Dr. Dean Richardson opened the American Association Equine Practitioners Convention in Orlando, Fla., Saturday with an emotional, touching, and sometimes humorous talk about the more than eight month fight to save Barbaro's life following the colt's breakdown in the 2006 Preakness Stakes (gr. I).
"I really think he did have a reasonable quality of life for a vast majority of that time," said Richardson, explaining why he and Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, tried for so long to keep the colt alive. "He did have an active and interesting life for a horse that was confined to his stall. He had neighbors. He met mares. And he had, obviously, lots and lots of attention. There wasn't any lack of attention that he received."
Richardson, who received two standing ovations, showed photographs of Barbaro nuzzling another horse that was a patient at the New Bolton Center, checking out a cat named Felix, and interacting with a cow, which stuck out her tongue at the colt. Barbaro also received a visit from Pennsylvania's governor, Edward G. Rendell, but didn't appear to enjoy it very much. The colt tried to bite the politician, according to Richardson.
"Barbaro was an extremely curious horse, a very, very bright and inquisitive horse," Richardson said.
The presentation also included graphic photos of the Barbaro's shattered right hind leg during surgery and his laminitis-ravaged left hind foot, which dramatically illustrated the imposing challenges faced by Richardson and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center. Early on, the surgeon described the chances for the colt's survival as a coin toss.
"A lot of people say, 'Well, were you being honest when you gave the original appraisal of the prognosis?" Richardson said. "I honestly believe if I had 50 of these come in, I could save 25 of them. I think that's a legitimate number right now with our abilities to treat this type of a fracture."
But, according to the surgeon, he might have erred on the side of caution in during the first operation on Barbaro.
"It’s a very difficult decision when you have skin and soft tissue that is that traumatized," Richardson said. "If I would have opened up the distal aspect of the (surgical) incision more aggressively, that would have allowed me to be more aggressive with the pastern joint and probably to get a better fixation of the pastern joint as part of the original procedure. I think that possibly would have made a difference. I really believe that we got into trouble because the pastern part of the fixation began to fail."
Following an operation in July of 2006 to stabilize the pastern, Barbaro developed an infection in his right hind leg and then foundered in his left hind foot, which ultimately led to "the failure of the case," Richardson said. "It was like a house of cards."
Barbaro, who captured the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) before breaking down in the Preakness, was euthanized in late January of this year.
On a lighter note, Richardson said he received numerous suggestions from people about how to save Barbaro's life. Some thought Barbaro would do better if his mother would visit. Others recommended treatment with ocean water, noni juice, and oil of oregano.
"Very few things really got to me personally as far as irritating me," Richardson said. "But one thing that bothered me immensely was when people would imply that the only reason this was being done was for money. The Jacksons have a lot of money. They're rich people; there's no getting around it. They didn't need the money; they didn't want the money. This wasn't done for the money in any way, shape, or form. I made an awfully concerted effort to get that point across, and I hoped I succeeded."