CODY — Amir loves snow. The final remnants of the storm that blanketed Wyoming with a thick layer of fluffy powder were piled in the corner of the red-and-gray corral, melting into a graying mound of ice. Amir pawed at it with his prosthetic leg, a temporary amalgamation of metal and plastic that he would happily bang on the fence when he wanted a slice of tangerine or some scratches behind his ears.
It was a long journey for 26-year-old Elizabeth Cabral to bring Amir under the care of Dr. Ted Vlahos at Yellowstone Equine Hospital. Vlahos was the only surgeon she found willing to save the horse she had sat with for hours, holding its broken bones together while she waited for help to arrive at her southern California home.
“I felt from him that he wanted to try,” she said.
Amir’s white coat didn’t emerge until he had grown up, and Cabral grew up with him. He was born on her 13th birthday and she knew from his first moments there was something different about this animal.
“I’ve been around a lot of horses,” she said. “There was a deeper level of connection there.”
Cabral calls the Arabian gelding a “heart horse” or “soul horse,” a creature that only comes around once in a lifetime, the kind that forms a special bond lasting as long as both horse and rider live.
Cabral clambers through the fence to unbuckle the blanket from the horse that clearly did not want to wear it any longer. Amir may not be able to speak, but he has no trouble making his desires known. Cabral can read him better than anyone. That’s how she knew he wanted to stick around a while longer, even after a freak accident had shattered his leg in January.
“He was talking to me the whole time,” she said. “He wanted to be there … I have not had one doubt I made the right choice.”
It isn’t common that horses with broken legs survive the ordeal. Their bone structure and lack of soft tissue make breaks that would be a simple fix for a human a nightmare for a horse.
Even if the leg can be repaired, horses that lie down too much while healing risk developing sores or pneumonia. Horses that put weight on a broken leg – a virtual requirement for them to stand because of how their weight is distributed – damage it worse, and those that balance on their other legs risk developing other bone and joint issues, said Tim Morris and Jenny Hall, vets with the British Horseracing Authority, in an interview with The Guardian.
There aren’t many surgeons who will perform an amputation on a horse. Many of the same risks apply and the cost of the surgery and follow up physical therapy starts in the tens of thousands of dollars. The risk and the cost for a horse that can never be ridden again usually are not worth it for the owner. Then again, Amir isn’t your usual horse.
Cabral, her mother and brother dropped everything to come to Cody when she heard of Dr. Vlahos, not even pausing long enough to pack a suitcase. They were determined to get help for Amir, even if it meant driving nearly 1,200 miles and living out of a hotel room for months while he recovered. Her brother has since returned to California. Her mother left and returned. Elizabeth, though, hasn’t left Amir’s side.
“It hasn’t been a vacation,” Elizabeth said. “My primary focus here is being with Amir.”
Symbol of hope
Amir doesn’t seem to realize he isn’t on vacation. Armed with his temporary prosthetic, he paws at the snow and tracks the geese flying overhead. He whinnies and nickers and asks for horse cookies and goes on scavenger hunts for pieces of tangerines, his favorite fruit.
“I can’t say he’s even been depressed at all,” Cabral said. “When he got his temporary prosthetic and went outside, it seemed like he was taking in all the sights and just enjoying being here.”
Cabral has shared Amir’s story on Facebook, providing regular updates with his progress. It’s garnered attention from around the world, and people are finding hope in watching him survive and thrive.
“Amazing story,” wrote Vicky Kent on the Saving Amir Facebook page. “The love and courage, compassion and determination that you both share will take both of you through this trial. I feel in my heart of hearts that Amir will come through with flying colors and your bond will be stronger than ever! I’ll be praying for both of you.”
Amir still has a long way to go in his recovery. His leg must finish healing and then he needs to be fitted for a permanent prosthetic. Cabral is hoping to eventually fit him with the first-ever horse prosthetic with a knee joint. It’s just one of the new goals she has for Amir now that their riding days are behind them.
“I think it’s important to focus on what we still have, not what has been lost or changed,” she said. “Now, we’re just looking toward the future and the joy we still have together.”
If you would like to help Elizabeth and Amir, donations for treatment can be made at gofund.me/7190a86f.