Stacy Westfall’s Bridleless Partner Vaquero Euthanized in Wake of Neurologic Symptoms

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At their best: Stacy and Vaquero won the Freestyle Reining at the Quarter Horse Congress in 2011

My head’s hanging low tonight. The incredible high of Kentucky Derby weekend has definitely passed. In the inevitable lull that followed came news we had all dreaded hearing: that horsewoman Stacy Westfall‘s bridleless performance partner, TSW Can Can Vaquero, had been euthanized.

It happened earlier today.

Stacy and Vaquero were undefeated in freestyle reining. This photo of them, from the front cover of AQHA Journal, shows them winning in 2011 at the Quarter Horse Congress.

For the past week, I’ve followed Stacy’s blog and read about her trip to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Kentucky to seek help for what started out as mild neurological symptoms.

Like everyone else, I assumed that he might have EPM, and that probably treatment could help him. After all, he’s only seven years old. Equine protozoal myeloencephalitis (EPM) is somewhat common, and it’s usually treatable. There are different diseases and conditions that cause neurological symptoms, though, so I was holding my breath.

But it wasn’t EPM.

I encourage you all to go to Stacy’s blog and read the timeline for yourselves, and then go out and hug your horses. Let Stacy’s experience be your guide: when you know your horse and you know something’s not right, go get help. And don’t stop until you get an answer.

In Stacy’s case, getting to the answer meant medical tests and a radiograph of her horse’s neck and spine. To the disappointment, I’m sure, of everyone involved in the case, Vaquero’s cervical spine showed a bony protuberance that should not have been there.

The diagnosis given to Stacy was that Vaquero suffered from a form of Wobblers Syndrome, a group of degenerative neurological symptoms that have a debilitating effect on a horse’s coordination, caused by compression somewhere on the spine. Seattle Slew suffered from a similar disease condition.

This is a double whammy for Stacy, who lost her famous bridleless partner, Whizards Baby Doll (a.k.a. “Roxy”), earlier this year when she was injured after becoming cast in her stall, according to Holly Chanahan of the American Quarter Horse Journal.

It was through Holly with a well-timed Twitter news blast that I learned today’s news about Vaquero.

Stacy and Vaquero competed this winter at the 2012 Dixie Nationals–and won.

Stacy has documented the entire process of Vaquero’s two trips to Rood and Riddle and she posted videos about what the neurological symptoms looked like, as he staggered and seemed to lose his balance.

Stacy’s timeline starts just ten days ago. She had been training seven-year-old Vaquero for the Kentucky Reining Cup to be held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky during the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. But in her blog that day, Stacy surprised her readers; they were staying home in Ohio. Vaquero wasn’t right. He had staggered in from the field. She wanted to do what was right for him.

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Stacy wrote of the video, “Try to imagine what you would be thinking if this is what your horse looked like.”

On May 1, two days later, Vaquero was headed to Lexington, Kentucky. But he was headed to the Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital, not to the Kentucky Horse Park. He was going to see a specialist vet, not a scoreboard.

It amazes me that Stacy documented the entire process of Vaquero’s problems. It reminded me of Martha Stewart documenting her own trip to the hospital after a collision with her dog. What she has created is a sad and tragic memoir, but an incredible lesson for other horseowners who may, at some time in the future, encounter something similar.

While Vaquero’s symptoms seemed to ebb, it was obvious that he wasn’t right. He was seen at Rood and Riddle by Steve Reed, DVM, DACVIM, who is one of the world’s experts on neurological diseases in horses. Early x-rays showed some signs of arthritis in the horse’s neck, tests were done for EPM, and plans were made to map out the options available to Stacy.

But three days later, the symptoms were worse again. The videos are graphic. Vaquero was headed back to Lexington sooner instead of later.

I suggest that everyone who can visit the blog on and remember those videos when and if you are ever around a horse with neurological problems. Stacy’s horse illustrates that it doesn’t just happen to old or young horses. It doesn’t take months to set in. And it doesn’t always look like what you think it is.

And life doesn’t always turn out the way you planned.

To learn more:

Stacy Westfall Horsemanship blog

Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital

More about Dr. Stephen Reed from the AAEP

Dr. Barrie Grant’s website on equine wobbler syndrome

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3 Responses to “Stacy Westfall’s Bridleless Partner Vaquero Euthanized in Wake of Neurologic Symptoms”

  1. Jayne Wilson says:

    Oh that is so tragic. I cried as I watched both videos. My own horse had EPM about 15 years ago, but it was nothing like that — more like stringhalt with the high jerking hind legs. He made it through that and is still going at 33. My heart goes out to Stacy, to lose Vaquero as well as having lost Roxy – she must be devastated.

  2. Fran Jurga says:

    Hi Jayne, I know. This story really got to me and was very difficult to write but I felt like I had to. She’s brought so much joy to so many in the horse world, and inspired so many. What a tough time she’s been through, and yet she still shared Vaquero’s problems with the world. That sort of honesty is very rare.

    I’m glad your horse made it through EPM! I am always so impressed when horses come back from it. I know one of Karen O’Connor’s event horses had it, and that is amazing!

  3. A Kelty says:

    How poignant that the song played during her freestyle ride was “My Heart Will Go On.” I am so sorry for Ms. Westfall’s losses, and I empathize deeply. No matter how long we have those we love in our lives, whether equine or other, it is NEVER long enough. At least she has videos of some of her performances to remember her horses at their best.
    If Vaquero’s white coronet band was on his left hind foot instead of the right, he would look very much like my first horse, April.

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