Even though Cat Zimmerman wasn’t able to bring her mustang mare, Bella, to the Extreme Mustang Makeover Youth Challenge (EMMYC) this year, the two still received an award as “best bonded pair.” That’s because Bella couldn’t attend the Topsfield, Mass. event because she was still recovering from life-saving surgery, but organizers wanted to honor the work the girl and the mare had done.
In April, Horse News reported on Morristown teen Cat Zimmerman, 14, and Bella. Cat had previously competed in the EMMYC last year, with her mustang Monche, and came in fourth out of 17 participants. Mustangs are assigned to the participants by the Mustang Heritage Foundation, which oversees the EMMYC. Those assigned to youth competitors are between 1 and 2 years of age. This year, Bella was assigned to her.
Cat said she received a call in the morning from the stable, about a week before they were supposed to leave for Massachusetts. She was told Bella was acting a little colicky. “I went to the barn to see what was happening, and the assistant barn manager said that she was cast in her stall that morning, which meant she tried to roll in her stall but got stuck,” said Cat. Bella was on her back with her legs up against the wall and she couldn’t move. Cat spent the whole day with her horse, hand- walking her, keeping an eye on her, and doing anything else she could for the mare.
In the afternoon, a vet came out, and after an examination said the mare had a twisted intestine. They were given two options: surgery, or putting her down. “The vet was leaning a lot more towards putting her down because of how expensive and risky the surgery was, but my mom said we wouldn’t go down without a fight, and we went for the surgery,” recalls Cat. They trailered Bella an hour and a half to the Mid-Atlantic Equine Medical Center, in Ringoes, where the surgery would be performed.
Bella underwent the surgery that night, and the next morning the veterinarians were shocked at how well she was doing. “They told us that if we had waited any longer, she would not be even close to how well she was,” says Cat.
Since recovery takes up to three months, she had to scratch from the competition, but that wasn’t as important as having Bella safe and sound. The mare did so well that she was able to return home just six days after the surgery.
Cat still went to the competition to support her friends, and her best friend, Sam Vanfleet ended up winning the youth portion. Vanfleet arranged for a memorial award given for the mustang she competed in the 2015 Makeover, who died not long afterward. This award was for the “Best Bonded Pair,” and was decided by the youth mustang challenge coordinators. When it was awarded to Bella and Cat, “It was a super emotional moment,” Cat said.