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Horse hurt in I-75 wreck survives eight hard weeks

California Girl's show days are over, but her Melbourne owner hopes to breed her.

By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 31, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Janel Schroeder-Norton]
Rescue workers aid California Girl, one of three horses freed from an overturned trailer and the most badly injured on Aug. 24.
Another horse might not have survived the severed tendon and gaping wounds, the kidney failure and the eight weeks supporting all that weight on only three legs.

But not every horse has Robin Werling for an owner.

California Girl does, and that's one of the reasons she's alive today.

California Girl, a 3-year-old paint mare, was seriously injured in an Aug. 24 wreck on Interstate 75. Werling of Melbourne was hauling California Girl and two other horses to a show in Tampa when one or both of the rear tires of her Ford Excursion blew out. The sport utility vehicle spun out, and the trailer flipped onto its side.

California Girl took the brunt of the crash. Her back left leg was slashed. "All you could see was bones and ligaments," Werling, 34, recalled last week.

When a horse suffers a serious leg injury, the chance of recovery is slim. Without the use of one leg, a horse will founder. So horses with broken or badly damaged legs usually are put down immediately.

Werling refused to accept that fate for California Girl. "She's like one of my kids," said Werling, who has two young boys.

So far, Werling estimates she has spent more than $20,000 on California Girl's medical bills. The horse has undergone complicated operations (standing up), survived kidney failure and received around-the-clock care at an Ocala farm for two months.

Just getting to Ocala was an ordeal. Incredibly, the trailer that carried California Girl to Ocala broke down when the wheel bearings failed. "They had to fix the trailer with her standing in it," Werling said. "It took eight hours."

In Ocala, trainers redressed the horse's wounds four times each day. They constantly ran cool water over her legs. The horse wore a special brace to help the severed tendon heal. Werling said it looked like California Girl was wearing high heels.

California Girl finally went home to Melbourne three weeks ago. A few days later, the horse "was actually lunging around the pen, which is a miracle," Werling said.

Werling said California Girl's show days are over. But a new career looms in February.

"We're going to breed her," Werling said. "It won't take long for us to know if she can conceive a baby."

The other two horses with California Girl that fateful August day, BW and Max, have made full recoveries. At a show one month after the accident, Max won two firsts, a second and a third.

Before the wreck, California Girl was a "difficult horse, not a pet like the other two," Werling said. Now, Werling said, it's almost as if all the love lavished on California Girl these last few months has rubbed off.

"She knows everybody has been trying to help her," Werling said. "She's very, very friendly. She'll let you pet her now. She's very happy."

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