(HORSE RACING) Neville the horse is one of the top contenders for international Horse of the Year and a top contender for the Summer Olympics in London later this year. But like many other race horses, his life has not been an easy one. Racehorses are the victims of a multibillion-dollar industry where drug abuse, injuries, and race fixing is common, and where many horses’ careers end at the slaughterhouse. But Neville has endured more than the just the horrors of the race track. Read more on the strong-willed horse that was able to cheat death twice and who is now on his way to becoming a legend, thanks, in part, to his guardians who did not give up on him. — Global Animal
Neville Bardos is a finalist for international Horse of the Year, which goes to the “horse that has excelled above all others in equestrian competition.” Photo credit: Josh Haner/The New York Times

New York Times, Mary Pilon

AIKEN, S.C. — The horses’ straw beds were ablaze, with the rest of the barn, when two men rushed in against the flames and black smoke to try to save the 11 horses inside.“It was horrific,” said Boyd Martin, the trainer. “Basically, you could see some of my horses burnt to death.”

Six were dead. Four others escaped. Neville Bardos, a chestnut gelding and the last living horse in the barn, was found in a corner. They heard him gurgling.

Neville’s throat and lungs were scorched from smoke inhalation, and other parts of his body were burned.

From that scene about seven months ago, Neville, who competes in the multidiscipline sport of eventing, has managed a competitive comeback that defied any prognosis from doctors, his owners and others in the equestrian world. He was the top American horse at a prestigious competition in England just three months after the fire, and has had strong showings in several other events.

Now Neville is among three finalists for international Horse of the Year, to be given Friday by the United States Equestrian Federation to the “horse that has excelled above all others in equestrian competition.”

“And then there’s Neville Bardos,” Joanie Morris, a federation spokeswoman, said. “We’ve never seen anything like him.”

Neville, with his thoroughbred pedigree, a name borrowed from an Australian gangster and socks of white on his right front leg and right back leg, may earn even more international fanfare later this year: he is a top contender for a berth in the Summer Olympics in London, where Britain’s historic affinity for equestrian events will give the sport an unusually high profile.

“If Neville had just gone on to live in the backyard, that itself would have been a miracle,” said Martin, who assumed his horse was fated for a life of grazing — if he lived at all. “But now he’s bound for the Olympics and is a real contender.”

Martin’s parents were Olympians — his mother a speedskater and his father a cross-country skier. Martin and his wife, Silva, are competitive riders and trainers whose horses split time between stables here in western South Carolina and in West Grove, Pa. They moved to the United States from Australia in 2007, five years after they purchased Neville for $850. He was a slow racehorse.

“He was headed for slaughter for dog food,” Boyd Martin said.

While some racehorses peak in their younger years and move on to breeding, equestrian horses tend to be older and require complex training. Neville’s sport, eventing, is an equine triathlon: a rider and his or her horse compete in a cross-country obstacle course, show jumping and dressage. Although many top equestrian horses started their competitive careers on the track, it can take years to train one to perform well in all three eventing disciplines.

Neville’s early results were poor. In a 2002 event, Silva Martin fell from Neville when he was spooked by a fence. It took 15 minutes to catch Neville so he could complete the course.

“I was hoping he would calm down and chill out a bit,” Boyd Martin said. “Definitely not in his genes.”

Though Neville did not chill out, he did improve in competition. In 2006, he won an international title in Melbourne, Australia. In 2007, he placed fourth at a top international event, the Fair Hill C.C.I., and the next year was ninth in another, the Rolex Kentucky C.C.I. 

In 2010, after Neville placed 10th and was the top finisher among American horses at the World Equestrian Games, Martin began to prepare him for the Olympics. Neville was based at True Prospect Farm, which specializes in training eventing horses.

At 12:30 a.m. on May 31, Boyd Martin was awakened by his ringing cellphone. The barn was on fire.

Neville was taken to an emergency facility affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, in Kennett Square, Pa. Over the next several weeks, he was treated by one of the most accomplished teams of horse doctors in the world — some members of the same team that treated the racehorse Barbaro with great acclaim after he broke down at the 2006 Preakness Stakes.

“It became clear he was the sickest horse there,” said Dr. Samantha Hart, a veterinarian who treated the five surviving horses that night.

A breathing tube was inserted in Neville’s nose. He was given antibiotics and intravenous fluids. He underwent treatments in a hyperbaric oxygen tank to speed the healing of his lungs.

“Basically, his whole open airway was burnt,” Dr. Hart said. “Breathing is an important part of his being an athlete. We thought this would greatly limit his ability.”

The Martins largely abandoned any hope that Neville would compete again. “We were happy he was alive,” Boyd Martin said.

Little was left of the barn. Gift baskets of carrots were sent to the surviving horses. A fund-raiser at the Whip Tavern, down the road from True Prospect Farms, raised $6,800 for three stablehands and riders who lost many of their possessions in the fire. (The cause of the fire remains undetermined.)

Meanwhile, Neville’s condition improved — so rapidly that his handlers said they sensed that he was not content to graze in the yard.

“You could tell he was a bit anxious,” a stablehand, Lindsey Taylor, said. “Little by little, we started moving him into short workouts. He just wanted it. 

About three months after the fire, Neville placed seventh at the Burghley Horse Trials in England, one of the world’s most prestigious equestrian events.

“Neville cheated death — twice,” Boyd Martin said, referring to the time he purchased Neville and then the fire. “It’s a miracle.” 

This weekend, Silva Martin will ride Neville in a dressage competition in Florida in an effort to hone his skills in his weakest of the three eventing disciplines. By July, the Martins will know if Neville has earned a spot on the United States team in London, where the Summer Games will commemorate the 100th anniversary of equestrian as an Olympic event.

Neville, now 12, appears to have few remaining scars from the fire. Doctors have deemed him physically recovered, although sirens startle him, as does smoke.

“I guess we better be careful around that torch,” Boyd Martin said about the Olympic flame.

 More New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/13/sports/horse-is-a-fire-survivor-and-a-possible-olympian.html?_r=1&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss