Nikki: The story of a horse’s miraculous recovery |

Nikki: The story of a horse’s miraculous recovery

In the same year that tragedy struck the Kentucky Derby with the broken legs of the filly Eight Belles, a Nevada County mare is proving that some equine fractures can heal.

Two months after the filly was euthanized on the race track, Nikki – a 20-year-old Arabian that had worked giving riding lessons in Castro Valley – was kicked by another horse. X-rays confirmed a fracture in her upper right front leg.

But after surgery in July at the University of California, Davis, that screwed a steel plate to Nikki’s leg and two months of recovery, the mare is walking on the leg and eager for her few minutes outside the barn.

Owner Christine Gentilhomme, of Nevada City, decided to move ahead with the costly recovery process as she dealt with chronic, degenerative illnesses with her mother, who lives in Paris, and her husband.

She had acquired Nikki about 14 years ago after Nikki first had been left untrained, then slated for the slaughterhouse, then rescued and trained by another woman devoted to natural horsemanship. It’s a gentle form of training that calms horses and emphasizes communicating with them in their own “language,” friend and natural horsewoman Mary Sanichas said.

Gentilhomme also is a devotee of the training form.

When she got the telephone call in Paris about Nikki’s break, she thought about whether to put Nikki down. “I thought, ‘This is my joy in life. Nikki has given me so much.’ I couldn’t take another blow, another loss,” Gentilhomme said.

A UC Davis surgeon told her Nikki’s clean break and calm, compliant nature made her a good candidate for surgery.

Unlike Nikki, race horses are trained “to just go,” Sanichas said. When such horses wake up from surgery and find themselves slung in a belt, “their natural instinct is to struggle and break free. That can be disastrous for a race horse.”

Gentle path to health

After the surgery, Nikki was brought to Sanichas at Wolf Mountain Camp, south of Grass Valley, for her recovery and rehabilitation/

As the news of Nikki’s injury and plan for recovery spread through the natural horsemanship community, people Gentilhomme didn’t even know offered help, support and friendship, she recalled.

“You can feel very isolated” when dealing with serious illness in the family, Gentilhomme said. “To have (Nikki) and the support of my friends … is a gift, it’s what makes life good, to be able to smell her, so see her progress and how happy and eager she is to go outside.”

The horse’s recovery included equine bodywork by local bodyworker Joan Michelau and homeopathic and herbal remedies given under the direction of a naturopathic doctor, Sanichas said.

Nikki has worked her way up to 15 minutes daily of walking exercises, Sanichas said. She has about two months to go before she can be allowed more freedom, at which time she will be up to about 40 minutes daily of walking, Sanichas added.

The mare will retire from giving lessons and spend the rest of her days as Gentilhomme’s trail companion, Sanichas said.

To contact City Editor Trina Kleist, e-mail or call 477-4230.

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