- Bonnie McRae
Graduate Spotlight: Roman Reign
This week we're checking in with a true war horse: Roman Reign. Roman Reign is a 2011, NY-bred, bay mare by Roman Ruler and out of a Dixie Brass mare. She raced an incredible 72 times, with her last race being in August of 2020, not long before she was adopted by Lisa and her husband in New Jersey. This is also a story about the level of care and compassion that goes into doing right by your horse when things do not go according to plan. Something which Lisa and Harry can be lauded for. Read on to learn more.
1. First, thank you for being willing to share your story with us today. According to my notes you've had Roman Reign for almost exactly two years now. I distinctly remember one of the days you came to look at horses here, as I was nearly bucked off. I'm surprised you stuck with me after that.
Do you remember how you first heard about After the Races and what drew you to our barn in your search for a horse?
Funny that memory has stuck with you. I also remember that day well. My
husband and I visited to meet a super sweet amateur friendly gelding. As we were walking to the ring I distinctly remember thinking this is one big boy and
immediately felt imitated by him. During the ride he started bucking but you kept up with him. My husband noticed the fly biting him. After that visit I traveled 5 hours away to look at a mare that was for sale. However during the pre-purchase exam the vet reported she most likely had navicular and hock issues. When the seller called me to inquire of my decision, she admitted she had x-rays and knew about the navicular. That’s when I made the decision to return to ATR as each time we spoke you were honest and upfront.
I have followed many adoption/rehoming organizations throughout the years on social media. I had applied to a different organization initially but didn’t meet their qualifications because we didn’t have a dedicated stall at home. Even with my 20-some years of OTTB experience they required that. Several times I wanted to reach out for a specific horse, but I needed to make sure it would be a perfect fit as my 1 st love was a senior. When OTTB Bunnyville Blvd passed and my QH Rosie started showing signs of loneliness I knew it was time to find her a buddy.
2. What drew you to Roman Reign specifically?
The second time we visited ATR I had a specific horse in mind however we looked at three lovely horses that day. Roman Reign was the second horse you brought to the ring. As you were working with her, she would stop directly in front of me almost every time she circled around. She choose me! Reign was a perfect lady when I stood next to her ensuring she was not in my space. Roman Reign ran 72 races and was 9 at the time of adoption. Her last race was a “did not finish." When we returned home, I searched her and the listing of her races. I watched several of her races including the last. I said to my husband, “my girl has heart”.
After that I contacted you to let you know she was the one.
3. I know you initially hoped to send her to training after adoption, but the universe doesn't always take our plans into consideration. Tell us about the journey you've been on with Reign and her health, particularly with her vision.
We talked about training initially when I first started my search but with Roman Reign having raced for so long, I wanted to give her time off to just be a horse. During that time off she bonded strongly with Rosie. September of 2021, I went out to feed and quickly noticed Reign’s right eye was swollen shut and the upper lid was bruised. I immediately contacted the vet. There was uptake of dye in the lower eye, so she was started on antibiotic ointment and atropine ointment.
Initially things seemed to be going well, however during a recheck the eye wasn’t healing as quickly as we would have liked. The next day her eye was swollen and shut. Another recheck and I was told she needed to go to New Bolton immediately. When we arrived, I was asked by the tech offloading how long I had her. Then she told me she had been her exercise rider previously.
What a small world. That was great and I knew she was in good hands. That was the day she was diagnosed with uveitis. I was given the option to take her home with meds or keep her there. I chose the latter. Two days later the eye wasn’t getting better so my husband and I decided to consent to a Gundersen Flap with the hope of preserving her eye. I was a nervous wreck the day of her surgery, but Dr. Scherrer kept me informed before and after.
Reign spent time in a lay-up farm after the surgery as she had a SPL catheter and required frequent medication. I wanted her to have the best care. After a month and a half of her being away and the cost associated, we decided to convert our double run-in to a stall and brought her home. I gave her meds for two weeks via the SPL and then during follow-up it was removed. A week later she was squinting badly and required an emergency visit.
We almost didn’t make it because she was reluctant to get on the trailer. During that visit she was diagnosed with a stromal ulceration which required hospitalization, replacement of the SLP and antifungal injection into the ulcer. She came home mid-December, and I spent the next few weeks napping intermittently as she required medications every 4 hours. Each round last about 20 minutes. I lived in fleecy riding pants during that time.
A year in and we continue to follow-up every 4 months. Each time we wait for an update I am nervous, but my husband is always there to keep me grounded. So far so good! She has her eye, and she has vision. She sees me coming with the ointments each time and shuts her eye. This will be a lifelong issue, but we are committed.
4. When faced with setbacks due to health concerns, how did you spend your time together? Did that time impact the bond you share with Reign?
We have had many setbacks. Ulcers, uveitis, lamenesses, which sometime feels
endless. During the time Reign required the SPL medications we spent a lot of
time in the stall together. She has become so trusting of me that I could
sometimes give the meds when she was laying down. Never once have I been
intimidated by her size or strength. I would like to think we have special bond,
but she does seem to favor my husband more.
5. Even without riding, what do you enjoy about having Reign and your other horses at home?
I couldn’t imagine life without our girls. Having them right outside makes it so
much easier to care for them and know what is happening daily. Even though it is work, work, and more work, it is rewarding.
6. Do you feel the need to get her back into riding, or do you find her companionship enough (for now or for the foreseeable future)?
I believe Reign will let me know what she wants. Once we work through this
current intermittent lameness, we will see what direction she would prefer. If it’s just a best buddy to Rosie, we will be fine with that. When we committed to
Reign, I had no expectations other than to ensure she was cared for life. I chose
to do this in memory of Bunny.
7. I have to say I have always been impressed with the level of dedication you show your horses, and certainly want to thank you for always being there for Reign and going above and beyond for her. Are there any decisions you made along the way that you would make differently if you had the chance?
Most definitely. I will never doubt myself again! Initially I felt intimated by the SPL and the care involved. Several people told me it would be difficult and required specific knowledge. Since we didn’t have a stall the layup farm was recommended. When she was at the layup farm I didn’t feel in control. I have been a Pediatric Registered Nurse for 29 years. Care for a seriously ill child, no problem. Horse colics and I lose all thought process. Something I have been working on.
8. Do you have any advice for someone considering adopting an OTTB?
Do it! Adopting can be the most rewarding experience. Some horses such as
Reign have been though so many owners, grooms, and other caretakers that they haven’t had the chance to form a bond with one specific person without that bond being broken. They deserve the chance at a lifelong bond.
9. Do you have any advice for someone facing an unexpected diagnosis/health challenge with their horse?
Reach out to ask questions from fellow horse people. Do research! I remember
calling you when surgery was recommended. You put me in touch with someone that had a similar circumstance. Talking with others helps with the thought process.
10. Anything else you'd like to share with us about Reign? Favorite memories, quirks, or closing thoughts?
Reign is super smart! Sometimes goofy. She communicates the best way she can and I am learning how to listen to her cues.
One memory that will always stick with me is the day we made the emergency trip to New Bolton. Harry was working and couldn’t leave. I had never hooked up the trailer before. I called a friend and she agreed to help and bring her husband to hook up the trailer. I hooked the trailer up myself before she arrived. I loaded and my girlfriend reluctantly used the dressage whip to encourage Reign to load.
Reign was jumping and throwing a fit once loaded. She didn’t want to leave her friends. My friend was saying, “oh no she is hitting her head” (she didn’t) and wanted me to stop mid-way to the facility. I declined, saying she was going to the hospital, and they could fix her there. She now loads without issue but each time we hit the incline close to New Bolton she starts throwing a fit stomping.
They are used to her antics now and it’s refreshing that her previous exercise rider checks on her every visit. Even through all of this we are committed to give Reigny Reign a home for life. Never once have we thought differently.