The Mackinac Island Grand Hotel recently had a close call when one of their Hackney horses, Noble, had a life-threatening health crisis.
Noble arrived at Grand Hotel from New Jersey with his half-brother Crown a few years ago, and he works with his partner Royal as one of three color-matching horse teams pulling the resort’s VIP carriages. Hackneys, which have great stamina and are typically smaller and more graceful than larger draft horses, are few in number with less than 500 horses in the global registry.
One day in July, Head Coachmen and Stables Manager Ben Mosley noticed that Noble was “just a little off in his demeanor.” Seven year-old Noble, who is usually spry and demands attention by banging the wall of his stall, was suddenly quiet and wasn’t going to the bathroom. Barn workers contacted Mosley, who suspected colic or intestinal distress, so he called the island veterinarian, Dr. Staker Hites. The doctor rode over on his bike and examined Noble.
“He was very sick,” said Mosley. “There was virtually no gut noise – and that’s a bad thing.” Dr. Hites diagnosed him with colic and gave him meds to ease his distress. The vet returned to the barn two more times that night to check on the sick Hackney. When his condition did not improve the next day, things started to get serious as the resort was considering putting Noble down. “He had very little chance of survival at this point,” explained Mosley. “Whatever was blocking his intestines was entirely blocked.”
The alternative was a three-hour drive to Michigan State University (MSU) College of Veterinary Medicine Clinic. Because Noble belonged to the resort, the final decision was in the hands of David Jurcak, Grand Hotel’s president of operations. Mosley gave him a call.
According to Bree’s Mackinac Island Blog, written by summer resident Brenda Horton, Mosley told Jurcak, “If Noble stays here, he has a 5 percent chance of making it. If we get him downstate for treatment, he has about a 65 percent chance of surviving. The cost of treatment will be at least the value of the horse.”
Jurcak, without hesitation, responded, “What do we need to do to get him to MSU?” Mosley replied, “Dr. Hites and my barn workers will get him down the hill to the coal dock, and I will make arrangements to get my truck and horse trailer.” Jurcak gave him two words: “Do it.”
Mosley and Noble made their way south to MSU, checking up on Noble several times during the trip. Once there, Noble had many blood tests and an ultrasound. His condition started to worsen as his fever spiked. Jurcak had already pre-authorized surgery in another phone call, so they were able to act immediately. Upon inspection, surgeons found that part of Noble’s intestine was stuck between his spleen and one of his kidneys, causing a painful buildup of gas and pressure, a condition uncommon in horses his age. “It caused inflammation and shut everything down,” said Mosley. “Inflammation is the worst thing in the world to a horse.”
After 90 minutes of surgery, the surgeons rectified the problem, and the Monday morning after, Noble was able to stand. He was put on IV fluids and given small meals during the rest of his stay. By Friday, Noble was back home on Mackinac Island with all of his Hackney friends, Lady, Maid, Crown, Royal, and Jester.
Since his emergency surgery, Noble has made a wonderful recovery following weeks of stable rest and hand walking. He even got to stretch his legs with some solo time in the turnabout corral.
Despite the odds and potential costs, Grand Hotel and its staff lead with their hearts and got the help Noble needed, most likely saving the steed’s life.