The valley lost another icon this last week. Dr. Jack Ward, D.V.M. has been around barns and corrals from one end of the valley to the other. He was most noted for his work with ‘Weak Calf Syndrome’ which has been a big problem here in the valley over the years; and his work with horses, from race horses to working horses.
‘Doc’ Ward wasn’t at our ranch a lot while I was growing up but the times he did come out, it was a memorable occasion. When I was about 5 or 6 years old, my brother. Dean, had a palomino horse he was breaking. His name was Blinkers because he had one blue eye. Blinkers was kind of a challenge for Dean and kept rearing up. Now a horse that bucks is one thing. You can figure out how he is going to buck and possible work him out of it or at least keep yourself somewhat safe. We had a number of horses at that time and Dean would be the one to ‘top them off’ when needed and he was getting to be a pretty good hand. But if they got to be too much, my dad would step in and take control. It didn’t take long but the horse was soon ridable and ready to go.
But back to Blinkers; the more Dean tried to get him to stop rearing, the worse Blinkers got. So my dad got involved. The first time Blinkers went up on his hind feet with Dad in the saddle, Dad simply stepped off and pulled the horse on over. Normally it only took about one time for this to be effective. But not Blinkers. Dad got back on and Blinkers reared up. Dad got back on and Blinkers reared up. But this time when Dad stepped off and pulled him over, there was a loud crack as the horse went down.
Blinkers had broken his hind leg. Dad jumped on his head and hollered at Dean to get a rope so they could tie the horse down to keep him from moving. He hollered at me to run to the house and have Mom call Doc. Taylor. (He was the veterinarian from Stevensville and there are many ‘Doc Taylor stories too.)
Doc Taylor was very slow, especially when he talked. He arrived at the corral and moseyed in to look things over. He decided there really wasn’t much he could do but he told my dad about a new ‘young’ vet in Hamilton that might be able to help.
Doc Taylor called Doc Ward who came out and looked over the situation. He said he thought he would be able to help the horse but they had to figure out how to get the horse to the clinic in Hamilton.
This was before horse trailers and stock trailers, only big stock trucks and pickup trucks were used to move animals. I remember they took a big wooden panel that covered the horse and tied the horse to that panel so he couldn’t really move. Then they rolled the horse over and tied another panel on the other side so the horse was basically motionless. By then, Mom had mustered the neighbors to come and help load the horse. I perched up on the top of the corral and watch as they lifted the horse in the panels to the bed of a big truck. Off they went with Doc Ward trailing behind.
Doc Ward took Blinkers into the clinic and worked on him. I am sure he X-rayed the leg because he determined it would heal if there was no weight on the leg. Usually if a horse had this severe of a break, the horse would be put down, but Doc Ward didn’t want to do that.
He put up a huge sling in one of the box stalls in the clinic and that is where Blinkers spent the next few months. At first all of his feet were off the ground but as he healed, the sling was slowly lowered so that his feet would touch the ground.
I don’t know how long Blinkers was in Doc Ward’s care. And I’m not entirely sure what sort of procedures he did on the horse. But he convinced my dad that this would save the horse and it would also serve as a study on what to do with a horse with a broken hind leg.
Blinkers eventually came home to a sling in the barn and then went on to be a pretty good horse. He would, however, always rest his hind leg by leaning into and sitting on any vehicle that was parked close by.
The other time I remember Doc Ward treating one of our horses was when I was in college. Dad had raised a big, showy colt named Traveler and he had high hopes for him. However, when Traveler was two years old, he started getting a lump right above his eye and another on his pastern, between the hoof and the fetlock.
Dad kept an eye on the cyst on the leg, thinking it might be ringbone but he soon determined it wasn’t. He had Doc come out and look at Traveler a few times but Doc was just as stumped as Dad about what this was.
Doc asked other vets and did some research on this but they, too, were stumped. Dad was resigned he was going to have to put Traveler down. But then Doc called and told Dad that he might have a solution. It was experimental and so he wasn’t going to charge too much.
Doc had been talking to ‘his good friend Nels Ribi’ and together they came up with a plan. Ribi had been working on a cancer drug and thought maybe they could stop the growth of the cysts with this drug. Dad took Traveler in to the clinic and left him there for a bout 30 days.
The cyst over Traveler’s eye was about the size of a small tangerine by this time and was beginning to impede his vision. The one on the pastern was about that size too. Doc Ward and Dr. Ribi went to work on Traveler, injecting the area around the cysts with this drug every day. In 30 days, Dad got a call to come and get the horse. When he unloaded Traveler, we were amazed that both cysts were gone! Traveler went on to be a great horse.
Without Doc Ward’s willingness to study something unknown or take on an animal that wouldn’t have survived showed what an intellectual he truly was. I’m sure there are many, many stories throughout the valley of horses, and cattle, that Doc Ward didn’t give up on. Thank you Doc!