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Vets lose confidence in Barbaro's recovery; laminitis hits

July 14, 2006

Dr. Dean Richardson, left, pictured at a Barbaro news conference.
Photo: Jennifer Rench/University of Pennsylvania

At a news conference yesterday Barbaro's vet Dr Dean Richardson told of major complications to the horse's recovery, specifically the rapid onset of acute laminitis. Dr Richardson said Barbaro's chances of recovery, at this stage, are poor.

Barbaro is in significant discomfort because of the laminitis, and vets at New Bolton have performed a partial hoof wall resection, of his left hind foot. The area removed was not connected to the coffin bone, and Barbaro was in a foot cast. He said about 20 percent of his hoof wall was still attached to the coffin bone. "So it's a very severe case of laminitis. At the same time, he is reasonably comfortable; he's in a foot cast with foam padding and antiseptic dressings."

When asked if the coffin bone in the near hind had rotated, Dr Richardson said it was "basically as bad a laminitis as you can have".

"The reason we cut away the hoof wall was because the hoof wall is not connected. It's dead tissue that is in the way of living tissue."

He said it was possible for horses to be managed in this way to see if the hoof can re-grow. "It's not the typical treatment for a horse with this severe laminitis. But keep in mind that we do have options here in terms of pain management that aren't present everywhere. Plus the other day we spent three hours recovering him, training him, to adapt to a sling. So he spends part of the day in a sling which he is very good at, so that we can un-weight him for several hours a day. And he seems to like that.

"The reality is that when you come in and see this horse everyday, he nickers to you. He is still eating well. He has excellent G.I. function. He is capable of walking around the stall. He is maintaining his weight well. His heart rate is low and his temperature's back to normal after the previous surgery. His stability on his right hind leg, the one that we redid last weekend, is good."

Despite the broken off hind leg appearing to heal well, Dr Richardson said it was too early to say if there would be a full recovery.

"It is really quite serious. There's no way to overstate it," Dr Richardson said.

He said other pain management techniques, such as epidurals, are working well so far. "If they stop working, we're going to quit on the horse. It's as simple as that."

Dr Richardson said if Barbaro was to develop laminitis in either of his front feet, treatment would cease.

Although many horses do recover from laminitis, there is no true "cure" for it. Dr Richardson said that if he knew how to prevent it, he would "guarantee I would be giving this conference from my mansion somewhere. It's a devastating problem in horses that nobody has a solution to."

He said that while the team was trying many different procedures on the horse, they were not doing anything "outrageously experimental". "Anything that I think is scientifically reasonable, we will certainly try. But if he starts acting like he just doesn't want to stand on the leg, that's it, because that will be when we call it quits."


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