On a hot summer afternoon, under a giant mosquito net at the Police Lines in Dehra Dun, a fitting session is in progress. Jamie Vaughan takes four shoes of varying sizes and tries them on a reluctant Shaktiman one by one. One of them fits and there is an air of cheer all around. The shoes have come all the way from the US, to be donned on his right hind foot to give him support as he learns to walk on his other new prosthetic leg that too was flown from Virginia last week. The fitting over, Shaktiman is at ease again, lying down as he does a lot these days, a pillow tucked under his head.
Vaughan, an American who lives in Paro in Bhutan where she runs an animal shelter, has been camping in Dehra Dun to treat Shaktiman and is responsible for getting him his prosthetic. “I came here first for his surgery and then now again for the prosthetic. I contacted the person who helps me make my prosthetics in the US and asked if he would help, and he said of course but the question was how to get it to India,” says Vaughan who volunteered to help after she was contacted by Dr Feroze Khambatta, the Mumbai-based surgeon who amputated Shaktiman’s leg.
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She put up a post on Facebook asking if anyone would be willing to fly down the prosthetic limb to India and Tim Mahoney, a retired banker from Kentuky responded positively and flew halfway around the world with an unusual delivery, all at his own expense. The leg was fitted on Shaktiman over a week ago.
“After Chetak, Shaktiman is India’s most famous horse. Maybe for the younger generation, he is even better known than Chetak,” says Dr Kailash Uniyal, referring to the legendary horse of Maharana Pratap who has instant recall amongst Amar Chitra Katha comic readers of a certain vintage. Uniyal is one of the four vets who have been attending to Shaktiman, the 14-year-old horse of Dehra Dun’s Mounted Police whose left leg had to be amputated after he fell and was injured after being allegedly attacked by BJP MLA Ganesh Joshi on March 14.
“How fast a horse gets used to a prosthetic leg varies from animal to animal. It could be days, weeks. There is lots to do, there’s a long way to go,” says Vaughan.
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Shaktiman is up on his feet nearly every two hours but he is not allowed to stand for too long, lest he strain himself. He is administered ice packs to help his wound heal and given physiotherapy everyday. He usually stands and walks around in his makeshift enclosure but on Wednesday, a few days ago after his prosthetic leg was fitted, he walked out of his enclosure and wandered around for a bit to claps and cheers from the team that has been caring for him ever since his accident. This prosthetic, says Uniyal, may need some adjustments and on Saturday they were trying out a new one as well for a while.
Indeed, the support to get Shaktiman back on all fours has been extraordinary. Apart from Vaughan, the team of vets and personnel of the Mounted Police, help has been pouring in from all over India and abroad. Abhas Sharma, a physiotherapist from Indore who has also worked with animals in the past, has dropped in for a few days and a manufacturer of animal feed has donated high energy feed to help speed Shaktiman’s recovery.
In the month following his accident, Shaktiman has lost about 70 kgs, bringing his weight to about 425 kgs, says Shyam Singh Chauhan, in-charge of the city’s Mounted Police that has 11 horses in its team. “We are not too worried about his weight loss. In fact, that may even work to his advantage as it will mean less stress on his legs,” says Chauhan.
Among those working round-the-clock for Shaktiman is Constable Ravinder. He may not have veterinary expertise but no one possibly shares a better understanding with Shaktiman than him. The constable was astride the steed when the mishap occurred and colleagues say, Ravinder was inconsolable for days following the incident, fearing euthanasia for Shaktiman. But the new lease of life has ushered in new hope for Ravinder who has partnered with Shaktiman on many occasions. He is forever by Shaktiman’s side, helping feed him, goad him into a sitting position for the occasional selfie-seeker or to handle the physiotherapy. In between, he fishes out a cellphone to show some old videos of him and the horse in their parade finery. “Kya sundar ghoda tha,” he says, “ekdum shaandar. Sab kuch khatam ho gaya. Lekin shukr hai ki woh zinda hai (He was such a beautiful horse. It’s all over now. But thankfully, he’s still alive).”