The saying goes, “everything happens for a reason.” But when Kelli Cruciotti’s once-in-a-lifetime horse, Chamonix H, was almost lost to colic, Cruciotti was wary of the popular phrase.
With Cruciotti aboard, the 16-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare (Equest Carnute x Wotin) has a resume that only a rare group of horses have achieved. First paired five years ago, Cruciotti took over the ride from Olivier Philippaerts and moved quickly up the ranks from the junior jumpers, to the young riders, to the grand prix level. Although the duo won the Artisan Farms Under 25 Grand Prix series in Wellington, as well as the Encana Under 25 Grand Prix in Calgary, their most monumental win came in 2015 when they won the prestigious $100,000 Sapphire Grand Prix of Devon—the youngest winner to ever win the class. Cruciotti and Chamonix were unstoppable, until a fateful call in the fall of 2016.
At first, the bad news didn’t shake Cruciotti, since this was not the first time Chamonix had coliced. However, the normal treatments of lunging and hydration were not shaking away the symptoms. With time running out and the efforts to avoid surgery due to Chamonix’s older age no longer an option, Cruciotti and her vet, Dr. Ladd Squires were left with no options—Chamonix was transported to Colorado State University where Dr. Eileen Hackett performed a Nephrosplenic Space Ablation in order to fix the mare’s nephrosplenic entrapment. After six days of recovery at the hospital, Chamonix was sent home to Colorado where Cruciotti’s team could slowly bring her back into work.
Two months later on the way home from Kentucky, Cruciotti received a second gut-wrenching call—Chamonix coliced again, but this time, worse. Like the previous colic, Chamonix had nephrosplenic entrapment of the colon. Left with no choice but another risky surgery, Cruciotti decided the only humane thing to do was to put the mare down.
“Our vet, Dr. Ladd Squires, is a longtime friend of ours,” says Cruciotti. “He looked at me and told me, ‘I’m making this decision for you. She’s going back up to Colorado State University because she hasn’t given up, and you can’t either.’”
The only option left to keep Chamonix’s odds alive was a risky procedure that only 30% of horses survive—and those who do survive, never return back to competition. Dr. Hackett performed a large colon resection surgery, which is the most aggressive method of surgical management of the colon. During five hours under the knife, Dr. Hackett removed 80% of Chamonix’s colon, which was approximately 200-pounds worth. The surgery was a success and Chamonix defied the odds.
Horses aren’t born to live without their colon because it’s needed to digest food. In typical wondermare fashion, Chamonix took to her smaller colon perfectly and quickly got stronger and stronger. After the surgery, Cruciotti brought Chamonix back into work and brought her down to Wellington in January of 2017. Used to jumping 1.60m tracks, the pair entered a 0.85m class as their debut back—Cruciotti was over the moon to be jumping her miracle horse. Unfortunately, the next day, Chamonix was dead lame. Cruciotti had to make the difficult decision to officially retire the mare and took two embryos from her in the hopes of breeding more horses like her.
“I was just happy she was alive, but it didn’t feel like the end—it couldn’t end then,” recalled Cruciotti. “I wanted her to be comfortable so I retired her. She owed me nothing.”
When Dr. Squires heard the news of Chamonix’s retirement, he was extremely upset with the decision.
“Dr. Squires basically saved her because he pushed to do the surgery,” states Cruciotti. “When he found out I retired her, he told me ‘I didn’t work this hard to save her so you could retire her.’”
And so, Cruciotti’s team dove into figuring out the mystery behind Chamonix’s soundness issue. Unable to pinpoint a specific problem, the team brought in a chiropractor to ultrasound the mare’s hip. It turned out, Chamonix had a lot of scar tissue and arthritis on her hip causing a lot of pain. Unsure if it would fix the problem, Dr. Will French injected the area.
Fingers crossed and breath held, Chamonix came out of her stall the next day completely sound—the injection worked. The hard part? Bringing her back into competition—again.
Defying all odds placed against her, Chamonix made a full recovery. The miracle horse made her competition debut back at Split Rock this fall where she placed 3rd in the Under 25 Grand Prix. Just a couple of weeks ago in Harrisburg, the pair placed fourth in a ranking class.
“All I can say is I don’t know how she does it, but she loves it. I know I’ll never rider another horse like her in my lifetime,” says Cruciotti. “Every day I get to ride and show her, it’s just a bonus. As much as she wants to do, I’m going to let her, and when she’s finished, she’s done.”
Like the end of every Disney movie, there’s always a happy ending. And after an emotional year of ups and downs, Cruciotti and Chamonix are happily back on track and doing what they love. When asked how she got through the emotional highs and lows, Cruciotti is quick to credit her family and team around her.
“Having such a good support group around me, my family—my mom, my dad, my brother, and our vet, really helped,” explained Cruciotti. “They reassured me I wasn’t just doing this for me, [Chamonix] wants to fight and you have to give her every opportunity to do that—this is your way of giving her this chance.”