Local equestrian to compete in second Olympics

Lauren Billys will begin competition in Tokyo on Thursday, alongside Exeter veterinarian 

TOKYO, JAPAN – The Olympic stage is nothing new to Redwood High and Fresno State alum Lauren Billys. She competed in the 2016 Rio Olympics for the Puerto Rican equestrian team with her horse Castle Larchfield Purdy, and they’re currently in Japan running it back for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Things are a bit different this year. While shewill saddle up with her Puerto Rican team again, she will be joined by her local veterinarian of nearly 20 years, Dr. Doug Anez of Pacific Crest Equine in Exeter. Dr. Anez will also serve as the team’s vet. 

Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron atop a peak inspired by Mount Fuji last Friday morning on NBC, which officially kicked off the Tokyo Olympics. Billys and Purdy will be competing in the three-day-long Equestrian Eventing series which runs from July 29 to Aug 2. The first day of the series is dressage where the pair will be judged on balance and precision. The second day of the competition is a cross-country course with various obstacles such as water and jumps. The final day is stadium jumping.

Although she was raised in California, Billys is competing for Puerto Rico due to her family heritage. She’ll be doing so with her Irish sport horse who she deems to be the ultimate athlete with a strong competitive drive. At 19-years-old, Purdy is one of the oldest horses to compete in the Olympics this year and it’ll likely be his last. The fact that he’s able to compete at all is quite the miracle given his age and the fact that he nearly died less than a year before the initial qualifying events. 

In September 2018, Billys and her team got a sense that something about Purdy seemed off. They got him to a clinic just in time to realize he needed life-saving colic surgery. Thankfully they caught the issue when they did because Purdy was about 30-minutes from having his stomach explode from built up fluid. From there, the main focus was keeping the horse alive.

It was a several hour surgery where vets had to cut open his stomach so they could remove, fix and replace his intestines which had slipped through a hole in his stomach lining. While the success rate for this type of surgery is high, colic is a leading cause of death for horses.

“If we have a horse down for more than three to four hours, they may never get up again. Or they thrash during recovery and they can break a leg getting up from anesthesia,” Dr. Doug Anez said.

From there, the healing process was a bumpy journey. He recovered from the surgery but developed respiratory issues in the following months. Some horses never recover from such an intense surgery, let alone getting back to peak physical form. However, Purdy isn’t a typical horse.

“If there’s one thing I know about that horse…he’s so stubborn and arrogant. Nobody’s going to tell him no and he’s got this wild man spirit that I think makes him an insane competitor,” Billys said. “There was no doubt in my mind when I started riding him again that he was going to be back at the top of the sport because he loves it just as much as I do.”

Less than a year later, Billys and Purdy were competing to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They qualified, but then COVID-19 threw a major wrench in those plans when the Olympics were delayed for a year, which required Bills and Purdy to requalify in 2020. Billys was concerned that Purdy would be too old by that point, but she deems him to be in even better shape now than he was before the surgery. It’s been a full team effort to get back to this point, with Dr. Anez and his clinic playing one of the more vital roles.

“Without Doug, there’s no way in hell I would have gotten here. Horse management is as essential as anything else in the process, especially with me having an older horse. Doug’s care and foresight is everything for us” Billys said.

Dr. Anez and his wife Dr. Kelly Anez, started their veterinary practice in Exeter over 20 years ago, after receiving their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Minnesota in 1995. After watching Billys and Purdy on television during the 2016 Rio Olympics, being in person to watch them compete will be a nerve-racking experience.

“Every time she goes over those big jumps, I get worried because it looks really challenging and I’m impressed with her fortitude to take on that challenge,” he said “So, I’ll actually be more concerned until she’s off the course but I think it’ll be wonderful because we get to see the end result of all the work that’s been going on.”

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