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Prince Sharka's Christmas Angels

Published: December 11, 2016 11:03 am ET

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Owner Karen Sobey has spent the past week being grateful for a Christmas miracle after a group of industry participants banded together to help save the life of a Standardbred racehorse.

Karen has been involved in racing for her entire life, first in P.E.I. and now in Alberta. She is just starting into the breeding business, and Saturday, December 3 she finalized the purchase of a racehorse who will be her future stallion prospect. That stallion is Prince Sharka, who is trained and driven by Karen’s son Nathan. Prince Sharka has been racing in Alberta since May for Karen’s brother Trevor Easter, but Karen has fallen in love with the seven-year-old, and she arranged to buy him. The long range plan was to race him for another season and then retire him to their farm and raise and race foals by him.


Prince Sharka, winning at Woodbine in March 2016

“Sharka is sociable and attention seeking, and he’s a character. The first time I led him to the paddock at Northlands Park I was glad he knew where he was going, because he’s a big strong horse and he mostly led me there!” Prince Sharka is by accounts a horse who has a definite agenda, and he can be pushy and moody, but is mostly mischievous and very demanding. Karen loves his breeding, Nathan loves training him, and he’s become part of the family this year.

The purchase is the start of a new adventure with horses for Karen, and she should have been thrilled with her new acquisition, but she felt uneasy all day Saturday. It was the biggest racing day of the fall meet, and Nathan was driving Prince Sharka and four others that night, including Duke It Out in the $70,000 Western Canada Pacing Derby. Karen doesn’t usually suffer from nerves for Nathan or for their horses, so she brushed it off.

“I told my husband (Ronald) about it, but I didn’t want to sound dramatic so I just ignored it. I went to the grandstand for Sharka’s race and just sent up a prayer that everyone would come home safe.”

Karen’s prayer for everyone to come home safe worked. In the second half of the race Prince Sharka and Nathan were involved in what could have been a grisly accident. Cowboy Caper and Keith Clark stumbled and fell, Timberline Court and Gerry Hudon tried to go to the inside but clipped with Keith’s bike and fell, which caused a chain reaction for Lizard King and Preston Shaw, Iwontdothatagain and Phil Giesbrecht and for Prince Sharka and Nathan Sobey.

“My heart was in my throat and I was so worried for Nathan. People from all over the backstretch ran to help, and I knew when they sent the horse ambulance out that it was for Sharka, all I could do was wait and pray.”

Prince Sharka had considerable injuries, but his personality held him in good stead while Nathan and others waited for the ambulance. The big stallion stayed calm, and seemed to know that everyone was there to help him. Phil’s bike shaft went straight into his left side, behind his shoulder, and the seat brace from Gerry’s bike went into his chest and bicep on the left side. He lost a considerable amount of blood, but when he got up he was able to walk into the ambulance and then they moved him carefully back to the barn.

Karen was waiting, and braced herself for the worst. While she was waiting one of many Christmas angels arrived by her side, in the form of Dr. Jordan Cook from Moore Equine Veterinary Centre in Calgary. Dr. Cook works with a lot of horsemen at Century Downs, and she drove up to visit at Northlands Park on her day off to enjoy the races in “clean clothes and nice shoes.” She was happily eating in Colours restaurant, enjoying the races as a spectator waiting for the Northlands Filly Pace and Western Canada Pacing Derby when the accident occurred. Many of the horses were her clients at Century Downs, and she ran through the grandstand and to the barns to offer a spare set of hands in case anyone needed help.

Karen and Sharka needed her.

Dr. Cook says he was suffering signs of shock. "The injuries looked terrible and he was in rough shape. Not at all the demanding stallion I’d worked with all year, but his eyes were clear and he was standing on all four legs. People were rushing in to help and Nathan was upset and Karen looked at me and she said 'Can you save him? Can you save him?' and I said I’d give it a shot. He’s a member of their family. I had to try to save his life.”

For the next five hours Dr. Cook knelt in the straw beside Prince Sharka. She immediately got some electrolytes running in to him, and when she explored the wound in his shoulder she realized that it was ugly, but miraculously there were no fractures, no blood vessels severed, the bike shaft missed his rib cage and all of his joints moved normally. But he was incredibly weak from blood loss and the wounds were massive. A lot of damage was done to the muscle tissues when they pulled out the bikes, and she needed to be thorough to make sure the entire areas were clean and no pockets of infection could crop up. This would be a difficult surgery in a fully-equipped surgical room, but in a dark, cold stall it was a very demanding task. Dr. Cook and her team of angels went above and beyond for Prince Sharka.

Both Dr. Cook and Karen give thanks to the backstretch. Without all of the help they received in those critical five hours 'Sharka' would not have survived. Dr. Cook and Sharka had a team of competent, knowledgeable horsemen who were instrumental in the success of the surgery, and without their dedication Dr. Cook could not have saved him. People helped hold him up, held pressure over the wounds, someone held the IV, others changed out warm blankets over his hindquarters, people brought in lights and heaters, others ran back and forth to Dr. Cook’s vet truck for syringes and needles and medication, and then helped draw syringes, handed swabs and clean water and just kept at it until the surgery was complete. Owners and trainers and grooms who had been celebrating the stakes races stopped by to offer moral support.

“We saw the heart of racing that night," said Karen. "The strength and caring from this community is beyond anything you can imagine. Even people who are our biggest competitors helped out and stopped to offer support. The heart of racing is not what people see on television during big races. The heart of racing is when a group of people drop everything to stand in a stall for five hours to save a horse that they don’t own.”

Click here for the before and after of Prince Sharka's emergency surgery (Warning: Graphic content)

Prince Sharka is still in his stall at Northlands Park. He has been crosstied and his legs are completely bandaged, and he’s getting cranky with the confinement. That’s the best sign that Karen has seen -- he hates his bran mash and demands grain and treats! Nathan has rigged his stall so he can see other horses and he has a ball and some toys to stay occupied. His wounds are clean and starting to heal, but he has a long road to travel before he’s completely recovered. That he’s made it through the accident and through his first week of stall rest is a miracle, and Karen is very grateful to the harness racing community. Dr. Cook is going up on her days off this weekend to check on her patient, and hopefully get a chance to finish a meal in Colours and enjoy the races.

“We had so many people helping if I missed anyone I am sorry as everyone helped save this horse," continued Karen. "It's amazing to see so many be there without anyone asking. This really was a Christmas miracle as without your help Sharka would not be alive today. So from the bottom of our hearts (my son Nathan Sobey, myself and my brother Trevor Easter) we want to express our sincere thanks to everyone who helped us keep Prince Sharka alive.”

The Sobey family would like to give special thanks to all of the following people for stepping in as Christmas angels for Sharka: Dr. Jordan Cook, Amanda Barron, Darryl Cutting, Ken Reid, Shelly Arsenault, Chris Lancaster, Derek Stout, Derek Gilbert, Chelsea Chase, Brinsley Brooking Lutz, Jodi Loftus, Marlys Muler, Ashlee Slugett and Clauzette Byckal.

We want to thank the racing community for always being there in times of need. For these men and women on the backstretch, it’s not about how much money a horse has made, or how much he might make in the breeding shed. It’s about the racehorse. They work from dawn until dark every day of the racing season, in all weathers, in all conditions to provide the endless tasks of daily care to keep their horses in peak physical and mental condition. When a crisis happens in a shedrow or on the track, they literally run to help each other and the horses. We are so thankful that all of the horses and drivers from the accident last week are up and about. Get well wishes to Gerry Hudon who is still battling some pain in his elbow. Thank you to everyone who helped each other, and especially those who helped Prince Sharka, we bless you all for being Christmas angels and making his story a Christmas miracle!

(with files from HRA/thehorses.com)


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