The Comeback Kid

The Long Haul from Trailer Accident to Second Level Dressage

By Ingrid Edisen

Monika Radwanska had no idea what she was in for when she purchased a purebred Arab gelding named Baskair. Baskair had been used for endurance and all Monika wanted to do was a little jumping and showing in mostly Houston area hunter/jumper competitions. Now a retired accountant who works as a consultant, Monika a petite woman who matches her horse quite well, has had quite a success story to tell about her handsome, well-mannered chestnut, who is now 23 years old. And all this stems from her patience and not giving up on Baskair.

Ten years ago, Monika and a friend, Susan, decided towards the end of one jumper show in Tomball that Susan would take their horses back to the barn while Monika waited for the final scores to be posted at the show. Susan took FM 2920 home, driving her Bronco and trailer along the two-lane road lined by steep ditches on either side. Suddenly an oncoming car crossed the centerline, plowed into the trailer at full force, spun around and hit the trailer again. All vehicles and trailer were totaled. Baskair’s traveling companion fell underneath him and pushed Baskair up against the sidewall. Both horses had received cuts to their faces and fronts from the first impact but with the second insult, Baskair’s shoulder, right hock and front fetlock were hurt seriously. Later it was determined that the driver of the oncoming car had worried about a container of BBQ sauce tipping over and released the steering wheel to adjust the sauce container when the car went out of control and hit Susan’s rig. The other horse was not injured as badly as Baskair.

Monika drove to the barn expecting to find everybody being safely put up and immediately became worried when she found no one there. Susan called her at the barn and Monika raced to the scene of the accident where she found the vet still working on the horses. All vehicles had been towed away. A passerby with a four-horse trailer stopped and was able to help them by bringing the two injured horses back to the barn. The vet, Dr. Linda Oliva of Tomball Vet, suggested that the pair stay up that night to observe the horses in case there were any internal injuries. So, the two women took turns through the night doing just that.

At first it seemed that Baskair would be okay, but he eventually showed signs of limping that would not dissipate. Dr. Oliva treated the horse for the first six months, then referred Monika to the Katy Equine Clinic where a specialist, Dr. James M. (“Mike”) Heitmann, concentrated on the nagging front fetlock problem. Monika discovered all she could do on her horse now was simply walk and a light trot. Any other requests such as cantering or a more forceful trot made Baskair limp. Finally, a year and a half or more after the accident, Dr. Heitmann decided to do surgery to go into the joint to clean it up. They waited to see if this did the trick…it did not. Baskair was still limping and the vet said it was probable he would continue to do so for the rest of his life. Monika, sick about the prospect of her horse never healing fully, decided to keep the horse anyway, fully boarded. She sought out another horse to ride in competitions. She would groom Baskair and once a week made sure to saddle him up and walk around the neighborhoods near the barn.

Monika purchased Makary, an elegant black Thoroughbred mare who proved difficult to ride. Still, at the very end of the nineties, she was able to qualify her for Green as Grass Reserve Champion for the Houston Dressage Society. By now she had joined forces with trainer Virginia Ellis who has coached riders in Houston since 1969. Monika accepted then that Makary would be her more serious competition horse, as it seemed Baskair would be in semi-retirement forever. However, Makary injured herself one day while being turned out and pulled a suspensory tendon. It would be a year before she would be suitable to ride.

Virginia Ellis suggested that they go back to using Baskair during the “downtime” so they could work on fixing some bad “survival” habits Monika had developed while riding the cantankerous mare, Makary. Keeping the lessons at just a walk/trot would be their goal.

“I just hoped he would be serviceably sound for us to work on seat, balance and position,” Virginia said. “I saw it as a huge opportunity...knowing that any improvement could only help her with the sensitive Thoroughbred mare.” Virginia found that the gelding was “delightful in his personality, totally tolerant,” she said. “To be expected, he was stiff, one-sided and limping slightly. I looked into the future that legging him up would loosen and balance him as much as the limitations of the old injury would allow.”

But one day, by accident, Monika discovered that Baskair no longer limped in the canter. By now approximately five years had passed since the trailer accident. Beginning in 2000, Virginia and Monika worked for four or five months to get the gelding back into condition. He’d gotten fat, for one thing.

Monika began showing Baskair at Training Level in dressage shows. We did horribly at first, she admitted, explaining that most of their scores were in the upper forties. But then Monika saw improvement and the pair began earning in the sixties. Finally, on the HDS (Houston Dressage Society) schooling show circuit, Monika and Baskair earned reserve champion at First Level for 2002. They kept on. In 2003, they were awarded champion of First Level. Currently she is showing him at second level. And Makary? She has settled down and is working well also. But the thought of maintaining an injured horse for ten years and then bringing him back while he is in his twenties is a daunting prospect for all of us. Now, that’s a comeback!


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