inflammation in horses

Dr. Melinda Story

Story Time

Dr. Melinda “Mindy” Story, third from the left, shares a passion for horses with her family — her brother Justin, her daughter Kaitlyn Grace, her sisters Jamie and Rexann and their mother Carol — a closely knit tribe bonded through difficult times but is joyfully on the other side of it. PHOTO BY ELIZABETH HAY PHOTOGRAPHY

Dr. Melinda Story Has Helped Catapult Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation While Maintaining a Deep Passion for The Horse as The Tie That Binds Her Family Together

There are people who leave an unmistakable impression on you long after you’ve parted ways. They don’t come around often, but when they do, you remember the encounter, what they taught you or simply the way you felt in their presence. Spend any amount of time around Dr. Melinda “Mindy” Story and her family, and you’ll quickly see that they’re these kind of people. You’re welcomed with open arms, but that’s just the start. Glimpse inside their world to see a family bonded by the horse through especially hard times; a closely knit tribe that has joyfully emerged out the other side, tighter than ever with a shared passion for the horses that have literally carried them through the heartache to better days.

Dr. Story’s roots are firmly planted in Northern Colorado, starting in Fort Collins where she grew up riding horses, showing in 4-H and eventing beside older sisters Rexann and Jamie and brother Justin. Their mother, Carol, is a die-hard horse lover, equestrian and never-say-quit provider for her four children after losing her husband — also a life-long horseman — and the band’s beloved father, O. Rex Story, to illness at too-young an age. As matriarch, Carol had a choice to make: let tragedy cast the family adrift from each other or unite them to tackle what life had dealt and come out stronger, closer and more resilient. She chose the latter and used the family’s shared love of the horse to gather them. “It could have gone two ways,” says Dr. Story. “We just got closer, and we spent more time with our horses. We lost dad, we lost our home; we lost everything. The one thing my mom would not let us lose were our horses. We are connected so tightly and the horses are in every fiber of our connection. None of us could do anything without the horse.”

Today, the family has clearly emerged from those challenges, and life is good. It’s early evening and laughter is everywhere as they gather at Jamie’s barn in Wellington, Colorado. The siblings have a quick wit with each other; their bond runs deep and is easy to see. Rexann Story Frank, the eldest, is a beautifully talented dressage rider following in her mother’s dressage footsteps. Carol, with her 80s ahead of her, watches with pride as her children and grandchildren interact. She and Rexann sport a towering duo of dressage steeds that came to them from the incomparable Harmony Sport Horses in Kiowa, Colorado. Rexann brushes and tacks the two gleaming giants while sister Jamie Story Rice tends to her quarter horse gelding, Lil Jersey. “Jersey” is a striking 2014 chestnut gelding Jamie rode in June to clench the 2022 AQHA Versatility Ranch Horse Rookie Amateur World Champion title. “My mom is an amazing dressage rider. She taught Rexann and I how to ride more classically, while Jamie rides ranch horses,” explains Dr. Story. “We’re this very interesting combination of dressage and the English sport horse with the true working Western horses.”

PHOTO BY ELIZABETH HAY PHOTOGRAPHY

“I strongly believe that we’re given gifts, and we should use those gifts the best we can. I think I have a gift to understand the horses, and I want to give back. There’s just nothing else I could possibly do.”
— Melinda Story, DVM, DACVS, DACVSMR, cVMA, CIVCA, Colorado State University

While his sisters are competitors to their core, brother Justin took the route of his father and became a rancher. Every bit the picture of the authentic American cowboy, Justin enjoys his siblings’ banter. He’ll tell you in jest that it takes a strong man to be raised among these women and come out unscathed. He sits atop a sturdy gray gelding, reveling in the back-and-forth, watching it all from under the brim of a black felt cowboy hat. He’s quiet until he becomes the target of the sisters’ attention and loving sarcasm. The three obviously adore their brother. “He’s got these big strong horses,” says Dr. Story. “If we have trouble with the young horses, he’ll be right there for us to pony them and make sure we’re good.”

For her part, Dr. Story is the ground crew on this evening, helping her young daughter, Kaitlyn Grace, with her quarter horse gelding “CJ.” The little bay takes care of precious cargo in Dr. Story’s blonde-haired girl, barely into her teens. Kaitlyn has clearly been stung by the “bug” shared by the rest of her family. “My mom says we have a genetic defect,” Dr. Story says laughing. “I do think that’s a bit true. It’s either in who you are or it’s not. If it’s not, you don’t understand those of us that have that defect. Kaitlyn has the defect, for sure.” Of Dr. Story’s three children, sons Nathan and Matthew are following in their grandfather and uncle’s footsteps with a passion for ranching and working horses, while Kaitlyn’s interests have proven to be equine-centric like the women of the family. Her brothers are old souls and animal lovers no doubt, but Kaitlyn has horses baked into her DNA. She spends more days than not surrounded by her grandmother, mother and aunts, learning the ways of the horse from those that love her and their mounts. “They’re amazing resources for her, teaching her how to be correct and safe and love them above all other things,” Dr. Story observes of the lessons her daughter absorbs.

Along with the other members of her family, Dr. Story found her own path into the world of the horse and discovered her calling as a veterinarian. She earned her bachelor’s degree and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University. During veterinary school, she enjoyed research activities in Ithaca, New York, and Sydney, Australia. After an internship at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, and surgical residency at Kansas State, she returned to Colorado and worked in a private equine referral hospital as a staff surgeon for nine years, learning from the equine lameness practitioners there who are regarded to be amongst the nation’s best. In 2013, Dr. Story returned to CSU and joined the equine sports medicine team. As with everything she does, she threw herself entirely into the pursuit of excellence in her work, earning a second board certification with the newest veterinary specialty college, the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation. A brilliant surgeon and genuine equine advocate, she remains in awe of the horse’s abilities as natural athletes. You’d think the work as an educator and veterinarian would be an old hat by now, but never to Dr. Story. To watch her with her hands on a horse is to witness immense skill and talent coupled with an almost childlike wonderment. She loves these animals, but beyond that, it’s almost as if she understands them to an uncanny degree. “I strongly believe that we’re given gifts, and we should use those gifts the best we can. I think I have a gift to understand the horses, and I want to give back. There’s just nothing else I could possibly do.” To expand the opportunities to truly help, Dr. Story earned certifications in equine chiropractic care and acupuncture, both of which she regularly uses to assist in making her patients more comfortable by reducing pain. She’s finely attuned to acute and subtle expressions of pain and makes it her mission to alleviate that suffering by calling on her quadrant of learned and practiced specialties, then using a combination approach. Her clinical work in pursuit of a doctorate includes her 2021 CSU dissertation “Equine Cervical Pain and Dysfunction” that aims to address the “paucity of peer-reviewed equine literature available describing cervical pain and dysfunction in the horse.”

PHOTO BY ELIZABETH HAY PHOTOGRAPHY

PHOTO BY ELIZABETH HAY PHOTOGRAPHY

Dr. Melinda Story earned her bachelor’s degree and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University and is boarded in both surgery and sports medicine and rehabilitation.

“What in the world else would I do with my days than spend them committed to the horse and trying to make their lives better? Because they make my life better.”
— Melinda Story, DVM, DACVS, DACVSMR, cVMA, CIVCA, Colorado State University

While the research Dr. Story tirelessly pursues has changed horses’ lives for the better, her sights are set on what’s next. She remains committed to cracking the pain code by more fully understanding its origins, accurately diagnosing the root cause and intervening earlier with more effective treatments and, with a specialist’s luck, achieving more successful outcomes. “What else in the world would I do with my days than spend them committed to the horse and trying to make their lives better? Because they make my life better,” she says. Her research has taken her deep into the function of nerves, inflammatory mediators and various origins for the nerve pain that she’s convinced affect more horses than we currently understand. Dr. Story is determined to get there. “Quit” doesn’t exist in her vocabulary. She’s aggressive in her work on behalf of the horse; she’s strong in her convictions and belief in the basics of good veterinary medicine and the possibilities of novel therapies but, at the same time, you’ll be hard pressed to meet a more humble individual. When she offers her opinion it’s done so with thought, purpose and always to improve life for the horse. “The best thing in the world is when I’m working on a horse and I do something right. I’m a surgeon, I’m a sports medicine person, but I’m also a chiropractor and an acupuncturist. The best day is when I’m working on a horse chiropractically or with acupuncture, and I’ve made them feel better; I know that and they know that. They literally look at me, and I can feel them say ‘thank you.’ That’s the best thing in the whole world.”

While Dr. Mindy Story spends days engaged in the latest in veterinary medicine and ground-breaking research at the Fort Collins campus of Colorado State University, evenings are spent immersed in family, at the barn, in the dirt and atop a horse. Tonight, it’s a picturesque Colorado evening with tall grass fanned by a breeze while she and her siblings lovingly trade verbal barbs while working with their horses. Kaitlyn and CJ are in the middle of the pack, but truly it’s Carol who is relishing the moment the most. She nurtured this. It was her determination after the loss of her husband and her children’s father that created this bond. They’re all quick to tell you that Dad’s still with them, looking down with pride at the closeness they’ve created and kept intact through the years. Carol guided it, all with the horse as their unifying factor.

For those who love the horse, there’s a calming and reassuring feeling in knowing there are people like Dr. Mindy Story who are working to better these animals’ lives, keeping them out of pain and helping them perform the jobs they love — more successfully and for longer. To her, she’s living her dream. She’s made an impact and continues to do so every day. “There's nowhere in the world where I’m happier or more comfortable than next to or on top of a horse,” she confides. It’s where she was meant to be. There’s much yet to be done, and Dr. Story isn’t one to sit still. She has big research plans, ideas that require exploring and a determined spirit that will help her find the answers she seeks. This change-maker in veterinary medicine hopes what she learns will leave the horse better than how she found it. “I just really can’t imagine doing anything other than spending my days with a horse,” she says. “They’re days well spent.”

Jessie Bengoa

by Jessie Bengoa,
Platinum Performance®