KENNETT SQUARE, PA-Monday, January 29 saw a sad loss for the equestrian world as Barbaro, the Kentucky Derby prize-winner whose tragic accident at the Preakness Stakes race captured the sympathies of a nation, was euthanized to spare the horse unnecessary pain.
Barbaro’s fall at Preakness came on May 20, 2006, just a few strides into what had initially looked like a promising race. His right hind leg shattered, his racing career was over, but every effort was made to save the life of the gallant four-year-old colt, and as developments unfolded, the world saw Barbaro put through everything from surgery to being held aloft in a sling in a vat of water.
Something about the tragic fall-literally-of an animal born and bred to run like the wind captured the imagination of horse aficionados and ordinary citizens alike, and the Barbaro story proved popular well outside the niche audience of equestrian sports. Cards, wreaths, flower bouquets, gifts of all sorts and even generous financial donations were never in short supply as Barbaro’s condition progressed and regressed. “People love animals,” part of a comment by Barbaro’s co-owner Roy Jackson, seemed to sum it up.
Jackson expressed deepest regret over the horse, but stressed that this was, in the end, the best decision; it was becoming clear that to keep Barbaro alive would be to subject him to a painful existence, and that the prospects of living out a fulfilling life in farm pastures were inexorably sliding out of reach.
Barbaro’s health throughout the ordeal following his accident could best be described as a rollercoaster. Some periods were marked by vigorous daily walks and an upbeat attitude befitting any retired horse, others by abscesses and laminitis. Leg injuries often prove fatal in horses, and Barbaro’s was so bad that it would have proven no surprise had he been euthanized right then and there at the Pimlico Race Track during the Preakness Stakes; grisly accounts of his problems included a pastern bone broken in more than twenty pieces. It is a testament to Barbaro’s resilience and the hard work of the doctors who supervised his treatment that he lived as long as he did.
While the equestrian world will miss Barbaro, it is unlikely that the story of the horse who went from Triple Crown prospect to hospital case in seconds will soon be forgotten. Barbaro’s legacy also lives on in the form of the Barbaro Fund at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, which sponsors veterinary care and education and continues to accept donations.