Deputyartee the OTTB: From a Critical Joint Infection to HITS Circuit Champion

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Photo courtesy of Loriann Rustigian

BY LORIANN RUSTIGIAN

Deputyartee, my seven-year-old OTTB gelding, was a plain brown wrapper of a gelding when I met him in September 2017. But he had the biggest, kindest, softest eye and I knew that I had to have him.

Bred in Arkansas by Jim Hutzel, Deputyartee was foaled April 25, 2012 out of Mar La Tee by Rumors of Peace (Deputy Minister). As a racehorse, he had 23 starts in the Midwest in 2015-16 (1 First, 5 Seconds, 4 Thirds) for a total win of $31,658.  After his racing days were done, he was privately purchased and re-trained in Virginia to become an eventer. 

Photo courtesy of Loriann Rustigian

He hadn’t been ridden for eight months when I met him, but I put him on the lunge line only to find he was as quiet as a church mouse. I took my time training him, emphasizing there’s no rushing. He wears a big rubber D ring, and has a very polite mouth. To acclimate him to the show ring and help him overcome his fear of jumps, we played it safe and did NOT rush into anything big, trot poles and cavalettis.

Photo courtesy of Loriann Rustigian

Deputyartee or “Depp” as he is fondly called, told me that he wanted to go long and slow, so we set our sights on the hunter ring. I put him in the hands of a trusted trainer who worked with OTTBs. Now, he’s known as the 2019 Thoroughbred Hunter HITS Ocala Winter Circuit Overall Grand Champion, but what really makes that victory remarkable is his journey to overcome a life-threatening injury that happened last year.

One day in October 2018, I noticed a deep puncture wound that Depp sustained from a night out in the field. Our vet flushed the wound located on his left shoulder near the elbow, and treated it with antibiotics. Several treatments later, Depp was barely walking and couldn’t bend his entire leg. It looked like he had a peg leg. We called the vet, and within 30 minutes he was on a trailer being sent to Dr. Stephanie Wilkenson and Dr. Sarah Dukti at The Piedmont Equine Practice, The Plains, VA for more X-Rays and joint tap. There, we discovered his numbers were through the roof. The infection in his elbow joint was serious. Depp was on the verge of becoming a candidate for euthanasia if things didn’t improve and improve quickly.

Photo courtesy of Loriann Rustigian

Armed with a resolve to do whatever we could to keep Depp alive, three weeks and three joint flushes later, Depp was given the green light to go home. They gave no guarantee he would ever be a performance horse again, or even a lawn ornament. “I don’t’ care, just keep my baby alive,” I told them.

After being released from Piedmont, still with no guarantee he’d ever be sound again, Depp went under the care and training of Meg Graham at Deer Meadow Farm, Catlett, VA.  Under Meg’s guidance, he needed to regain the weight he had lost due to the antibiotics and losing his training routine.

First, we needed to make sure he was sound. Putting him on the lunge line, we saw him trotting out and got the green light to move forward. His first ride back was bareback in a rope cowboy halter. No sedation, if that says anything about his calm nature.

Photo courtesy of Loriann Rustigian

Slowly and carefully, Depp’s team brought him back to full work. Meg Graham took him from an unknown, plain OTTB that barely made it through a perilous situation to a remarkable performance at HITS Ocala.

Deputyartee earned over three dozen ribbons at Ocala under her riding and training. He was Mid-Circuit Reserve Grand Champion, Second Half Circuit Reserve Grand Champion, ultimately claiming the title of 2019 HITS Ocala Grand Circuit Champion for the Thoroughbred Hunter 1 Division. 

Photo courtesy of Loriann Rustigian

Through all of these obstacles, Depp is a lover. He will do just about anything for a cookie, and nickers at me when I walk up to his stall. We trust each other so much so that when he takes his daily nap (like clockwork between 12-1pm) I go into his stall and often lay down with him. He wants to be in your pocket all of the time, and isn’t afraid to shake you down for his favorite treat—Good & Plentys.

He is a model example of a good Thoroughbred. Sweet, with an incredible work ethic, he’s a gentle, loving and self-assured horse who is just as happy with my three-year-old sitting on his back as he is in the show ring. When Depp is at a horse show nothing phases him—he wants to please.  He is a horse that will take care of you and do whatever you ask.

Photo courtesy of Loriann Rustigian

Today, Deputyartee is comfortably back home in Virginia under the management of Carol Hawley at Whitestone Farm, Fredericksburg, VA. Carol Hawley and Depp have won top ribbons (a clean sweep in the Pleasure Division and Champion at the last show he entered) in Whitestone’s 2019 local show series and are headed for Upperville 2019. 

Photo courtesy of Loriann Rustigian

We await the rest of this year’s season with high hopes as Deputyartee sets out to conquer new ground. I have had so much support in the horse world through Depp’ss ordeal. People’s prayers and well wishes (through social media as well as word of mouth) were incredible. He has quite the fan club today, and I’m incredibly grateful that I get to share my “comeback kid” with everyone.


LoriAnn Rustigian owner of LAR Sport Horses and Sales LLC. is an OTTB enthusiast. She has been riding show hunters for 33 years, and has a degree in equine studies from Virginia Intermont.

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