Teaming Up for Max


When an injured horse didn’t want to give up, three people teamed up to help him recover–and thrive.

American Appendix horses are often referred to as “the best of two breeds” because they’re a combination of the strong build of a thoroughbred horse and the supremely determined nature of a quarter horse. And Max, a 30 year old Appendix horse, is both of these things plus a little extra. His vibrant spirit and particularly strong will to persevere are what drew Dr. Debbie Hadlock, VMD (Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris), to adopt Max when he was 12 years old–and what continued to impress her during a life-threatening health scare years later.

In late fall 2008, Max and Dr. Debbie made the journey from New York to Utah. Max was 24 years old and had lost the vision in his left eye from a condition called “moon blindness”. This was a risky trip for the strongest of horses, but with Debbie’s careful support—which entailed even sleeping on a bale of hay in his trailer—Max made it like a champion.

Unfortunately, not long after arriving in Utah, Max was attacked by two younger horses at his new stable and suffered deep cuts to his back and a severely damaged right leg. His poor vision and older age made it impossible to defend himself. Max’s condition deteriorated rapidly and he struggled to move and sleep. He was not expected to survive.

Dr. Debbie knows animals and knows horses. She moved to Utah to continue her pursuits in specialized cardiology for animals and now works with Animal Health Options, based in Park City, providing holistic diagnostic and therapeutic choices to equine and companion animal caretakers. The top-quality care that she offers to other people’s animals is no different than what she wanted for Max.

Dr. Debbie consulted specialists from all over the world to assist with Max’s “battle wounds” but no one could help. She resigned herself to letting Max go. In the middle of the winter, she dug his grave and was ready to say goodbye to her constant companion. At the eleventh hour, something triggered her instincts and she phoned Dr. Charmian Wright, DVM, of Mountain Horse Medical and asked for help. Dr. Wright knew who to call.

“There are plenty of horse who are ready to go, but some have plenty of life left and you just do everything you can to support them,” says Dr. Wright.

Verna Nielsen, who helps rehabilitate horses that otherwise would not be given a chance to heal at Fox Meadow Ranch in Park City, did not hesitate to take in Max. (For more on Fox Meadow Ranch, see “Healing Horses with Heart & Hope” on page 16 of our September 2014 issue.)

Max was in a difficult state when he arrived at Fox Meadow and required constant care. Other veterinarians had refused to help with treatment for Max’s wounds. They considered it cruel to work on a lost cause. Because Drs. Hadlock and Wright, as well as Verna, didn’t agree, “Team Max” was born.

“As long as Max wanted to go forward, we did too,” says Dr. Debbie.

Team Max created a one-of-a-kind foot/ankle cast and spent months changing it every few hours, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. They gave Max the chance to rest and put him on a carefully monitored rehabilitation routine.

Two years later, Max lives with dark scars on his back and a support boot that is changed every eight weeks. Maintaining a horse with a permanent cast has its challenges, but it does not slow him down. He spends his days eating carrots, greeting visitors and cantering with the miniatures horses.

“It’s a miracle. Not every horse could have come back the way he did,” says Dr. Debbie. “Now he walks around Verna’s property like he owns it. He is very happy and shows his appreciation.”

The fighting spirit of Debbie, Verna, Dr. Wright and Max has given this horse a healthy and humane way to live out his golden years. When Dr. Debbie is not tending to Max or caring for patients, she trains for the Iditarod sled race—proving that Max and his team truly are an extra-ordinary match.

photo 2 photo 4

Connect to Team Max

Find out more about the amazing vets on Team Max:

  • Dr. Debbie Hadlock at
  • Dr. Charmian Wright at (435) 649 6273.

April A. Northstrom