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Every morning at 7:30 a.m., Bambi Fox takes her deceased husband James "Jim" Fox's Standardbred horses out for harness training. "When he died, I really didn't know how to deal with everything," she says. "I thought, well I've got a farm full of horses and I know kind of what to do with them, so, well, I'll just put one foot in front of the other and I'll work on the horses. We'll get through it somehow."

Taking the Reins

story by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Horse veterinarian Bambi Fox sits at a flickering computer screen and exhales a short breath as she turns her head to the window. In the closet hang her husband's clothes, and on the walls are red and blue horse racing ribbons and a temperature gauge that says, “All I pay my psychiatrist is the cost of feed and hay … and he’ll listen to me any day.”

James "Jim" Fox passed away on Oct. 3, 2015. He and Bambi shared 31 years of marriage and 39 years of working together as horse trainer and groom. After his death, instead of selling the farm and horses, as many thought she would, Bambi took on her husband's role as a trainer. In doing so, she found a way to work through her grief.

Bambi, 56, found her passion for horses at a young age. She and her nine siblings grew up on 50 acres near Paducah. Each sibling had a job on the farm, and her's was to take care of the horses. When she met Jim at Carson Park fairgrounds while applying for a job to be his groom, it was not love at first sight.

"I thought he was the meanest man I'd ever met in my life," Bambi says with a laugh.

Their mutual understanding and respect for horses soon bridged that gulf and an attraction formed.

"He had that little extra that it takes to really connect with a horse," Bambi says. "That was the attraction. I wanted that."

Eight years later, they married and continued to work together. Jim would train his Standardbred horses for harness racing and Bambi continued to learn as much as she could. She also ran her own veterinarian business after graduating from the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine.

But Jim's death last year brought a change to their tightly interwoven life.

"When he died, I really didn't know how to deal with everything," she says. "I thought, well I've got a farm full of horses and I know kind of what to do with them, so, well, I'll just put one foot in front of the other and I'll work on the horses. We'll get through it somehow."

With help from her two sisters, Robin McKenty and Kym Lyles, and groom Cresencio Andrade Garcia, Bambi began training horses. She did it so well that they won multiple races and enough money to pay for themselves.

Taking care of horses has been "very good therapy," Bambi says. "It kind of helped keep me focused, kept me from being too depressed. It makes you get up in the morning, because some people, when they lose their spouse, have days when they won't get out of bed. But if you have something that makes you get out of bed, it makes you keep going."

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Bambi attended Auburn University to become a veterinarian and has practiced for 31 years. Here, she grinds a horse's teeth so they won't be so sharp.

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Bambi gives one of her Standardbred horses an X-ray after she noticed him limping. "It's like having kids and grandkids," she says. "I knew that I would not be able to be a vet and do the horse thing with Jim and have children, too."

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Bambi scans the X-ray for signs on inflamation. She decides she will need to perform a regional antibiotic perfusion so the horse can again put weight on his foot.

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"Back when I was going to college, it was assumed that women would probably do small animals and we got teased a lot," Fox says. "I've had people tell me I was not big enough to do the job. It's like, well, okay there's not a weight requirement."

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Bambi speaks with client Nathan Truax about how his mother is doing. Often her job as veterinarian extends beyond the animals and includes listening and comforting the animals' owners.

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In her spare time, Bambi plays bluegrass banjo. She learned to play while in veterinary school and now performs with local bands. Here she rehearses with her sister, Robin McKenty (center), Jack Kerr and Whitney Harris (far right and in the mirror).

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Bambi prepares for bed after a long day of taking care of horses, visiting clients and practicing for a Saturday banjo performance. "If I could, I would spend all day reading," she says.

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Bambi takes a moment between morning chores in her barn to look out at the rain. She usually keeps about a dozen horses on her farm, which includes a practice track.

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Bambi gives a reassuring pat to a horse suffering from pink eye. "They told me that grief is different for everybody," she says. "It's not going to affect you the way it does other people, but you'll know when you are going through the different phases of grief. The horses kept me focused and anchored."