Texas A&M, Equine Reining Community Support Recovery Of Child’s Dream Foal

Story by Megan Myers, VMBS Communications

Savannah with her arm around Blue Thunder's neck
Savannah Mize and Blue Thunder

At 5 years old, many kids dream of owning a horse. Savannah Mize, however, only wanted one specific horse—the baby of her mare, Lady Bee Packin’, and the reining stallion Gunner Dun It Again, owned by Tripol Ranch.

Growing up with a mother who worked in the performance horse industry, this was not an unusual request for Savannah, who had been riding since she was 3 years old.

“I told Savannah we couldn’t afford it this year and she said, ‘Well, can I just call and ask?’” said Skye Mize, Savannah’s mother and owner of WhoaZone Equine. “She calls the breeding farm and just started rattling off all these things like ‘I think this would be a great cross, and I was just wondering if we could work a deal.’”

To everyone’s surprise, Savannah’s determination paid off when the stud’s owners agreed. When the foal was born, Savannah immediately fell in love.

Lady Bee Packin’, aka Kim, gave birth on May 9 to the healthy colt, which Savannah promptly named Blue Thunder. For almost two months, she devoted every day to caring for him at their family ranch in Franklin.

One day, in a devastating twist of fate, Blue Thunder came in from pasture not using his right front leg. Skye, who had previously worked as an equine veterinary technician, recognized that this was a serious injury, despite not knowing the cause.

“That walk back up to the barn to tell Savannah was the longest hundred-yard walk of my life,” she said.

Luckily, there was an entire community of equine enthusiasts willing to help, including a team of large animal veterinarians at the Texas A&M Large Animal Teaching Hospital (LATH).

The Perfect Fix

When Dr. Cameron Stoudt-Donnell, an equine veterinarian at Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation in Whitesboro, heard about Blue Thunder’s injury, she immediately recommended that he be seen by veterinarians at Texas A&M.

Preliminary radiographs showed that Blue Thunder had broken both his radius and ulna, the two bones just below his elbow joint that compose the upper half of his leg.

“Fractures of the upper limb are fairly common, with the elbow being the most common. With this type of radius break, the horse almost always breaks the ulna too,” said Dr. Jeffrey Watkins, a professor of large animal surgery at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (VMBS).

He and VMBS clinical assistant professor Dr. Kati Glass spent five hours in the operating room repairing Blue Thunder’s breaks with metal plates spanning the fracture and held in place with screws to provide stability necessary for healing.

What made Blue Thunder’s case more challenging, however, was that one of the breaks went through the elbow’s growth plate, giving the surgeons much less room to attach a standard bone plate.

Fortunately, a T-plate developed by the AO VET expert group, led by Watkins, proved to be the perfect fit for his injury.

“The surgery was fairly straightforward and the new plate worked very well,” Watkins said. “Interestingly enough, the company that markets the implants, DPS (DePuy Synthes), offered to donate all of the implants after I shared Blue Thunder’s story with them. It’s amazing what a little girl and her story can do to bring out the best in people.”

As it turns out, Savannah and Blue Thunder’s tale would inspire many others to give, too.

A Community Of Support

Watkins and Glass standing in a stall with a brown horse and her foal
Dr. Jeffrey Watkins, Blue Thunder, Lady Bee Packin’, and Dr. Kati Glass

When Skye’s close friend Ashli Critterman heard about Blue Thunder’s injury, she immediately reached out to her contacts in the equine reining industry to see if anyone would be willing to help.

“It got out pretty quick that surgery was the only option,” Skye said. “My customers and clients, God bless them, came together and donated all kinds of things for a big benefit auction.”

Savannah, who loves painting almost as much as she loves horses, even donated a portrait of herself and Blue Thunder. By the time the auction was over, it had raised more than enough to cover the foal’s surgery.

“The reining community always comes running whenever someone needs help,” Skye said. “You just don’t ever think you’re the one who’s going to need help, but whenever you do, it sure is humbling to know that there’s still good left in this world. People are so willing to help everybody, even people they don’t know.”

To continue the momentum, Skye and Savannah decided to use any money left over after Blue Thunder’s recovery to create the Blue Thunder Fund at the LATH for other girls whose horses need lifesaving care.

“We’re not the first family that this has happened to, and we won’t be the last,” Skye said.

Seeking The Spotlight

After two weeks of recovery at the LATH, Blue Thunder and Kim finally returned home in August, where they were met by an overjoyed Savannah.

“Thankfully, Blue Thunder is through the worst part already,” Glass said. “He’s in the best bone-making phase of his whole life, so he’s in an ideal situation to heal.”

Over the next several months, Blue Thunder’s veterinary team will monitor his growth and development; if the implant spanning his growth plate begins to cause problems, the surgeons will remove it.

“One of the nice things is that we modified the technique a little bit in his case so we may not have to remove all the implants,” Watkins said.

Since the moment Savannah first began to dream of Blue Thunder, she hoped that they would one day compete as a reining team. Because of the foal’s swift and successful treatment, his injury shouldn’t impact his ability to perform, according to Glass and Watkins.

“I am so excited to have Blue Thunder home,” Savannah said. “I want to say thank you to all the people who helped me and him. I am confident we have a lot of riding to do in the future. Maybe I’ll teach him to paint with me and go on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ After that we can horse show…reining, of course.”


Note: This story originally appeared in the Summer 2022 edition of CVMBS Today.

For more information about the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of VMBS Communications, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216

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