Dr. Newberry, an Embarassment of Riches

By Joan Gilbert
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  Equine Articles Patricia Crane logo Treasures Gained and Shared. Written for Saddle & Bridle magazine by Joan Gilbert.
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W.E. Newberry, DVM, of Troy, Mo., is an elder with experience and expertise so rich and so varied that he poses a classic dilemma: shall we choose one area of his achievement and deal with it in depth; and if so, which one? Or shall we try to acknowledge all areas, while unable to give any the treatment it really deserves?

Dr. Newberry's veterinary practice covered almost half a century, running concurrently with amateur breeding and training and exhibiting of gaited Saddlebreds. He was especially formidable in futurities, and with parade horses. He has known some of the most famous Saddlebreds and their people and has seen many changes in the show world. His most recent adventure, at the age of 85 years, has been dealing with the horrors of barn fire and salvaging two almost-cooked horses.

How is all this to be managed? What cannot be kept? How will we work in such details as that Newberry served for four years in the Navy in W.W.II? That while still in college, he invented a device to make bull castration safer for doctors and animals (called The Newberry Castrator, this instrument is still sold in veterinary supply catalogs). That as coroner of Lincoln County, Missouri in 1978, he laid to rest a period of hysteria about alien-mutilated livestock; he just took reporters from all three National TV networks and the state's two biggest newspapers into a pasture and showed them that what seemed to be ominously mystic was entirely natural.

Maybe the only way to depict Newberry's life and work is in a sort of stream of consciousness from an interviewer's random memory.

Like so many of our seniors, Dr. Newberry has fond recollections of an era in which show competition was simpler and gentler than today's, usually among people who knew and helped each other. Most little towns had a horse show in conjunction with their annual fair, and on any summertime Saturday night one could choose among several that were available without hauling more than 100 miles from home. Veterinary science was not so primitive as we might think in 1952, the year Newberry graduated at Kansas University in Manhattan, Kan. Days were long past when would-be doctors gained their credits by apprenticing themselves to a practicing veterinarian, striking out on their own when they chose, without need for accreditation. Newberry went into practice with a partner, Dr. Rameau Johnson, and they established the Troy-Wentzville Clinics, a facility that still exists and is the only one in which Newberry ever worked. Again, contrary to what we might assume, their work was not limited to farm animals whose owners saw these as the only creatures worth any investment in their health. Small animals were coming into their own as patients by then. Dr. Newberry says that the practice was soon 60% pets. His first and continuing love, however, has been large animals.

We could never properly recognize every notable Saddlebred - including four world's champions - that Newberry bred, made, or exhibited under saddle and in fine harness. We can only say that one of these was Hillcrest Bourbon Stonewall, a stallion who won the Yearling Championship at the Illinois State Fair in 1964 and as a mature sire, was on the lists for many years for producing outstanding broodmares. One immortal who began her wins for Newberry and continued on with other owners, was Hillcrest Chantilly Lace, trained by Don Hulse and Ron Canopy, winner of many championships in her lifetime. Newberry's most recent wins were at the Missouri Sate Fair in Sedalia in 2005, when he took the two-year-old fine harness futurity with his filly Hillcrest Sultan's Star, and at the Boone County Fair in Columbia in 2006, when he showed his parade horse, Hillcrest Sultan's Reflection.

Crowding as many wins as possible into the smallest space gives us this: Five yearling futurity championships and two reserves; three weanling championships and two reserves; 25 other youngsters "in the money" in the same competitions. One of Dr. Newberry's favorite wins was the Jimmy Lemmon Memorial Trophy in 1978, because he held that colleague in such high esteem. A memorable ring experience was having a saddle slip, at Pleasant Hill, Ill., in 2005 in a class of seven horses. Rapport with his mount was such that she stood quietly for him while he hung off her side and rivals cantered around her right and left. He went center ring, adjusted the saddle, remounted without a step-up, and took fourth in the class. Next night he took reserve in the championship class with this filly.

Dr. Newberry has decided to show no more gaited horses under saddle, but has not resigned from parade horses yet. He acknowledges that it's a dying interest and few shows now offer opportunities. Everyone sees this as a shame, since shows need all the beauty and uniqueness they can muster, and all the spectator appeal, with so few people, these days, really aware of what to look for in a gaited class. The passing of parade horses is an acute loss for seniors, many of whom are well suited to competing in this way. But Newberry understands it all. "It's expensive and a lot of trouble," he says, "the tack and clothing is hard to find these days, and all the equipment is high-maintenance." An example of the latter, "German silver is the prettiest, but it tarnishes easily, so you have to polish it before every appearance." Newberry tells us also that finding a suitable mount can be hard. A good parade horse, he says, must not only be eye-stopping beautiful, preferably with attractive contrast between body color and mane and tail.

They must have a bold stance and "Look at me!" presence, but under it all, be extremely docile. "They have to put up with standing still a lot when they're actually in a parade, and when they're getting ready, a lot of combing and polishing and braiding and having glitter put on their feet," he points out, "And they must be willing to move along in a lively manner, but no faster than four miles an hour. Most horses want very much to go faster. They must be very strong, because the parade routes may be extensive, carrying their heavy tack and, often as not, a fairly heavy rider.

Newberry's daughter-in-law, Cheri, who lives in Katy, Tex., mentions that many riders need help in hoisting the heavy saddles and she reminds us that the man she calls "Doc" has always been a determined do-it-yourself-er, doing his own hauling, his own stalls and grooming and she says, "He even does his own shoeing except for special needs." She quotes a comparison Newberry made in one interview: "I'm like a third world country's one athlete who somehow got to the Olympics." He laughed then, but elsewhere described his operation thus: "I've been fortunate in the horses I bred...as an amateur I have kept only one or two broodmares and have never accepted outside mares to my stallions, so their exposure has been limited." He credited his futurity successes with gaining recognition and exposure for his program and greatly enhancing the value of his horses. "I used to offer to tail for him, when he showed young horses in hand," Cheri says, "but he always told me, 'I can keep them going forward well enough.'" Possibly his youngsters, showing plenty of animation without dramatic stimulation from handlers, have a special appeal for judges.

So now for the barn fire and its aftermath: Newberry had four stalled at the time, the young mare mentioned above and his 14-year-old stud, Superfine's Standing Ovation. There also were two five-year-old mares. The fire, apparently caused by electrical failure, was barely started when he went at 6 a.m., to give his animals their first attention of the day. He brought out the two nearest the door, who happened to be the older mares, and ran in to summon help, thinking there would be time to get the others. But the fire had grown amazingly in the few minutes he was gone and was too hot to reenter. He had to stand and smell burning flesh and burning hair, while firemen kept water on the victims to hold back the flames. When the doctor had his animals in hand again he found many palm-sized burns on their backs (as in his jacket) from falling debris. The stud's ear edges were gone and both had lost a lot of mane.

Dr. Newberry soon recognized something far worse, however. What he calls "heat burns" had gone into their flesh. In effect, each - the stallion more than the young mare - had areas that were cooking. "In 40 years of practice," he says," I never treated a badly burned horse. In barn fires most survivors were euthanized on the spot." We can all see why. Treatment is long-term and time consuming, destructive of a daily work schedule. It also can be very expensive. If the burned animal lives, its appearance will probably be altered. Few owners feel that the odds for a restored horse are worth the necessary cost and effort. Many are reluctant to put an animal through a long course of treatment that they assume - usually rightly - will be agonizing.

Newberry, being retired, has more time than he would have had a few decades ago, and a good stud does not have to possess all the beauty he was born with. Both animals seemed to be taking their condition in stride and he chose to work with them. He had expected them to object violently, he says, to having ointment spread over their damaged tissue with a wide tongue depressor, "But they acted like they were being curried," he tells us. "They came out of their stalls every day like they were ready to go to a show." Apparently nerve endings had been destroyed.

For the first month, he lavished on them twice a day, an antibiotic ointment prescribed for human burns. It was $10 worth per treatment, at a vet's price. With progress apparent, he switched for the second month to a veterinary product. These two treatments prevented infection and what was next needed was a way to keep tissues soft, so they could be abraded without drying out too much and so hair could more easily grow back in. A Texas veterinarian, through Cheri, suggested bacon grease, applied generously twice a day. Newberry tried this, his applicator of choice a small paint brush.

"I knew the grease would be salty," he said "so I expected strong reaction, but again, they didn't seem to mind and it most definitely kept everything soft for them." The unusual treatment continued from April to the present and it - or something - has a remarkable effect. "The skin has seemed to graft itself," he says "and their hair is coming back in its normal pigmentation. It doesn't look like they will be disfigured by big white splotches as injured horses usually are. The new hair is coarser than the old, but I'm wondering if, when they shed out, it won't be like before."

Will his two patients ever be able to bear the weight of a saddle and rider again? Of course he will cautiously test to see, when that seems feasible. But Newberry doesn't really care. The stud can still be bred and they still can enjoy their pasture and the company of other horses. And he still has them.

And what we have is still another demonstration of the treasures our older colleagues have to share. Each of them has nuggets of personal experience and of horse world history that should not be lost. Since there seems no way to harvest them all right now, we must work hard on time travel. We must do what we have to do to speed the day when journalists vie for assignments to visit barns that have been dust for decades or centuries, to interview horsemen who are no longer with us, exactly, to see animals who have become legend.

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