- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

PEMBROKE, Va. (AP) - Ivy Anne Shushok never gave up on her pony Dagwood.

After a near-death experience for the pony who was struck by lightning last fall, the 12-year-old girl, her family, friends and a team of veterinary medicine faculty, staff and students from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech have put in countless hours to get him back into shape.

Dagwood has made remarkable improvements just by regaining the ability to walk and becoming alert. It’s come from lots of attention from the numerous people who’ve been involved in his care all hours of the day for months.

A few weeks ago, that work paid off as Ivy Anne demonstrated in a show barn at Harmony Hills, a stable in Giles County, by climbing up a mounting block and onto the back of the 8-year-old pony.

It was a climb that Virginia Tech veterinarians had said was unlikely last fall during interview with The Roanoke Times.

But Ivy Anne was determined to make that fake news.

Last November, about a month after the strike, those trying to help the horse said it was a miracle Dagwood was alive.

Rebecca Funk, clinical assistant professor in the equine field service that assisted in Dagwood’s rescue, said when she helped take him to the veterinary school’s large animal hospital, she anticipated he’d only live between 24 and 48 hours.

Lightning strikes are almost always fatal in livestock.

“As long as he has a chance, we have to take it,” Ivy Anne’s mother, Kelly Shushok, said she told the veterinarians.

Dagwood began a long medical process, Katie Wilson, a clinical assistant professor of large animal medicine who supervised much of Dagwood’s care, has said. The pony went through a series of steps of medical care. He had to have eye surgery from a veterinary ophthalmologist, IV fluids when he couldn’t eat or drink, antibiotic care to prevent infections and anti-inflammatory therapy to limit permanent brain and nerve damage. The pony even had an acupuncturist.

After most of the care, he returned to Harmony Hills where care and rehabilitation continued. The Shushoks have driven out to Pembroke almost every day to spend time with the pony.

His left eye, which had been subjected to surgery, was still in rough shape when he made the move.

Until recently, the eye had an IV running into it and Dagwood needed to be given eye drops every six hours at 6 a.m., noon, 6 p.m. and midnight. The staff at Harmony Hills and the Shushok family took rotating shifts.

Ivy Anne was always there at 6 a.m., to be with the pony. Her mom took the noon shift and the staff at Harmony Hills took the evening and midnight drops.

“Not once while I was waiting with him did I want to give up,” Ivy Anne said. “I still believed he could get better.”

He has some lingering and likely lasting effects. His face has a little bit of paralysis, Funk said. But she said there’s no reason he can’t be ridden.

He’s getting close to being the same rambunctious pony he was before the strike, and he’s even shown improvements in his abilities for dressage, his trainers said.

His progression has been rapid, they said.

Every time veterinarians or trainers would give Dagwood a goal, Kelly Shushok said, he’d achieve it.

It got to the point, Ivy Anne said, that he couldn’t be given enough goals. They started simple with just walking around, to trotting in a circle, to now letting Ivy Anne get back in the saddle.

Dagwood is now looking to get back into competition shape, something that has been an ultimate goal. He’s beginning to get ready to someday compete in dressage, Harmony Hills head trainer Katherine Abrams said.

He needs to re-learn how to compete, and the event, which she called “figure skating for horses,” will help Dagwood build up his strength and stamina.

For the Shushoks, the journey with Dagwood has been long and arduous. But the lessons learned and the strength of the relationship between Ivy Anne and Dagwood make it all worth it, they said.

Kelly Shushok estimates her daughter never would’ve been as connected to the pony without working through his recovery.

“I want to be with him every day,” Ivy Anne said. “It’s a strong bond between me and him.

“It’s not like anything else.”


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