Barely a month ago, Debbi Purvis had resigned herself to the necessity of putting down Grace, the badly injured horse that was rescued last summer after spending two months alone in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.
The leg wound Grace suffered in the wilderness would not heal, despite five surgeries, casts, splints, stem-cell replacements and other procedures.
“I honestly had given up on her,” said Purvis, who adopted Grace after her rescue last summer. Purvis called Kay Whittle, who had done the rescue with her husband, Bill, to let her know, too.
She said Kay only wanted to do what was best for Grace, and “we just kind of left it at that.”
Then, about three weeks ago, during a warm spell after a long period of cold, snowy weather, Purvis heard from Mark Robinson, the veterinarian who was taking care of Grace at his Alpine Veterinary Service, a little west of Billings.
He told Purvis that when Grace finally got a chance to go outside for the first time in months, “she tore off kicking and bucking.”
“That was excellent news,” Robinson said Thursday, “because we weren’t sure she would ever be able to do that again.”
Since then Grace has continued to improve, to the point where Robinson thinks she’ll be able to join Debbi and her husband, Bob Purvis, at their home outside Cooke City by mid-June.
“I do now think she’s going to a live a good, comfortable life,” Robinson said.
It helps that she’s something of a “bossy” horse, he added, and lately she’s been showing the same spunk that helped her get through her wilderness ordeal and then limp out with a ghastly leg wound.
“She has an opinion, which is good, because horses without an opinion generally don’t want to live,” he said.
Grace, a sorrel estimated at 5 to 7 years old when she was found, was taken into the wilderness area that straddles the Montana-Wyoming state line last spring. The body of her owner, 49-year-old Christopher Shaul, was found on June 3 at the top of Daisy Pass, near Cooke City. He was at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet and was thought to have died of exposure, probably in early to mid-May, at a time when the tops of the Beartooths were still deep in snow.
Shaul’s dog was found dead about two weeks later, not far from Shaul’s body, and then hikers spotted Grace on July 13, near the head of Abundance Valley alongside the Stillwater River. She had plenty of food and water, but she had the leg injury and she was surrounded by deadfall.
The Whittles, who own the Antlers Lodge in Cooke City and are members of the Cooke City search and rescue team, went in the next day, July 14, driving a four-wheeler to the edge of the wilderness and then walking in. Despite her injuries, Grace was able to walk over Daisy Pass, which took most of the day, to a point where Debbi Purvis, waiting with a pickup and trailer, could transport her back to Cooke City.
Park County took possession of Grace, and in August the Park County Commission voted to allow Purvis to adopt the horse, on the condition that she pay for the veterinary bill from the Yellowstone Vet Center in Livingston.
Purvis started a GoFundMe page to raise money for Grace’s care. She said she let the page lapse for a while, since she didn’t know whether Grace was going to make it, but not she has reactivated the Amazing Grace’s Veterinary Bills page and is accepting donations for Grace’s continuing care.
Robinson said the most difficult part of Grace’s recovery was getting a splint to stay on her leg, to force her to start putting weight on the injured leg and keep the hoof pointing forward. She managed to work off every splint, almost one a day, but over time all the various help she was getting finally paid off.
“What turned it around?” Robinson said. “God? A miracle? I don’t know.”
Bob Purvis, who visited Grace earlier Thursday while Debbi was busy in Billings, said he could hardly believe how different Grace looked from the last time he saw her.
“Six weeks ago I was very depressed,” he said. “I didn’t think she was going to make it. Today she looks phenomenal.”
While he and Robinson were talking Thursday, Grace lifted up her left hind leg and started licking a spot on her shin, putting all her weight on her right hand leg, the one that had been injured so badly.
“Looking what she’s doing right now!” Robinson exclaimed. “Full weight on that bad leg. She wasn’t able to do that for seven or eight months.”
When Grace is ready to go to Cooke City, Purvis said, “she’ll have a new home to go to. I built a new barn.” She’ll also have plenty of company. The Purvises have three other horses and five grandsons. “We’ll teach ’em to ride on Grace,” he said.
Debbi Purvis said Grace will need some work first. She’s headstrong, to put it mildly, and on Thursday she was nipping at her, and earlier at Robinson and Bob Purvis.
Now that she’s finally on the mend, Purvis said, “we’ll stop making excuses for her and train her a bit.”