Olympic eventer Lionheart succumbs to colic

William Fox-Pitt and his London 2012 Olympic horse, Lionheart.
William Fox-Pitt and Lionheart. © Kit Houghton/FEI

Just weeks after being sold to US eventing rider Allison Springer, William Fox-Pitt’s former four-star ride Lionheart has succumbed to colic.

Lionheart, a 12-year-old Westphalian gelding, was euthanized on January 18 after the second of two abdominal surgeries.

Springer said surgery revealed that a vascular accident had occurred in the colon and both the small and large intestines were irreparably damaged.

He was first stricken on January 13 and taken to Palm Beach Equine Medical Center on the advice of Springer’s veterinarians, Dr Kent Allen and Dr Susan Johns at Virginia Equine Imaging. Lionheart was under the care of Dr. Bob Brusie and Dr. Kathleen Timmons and their staff.

A team of experts consulted on the complex colic case during the week, and upon exploratory surgery, it was obvious that Lionheart would not survive.

Springer was with him stallside for long hours every day and most nights during his struggle and ultimately made the final decision with collaboration of her veterinary team.

“This was one of the most challenging and heartbreaking weeks of my life. Lionheart dealt with this as the true champion he was, never giving up. In the end, when the time came and there were no more options. I’m very appreciative of the tremendous veterinary effort made to save Lionheart.”

Dr Bob Brusie said Lionheart had excellent care.  “There was nothing in the history that would explain the vascular accident that comprised the small intestine and then over time went on to overwhelm the cecum and large bowel. This sort of vascular accident, similar to a stroke, is very unusual in my experience.”

Lionheart was a silver medalist at the London Olympics with Fox-Pitt, and was among the prospects for the US at the upcoming World Equestrian Games and Rio Olympics.

David O’Connor, US Eventing Team Adviser said: “I’m devastated for Allison’s loss and offer her my deepest sympathy.”

Avi and Karen on the way to a double-clear cross-county round in the torrential hailstorm at Inavale Farm.
Avi and Karen on the way to a double-clear cross-county round in the torrential hailstorm at Inavale Farm. © Tim O’Neal

• Advanced US eventing horse True Avenue has also died after suffering a bout of colic.

Owned by Tim, Karen, and Patience O’Neal, the 11-year-old Off-the-track thoroughbred mare died on January 7.

Family spokesperson Kathryn Daniel said: “Amazingly, ‘Avi’ never once – while schooling or competing – ran out, refused or misread a fence. Although not a fan of dressage, True Avenue garnered numerous awards including two time USEA Top 10 Mare of the Year, USEA Top 10 Intermediate Horse of the Year, three time Area VII Horse of the Year, and Area VII Preliminary, Intermediate and Advanced Year End Champion.”

When she was bought  by the O’Neals, the True Confidence, mare was a rising five-year-old who had just weaned a foal. She was living in Oregon, near Portland in a backyard with about five other horses.

Once home, she learned quickly, was forward and balanced and loved to jump.

Karen O’Neal said: “True Avenue was a star – a fiery and fierce competitor. She adored her new job, quickly moved up the levels. She was ranked in the USEA Top Ten Mares and a regular feature as Area VII Horse of the Year and Year End Champion at various levels.”

In December 2009 she had a bad colic and had surgery at Ohio State University for a 520 degree colon torsion. She recovered quickly and was anxious to go compete again.

In 2010 Avi was USEA Area VII Horse of the Year, USEA Top Ten Mare and won at the Intermediate and 2 star level.

In 2012, she won her first Advanced, at Aspen Farms. The next year, Karen gave the mare to her 13-year-old daughter, Patience.

After finishing the 2013 season, True Avenue suffered a puncture wound on the inside of her left front knee. She had 30 days off to heal, and on day 30, she colicked again and had another surgery for a 360 degree torsion.

“She recovered quickly and was doing well.  Feisty as ever, we started exercising Avi slowly but in December she had another colic scare,” Karen said.

“I brought her to Washington State University and she was fine. On December 27, she had yet another colic scare which passed quickly and was determined to be gas. On January 7, 2014 at 3 in the afternoon, we noticed Avi was in discomfort. After going to WSU equine hospital and going into surgery again, the surgeon found that her colon had been extremely compromised and most of it would have to be removed. She had very little chance of survival. I made the decision to put her down. We didn’t want to see her in pain.

“True Avenue was and is the most incredible horse I’ve ever owned or ridden.

“True Avenue was a diamond in the rough. Just a plain Bay OTTB mare – found in a muddy back yard pasture – who gave everything to the sport of eventing and had a blast doing it.”

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