When Donna Weatherly arrived at the farm, she went right to the stall of the horse she had been called to see, a 14-year-old gelding suffering from laminitis, and who could no longer stand because of the problem with his feet.
She found him lying on his side in his stall, quietly suffering. The owner, a friend of hers, had brought the veterinarian to see the gelding, who had suffered from laminitis in the past, but had been in remission for years. The disease, which affects the foot, basically results in the separation of the living section of the foot and the non-living section.
“It’s a bunch of little horns that fit together, like how you’d lace your fingers together,” Weatherly explained. “When laminitis begins to occur, these horns die and they pull apart. The sole holds the bottom bone of the foot and it supports all the pressure.”
For the 14-year-old gelding, the outcome wasn’t good. He hadn’t responded to traditional treatment and could no longer walk.
“It’s career ending for sure,” Weatherly said. “It’s something that doesn’t ever completely go away.”
When her friend called Weatherly, it was as a last resort for the horse, a hope that maybe she could help him.
Weatherly, who studies tongren, an Eastern medicine discipline, began applying what she knew to the gelding, as well as treating him with a mix of herbs especially designed for him.
“By the next morning, he was up,” Weatherly said. “Two days later, he was at
his pawing at his gate, looking for his feed.”
For Weatherly, who believed but wasn’t sure this was what her calling would be, felt it cement right there and then.
“This was remarkable,” she said. “This was a miracle.”
Today, Weatherly, who runs Spirit Horse Herbs, continues to study in various Eastern medicine modalities. She said she believes that Western medicine and Eastern medicine work best together, rather than alone.
“I’m definitely not the sort that will say ‘Don’t go to a veterinarian,’” she said. “If your horse is sick, the vet should be the first visit.”
In fact, the herbs Weatherly prepares are sold by a local veterinary clinic she has partnered with.
“(What I do) is complementary medicine,” she said. “It’s alternative therapy done in conjunction with normal veterinary care.”
When she started in the mid-90s, she started with a healing modality called “touch for health.” She took several courses in it for humans, and then one for horses, and it was like a light went on over her head.
“I’m the oldest in my family, and I grew up around rodeo horses,” she said. “I thought my grandpa could fix anything – he could. Any crippled, broken horse that came to him, he fixed it. And that’s where my passion for horses and for healing started.”
Though she’s done other jobs over the years to make ends meet, she always came back to horses, so she launched her business to tend to them.
“When I started 20 years ago, there was only a handful of us who did this,” she recalled. “It was quite foreign to everyone back then. Even my own dad (Stan Weatherly), very much the old-fashioned cowboy (never believed).”
That changed when he decided to humour his daughter and let her work with some of his horses, she said.
“He saw results and became a believer,” she said.
“Things evolve and they shift and they change. What I do is becoming more accepted. Right now, my goal is to work hand-in-hand with the local vets to improve the health of horses.”
It’s not just horses that the herbs, muscle therapy, colour therapy and treatments help. It can help all sort of livestock, she said.
“We have a local guy who does this with bulls, and he’s outstanding,” she said.
In one case, Weatherly had friends who bought a mare for barrel racing. The family who bought her knew the mare had cysts on her ovaries, meaning it would be near impossible for her to ever be bred.
“It was a mess in there,” Weatherly recalled.
Over the years, the mare excelled at barrel racing, and was treated by Weatherly. When the mare was retired, the family had her checked out by a veterinarian, who found that the cysts had vanished – all except for one.
“She caught the first time they tried to breed her,” Weatherly said.
The healing came in part from treatment from a vet, but also from years of good living and balancing the horse’s humours through the application of herbal mixes in the food, Weatherly avers.
Someday, Weatherly wants to retire to just selling herbs, but she knows she’ll never stop the hands-on healing.
“When you love what you do, you do it,” she said.
Her dreams also include a perfect world where both Western and Eastern medicine meet and mix with respect, something she said has been the experience here in Stettler.
“We totally respect each other’s gifts, education and modalities,” she said. “This comes from education and acceptance. I don’t negate a veterinarian’s experience and ability. By no means do I replace veterinary medicine. But I’ve been able to participate in some rather miraculous events and I believe what I do works and improves the quality of an animal’s life.”