The miracle that is Amigo

March 28, 2010

by Neil Clarkson


A young visitor helps Amigo with his dinner.


Amigo enjoys meeting his fans - and their treats!


Amigo with vet student Vicki.

Images from Amigo's Facebook page.

The owner of endurance horse Amigo has praised the outpouring of support from an ever-growing fanbase as the Arabian continues his remarkable recovery from a shocking injury.

The Tennessee horse now has more than 8000 fans following his recovery on Facebook, and owner Gary Sanderson describes them all as wonderful people.

Amigo's fans have rallied to raise $US20,000 toward Amigo's vet care, including an anonymous donation of $US11,600 from out of state.

Gary has put $US10,000 on a special animal-care credit card, meaning the $US30,000 in veterinary bills so far accrued have been covered.

Amigo has been in the care of the large animal clinic at the Univesity of Tennessee since his January 17 accident, in which he was impaled on a branch in his pasture in Luttrell.

The branch snapped two ribs and pierced his chest cavity. He underwent surgery to remove the branch but was given only a 2 per cent chance of survival.

Amigo has since overcome a series of life-threatening setbacks, watched by a growing legion of fans on Facebook.

Gary, who is now working a second job to help pay off Amigo's care, said the Facebook page was started by a friend to allow 20-30 people who knew the horse to follow his care.

Publicity around the case, from all over the world, has seen that fan base swell to 8076 today.

"I feel like he has got 8000 owners," Gary says. "They come to visit him. They write about him. They pray for him.

"They've paid more on my horse than I have.

"Granted, he is coming home to my barn and into my care, but everybody has opened up their hearts to him.

"I think they are the greatest people in the world. Everybody seems to care about the horse's welfare."

Gary still struggles to get his head around how the story of his horse grew to make headlines around the world.

"It's the biggest thing I have ever been a part of. I don't know how it got to this," he says.

He says the story of Amigo has pulled people together. "Who knew that this was going to happen after this terrible accident?"

Gary says he tries to post two updates every day on Amigo's condition, work permitting. If he is delayed, some fans begin to worry.

One night, he said, a fan couldn't go to bed until she had received Amigo's Facebook update for that evening.

Meanwhile, Gary continues to work an extra job to pay off the $US10,000 he put on his credit card for Amigo's care.

He works fulltime in the health and safety field, but now works one weekday night and weekends at a building materials depot to earn extra cash.

"To be honest, it's the best $US10,000 I've ever spent," he says.

Despite Amigo's growing fanbase, Gary says he still personally replies to every new fan under the Just Fans section of Amigo's Facebook page. His third job is being Amigo's social secretary, he jokes.

Amigo's huge wound continues to close up, but still has a way to go. Veterinary staff are still flushing the wound twice daily, and every second or third day they have to manually scrape away scabs from inside the wound to allow the injury to heal faster.

They found another pocket of infection which they successfully removed without surgery.

Gary says the clinic is looking at the possibility of using a device called a wound vaccuum, normally used on people. The clinic does not have one, but it appears it will be able to lease one through one of Amigo's fans, whose husband works in the medical-supplies field.

Amigo's temperature is stable, but his pulse is a little elevated, probably because of fluid around his heart resulting from the raft of infections the horse has fought.

Amigo is still receiving antibiotics by mouth three times a day.

Amigo merchandise is for sale, including T-shirts, tote bags and mugs, and Gary says all profits are going to help Amigo. He says it is nice that Amigo's fans can get something back for their financial help.

In other news, a fund has been set up to help horses and owners who find themselves in a similar position.

Amigo's Fund, set up at the university, has four on the advisory board and is headed by the head of the large animal clinic.

"Besides the trauma of having a horse in there all torn up, I had to cope with the financial problems, too," Gary explains.

"We wanted to take the financial burden off someone else who had a sport horse who was critically hurt."

Gary says the fund will be open to sport horses of any discipline. Stipulations are that the animal has to be aged 5 to 15 and have at least some percentage chance of returning to a normal life, but not necessarily competition.

The owner would need to provide a veterinary reference to show that the animal had been receiving proper care to date. They would also have to agree to open up the case to the media and to the fans of Amigo, so they could monitor the horse's progress.

"The fan page will stay up," Gary says.

He says the aim of the fund is not to dispense $US1000 to $US2000, but to cover the sorts of bills faced in the likes of Amigo's case. "We want to fully relieve some owner of the burden."

He says he has already given a couple of talks on the fund and handed out fliers.

But first up, Amigo needs to make a full recovery.

Gary says that veterinarian Dr Nick Franks, who performed the lifesaving surgery on Amigo, is on leave, and will re-assess Amigo on Monday week, with a view to whether he could go home.

"What Dr Franks says, goes. He saved the horse's life, so what he says goes."

Gary suspects that Amigo will end up being a pleasure horse, but says Dr Franks does not discount a possible return to endurance racing.

"Dr Franks says, 'I wouldn't bet against him. He's shown he can do whatever he wants'."

Having overcome respiratory failure, laminitis, life-threatening infections, and a near-fatal collapse during follow-up surgery, few of Amigo's fans would bet against him, either.