible for destroying her. You can be sure of that.
From the official NB diagnosis: “right middle carpal joint – osteochondral fragmentation, osteophytosis, end-stage degenerative joint disease; left middle carpal joint – osteochondral fragmentation, osteophytosis. There was complete denudation of the articular cartilage along the articular surface of the radial carpal bone, severe denudation of the third carpal bone, and moderate articular erosion of several others.” Also from NB: “Due to the severity of pathology within the right MCJ, which likely would result in a grave prognosis for return to athletic [function] and persistent lameness, the filly was humanely euthanized.”