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The Weather Network
Nov. 14, 2018 | Wednesday
Local News
Save a horse, not a cowboy
Nancy Thompson-Perkins and Buddy. (Lauren O'Malley/Niagara Now)

Dave Perkins is something of a Renaissance man, in that he has a tendency for rebirth. In the past, he’s been a musician, nutritionist, chef, farmer of crops and livestock, and has worked for Niagara Regional Police Services.

His current passion though, was sparked entirely by his wife Nancy Thompson-Perkins.

Perkins and Thompson-Perkins rescue racehorses — mainly retired standardbreds, huge animals with a body-full of aches and pains ­— on their purpose-built farm on Concession 2 Road.

“They’re athletes. When they come to us they’re pretty beat up,” says Thompson-Perkins. “They’re sore, they have arthritis.” They also have issues related to their sport, which involves pulling a cart carrying a person very quickly around an oval track. “They’ve had poles along their necks and things pulling on their jaws for most of their careers,” says Perkins, “They’re physically imbalanced.”

Thompson-Perkins has also reinvented herself for this labour of love. “She came up poor in Wainfleet, never even mentioned she liked horses. I had no idea,” says Perkins. Until one day she surprised him by bidding on — and winning — a small black stallion at an auction. “All of a sudden we had to figure out how to get him home — we hadn’t come for a horse,” laughs Perkins.

Both of them laugh a lot, and beam with radiant health. The light from within them comes from more than just physical wellbeing, though — they have clearly found their passion.

Asked if she had any experience with horses prior to acquiring Jet, the small stallion, Thompson-Perkins snorts with laughter. “No, I didn’t. I didn’t have any experience with horses at all,” she says. “I learned everything on the fly.”

Despite their whimsy, the pair are intelligent and studious — and they don’t do things by halves. So when they decided to pursue becoming a horse stable, they both dove deeply into research and education. Perkins went the clinical route, and achieved a veterinary certificate from the University of Guelph and the Royal Veterinary College in Edinburgh. Thompson-Perkins, the gentler soul of the two, delved into animal biomechanics, herbal treatments, essential oils, animal acupressure, infrared therapy and other alternative modalities.

As they pursued this new field of equine expertise, they decided their small horse needed a companion They approached the Ontario Standardbred Adoption Society and found out about a famous racehorse named Carscot Harmony. He’d done well at the races, retired at eight years old, and needed a new home. This time they were ready.

Although it might be inappropriate to say one is ever completely ready to care for large-breed animals. As the couple has learned, there are always surprises. The wear and tear alone on these noble racing beasts can create unusual circumstances.

Another of their rescues, Buddy — another retired high-stakes standardbred — presented one evening with the symptoms of colic. Thompson-Perkins was at her shift-work job with the NRPS, so Perkins was on duty. “He wasn’t eating, and that’s usually a sign of colic, which can be fatal in a horse,” says Perkins — who thoroughly enjoys telling stories. “Any other horse would have a leg dangling by a thread and say, ‘Oh, I’m fine,’ but Buddy-the-diva’s colic was the end of the world. Drama, drama, drama.”

He continues, “You can’t leave a horse with colic, so I stayed with him all night, following traditional veterinary protocol. Nancy gets home from work in the morning, observes Buddy carefully for a few minutes, and says, ‘It’s TMJ.’” Perkins went inside the house for a short break, “and when I came back out there’s Nancy lying on the floor of the stall, pressing on his foreleg. ‘I realigned his meridian,’ she said. I said, ‘What? I just spent 10 hours following the colic protocol with no results, and you just pressed on his leg — and now he’s fine?’ And he was.”

“She’s really good at watching their body movement and seeing the subtle cues,” Perkins says of his cherished wife of 25 years.

The Perkins’ currently have four horses in their care. Some they’ve had for many years, and one they just acquired in April. Reinett is two years old, half standardbred and half quarter horse. They followed her gestation on Facebook — particularly when her mother ruptured a pubic tendon during pregnancy. “We knew the owners of the mother,” says Thompson-Perkins, “so we were watching with interest.” It was a dramatic pregnancy which normally would have been terminated at that point, but the decision was made to experiment with revolutionary treatments. Baby and mother survived — and now “baby” is a terrible-two-year-old mare at Wyndym Farm.

“Having a two-year-old horse is like having a giant toddler,” says Thompson-Perkins. “Good we got her now — we couldn’t have handled her before.”

Fifteen years of learning about horses has prepared the couple for most of the large and small things that can go wrong while raising, training, riding and keeping horses. Even things like when a mutant amber-headed horsefly took a chunk out of Old Gunner’s belly and it became infected immediately. Perkins applied the infrared pad on the spot, and Thompson-Perkins later applied her home-made salves to heal it almost instantly.

Wyndym Farm has a bit of a reputation in the horse world. “We get jokingly asked, ‘So how are things at the spa,’” Perkins says. People poke fun at the relatively luxurious amenities, and the constant care and treatment the horses are given. But the community respects their work too. “I asked our ferrier what to do about the fly bites on a new horses’ legs,” says Perkins. “He said, ‘You do the same thing with this horse as you do with all of your horses and when I come back he’ll be fixed.’”

To Perkins’ advantage, “Dave was my guinea pig with infrared treatments, fascia work, special body work based on the central nervous system, traditional Chinese medicine (the oldest medicine there is), and TTouch (an integrative approach to handling, training and understanding animals),” says Thompson-Perkins. They practice what they preach — on themselves.

They also live simply: “We make it ourselves, build it ourselves, grow it ourselves, cook it ourselves, fix it ourselves,” says Perkins. “We’re pretty self-sufficient. That extends to the way we care for the horses.” They only bring in the vet when things are dire. “And even then we usually find we can manage better without their treatments,” says Perkins. “It’s not that we think vets don’t know what they’re doing — far from it. We just find our own ways are better for our horses.”

Their five-acre farm has been transformed into an equine paradise, all of it built by Perkins himself. There is a British-style three-season ring equipped with jumps, poles, barrels and toys. Every horse has its own paddock — a type called “sacrifice” paddocks, or dry paddocks. Thompson-Perkins also rides the horses in the Olympic-sized grass ring, also known as a long dressage grass ring. And there are three different pastures, all rotated with different types of grasses for different times of year.

“We also have a trail with a small hill with poles and obstacles for circuit training and sightseeing,” says Thompson-Perkins. “Everything is about training here, good muscle work for us and for the horses,” she says smiling and pretending to carry heavy buckets of food and water with perfect posture.

“Really, it’s just about being here all the time, being with them, watching them,” says Thompson-Perkins, who has been known to lose track of time while tending to the horses. “She’ll say she’s just going out to the barn for fifteen minutes, so I get the risotto going for supper,” says Perkins — the former chef. “Two hours later I’ll be scraping rice goo onto her plate,” he says laughing and aping the gesture.

Thompson-Perkins seems to care more about the horses than her supper. “They come here, and that’s it. Once they’re here they don’t have to go anywhere. We give them everything they need for an ideal life,” she says. “It’s really rewarding.”

Perkins sees it scientifically as well: “The luxury of having just a few horses on your own property is a bit like lining in a research facility with everything on-site, monitoring everything they eat and do.”

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