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UC Davis Veterinarians Return Undergraduate Student’s Horse to Competition Level Following Accident

June 9, 2017

Wilkinson and Bailey competing at Galway Downs.

Wilkinson and Bailey competing at Galway Downs.

By Kenzie Wilkinson, UC Davis Class of 2018

As an avid three-day eventing rider and a lifelong horse enthusiast, the UC Davis veterinary hospital has been on my radar for as long as I can remember. Although I’m a Michigan native, I grew up admiring from afar the school’s state-of-the-art facilities, world class veterinarians, and groundbreaking research. Like many horse-loving kids, I once dreamt of becoming a veterinarian. Although my career goals have since shifted away from the veterinary field, attending the university that is home to the world’s top veterinary school was a huge part of the allure for me to become an undergraduate student at UC Davis. However, what I hadn’t envisioned was my own horse, Bailey, requiring advanced treatment from the very veterinarians that I grew up admiring, just weeks after our arrival in California.
Toward the end of my first quarter at UC Davis, I was biking to a local boarding facility to quickly feed Bailey before my 9 a.m. freshman seminar. Those plans changed the instant I saw Bailey. She stood shaking in the corner of her paddock. Her face was covered in dirt, debris, and blood, and she was incapable of walking in a coordinated manner. I immediately called the hospital emergency line and, in a matter of minutes, the Equine Field Service team was examining her.
Unable to properly control her own limbs when prompted, Bailey was rated with grade 3/5 ataxia (lack of control of bodily movements), which became grade 4/5 when she was blindfolded for further testing. It quickly became clear that she suffered a neurologic injury and would need to be transported to the hospital for further treatment. I remember thinking repeatedly how grateful I was to have my horse stabled in such close proximity to the world’s greatest veterinary school. However it all was to work out, I was reassured, at least, in knowing that my beloved mare would receive the very best care available.
Bailey stayed at the hospital’s Large Animal Clinic for just under two weeks. Her skull and cervical vertebrae were radiographed extensively and, fortunately, showed no abnormalities. She tested negative for equine protozoal myeloencephalitis and equine herpes virus. Her blood work and guttural pouch endoscopy yielded results consistent with acute head trauma, thus pointing to a fight with another horse in the pasture as the source of her injury. This acute trauma was eventually deemed as the solitary cause of Bailey’s neurologic deficits. She received a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, vitamin E and other medications during her hospitalization and made quick, significant improvements. However, the veterinarians made it clear to me that only time would tell if she would regain full neurologic function, and that the odds of her returning to her previous level of competition were not necessarily in our favor.
Bailey was prescribed a year of stall and paddock rest – a plan that was wildly different from what I had in mind. Prior to Bailey’s accident, my intent was to take her with me to Ocala, Florida, where I was to be a working student that winter. I had our season all mapped out, culminating in my dream of running her in the CIC 1* at the Ocala Horse Properties April Horse Trials. Suddenly, I was questioning if I should even go.
Dr. Fauna Smith, one of the veterinarians on Bailey’s case, said that if I spent the winter in Florida, she would check on Bailey while I was gone. I remember the kindness of that offer—as well as the supportive words about Bailey’s prognosis from the rest of her care team—as being pivotal in my eventual decision to go to Florida. True to her word, Dr. Smith texted me periodically throughout that winter with encouraging updates on Bailey, a thoughtful gesture that far surpassed her job description.
Six months later, Bailey was re-examined and was deemed neurologically normal. These were precisely the words I’d been dreaming of hearing since Bailey’s accident. Over the following year, I cautiously brought Bailey back to work. To my amazement, she seemed to come back stronger than ever, and I again set my sights on training and preparing her for a “one-star” competition.
Bailey’s journey came remarkably full circle this past summer when Dr. Smith, who from the time of the accident was such a huge part of Bailey’s recovery process, was the veterinarian available to vaccinate and microchip her in preparation for the one-star. The culmination of Bailey’s success story came this past November when I successfully ran her in the CCI 1* division at Galway Downs and thus completed my lifetime riding goal. This major accomplishment was made possible on many levels by the wonderful veterinarians and resources at UC Davis, and for this, Bailey and I will always be grateful!

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About the author: Kenzie Wilkinson is completing her junior year as a UC Davis communications major, and is currently interning with the Communications and Marketing Office at the UC Davis veterinary hospital.

About the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital
The William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of California, Davis—a unit of the #1 world ranked School of Veterinary Medicine—provides state-of-the-art clinical care while serving as the primary clinical teaching experience for DVM students and post graduate veterinarian residents. The VMTH treats more than 50,000 animals a year, ranging from cats and dogs to horses, cows and exotic species. To learn more about the VMTH, please go to Timely news updates can be received on its Facebook ( and Twitter ( pages.

Media Contact:
Rob Warren
VMTH Communications & Marketing Officer