When news broke that Barbaro had been euthanized after an eight month long fight for his life, my world cam crashing down. But before you label me a crazy psycho because I cried over a horse I’d never met, let me explain myself. This cold had an impact on me that very few horses before him had.
I’d watched him romp the field in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and I watched him break through the gate early in the Preakness Stakes. Yes, I thought he was a good horse and it looked promising that he would be able to sweep the Triple Crown – a feat that had not been accomplished in nearly 30 years at the time. But it wasn’t until I watched Barbaro shatter his right hind leg in the opening moments of the Preakness that he stole my heart.
The vision of the cold galloping down the track, hoof literally flapping in the breeze, brought a morbid thought to my mind: this was this first horse I’d ever seen break down on the track. I’d heard about horses being injured in races, some even euthanized after the return to the barn, but I’d never watched the spectacle unfold before me. This would not be something I’d soon forget.
The horrific image haunted me for weeks.
I followed his story closely. I knew every time he had a good day and I gave my own horses a hug when he had a bad day. My eyes welled up when I saw the photos of his jockey, Edgar Prado; trainer, Michael Matz; and owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson visiting him in the ICU at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center for the first time. I choked up when I saw Barbaro nuzzling his primary doctor, Chief of Equine Surgery Dr. Dean Richardson, with his ears straight up in the air. He was getting better. He was going to make it.
Then, a strange series of events took place that brought me even closer to the big, bay stallion.
Barbaro suffered a series of setbacks. His prognosis turned poor at times. And right in the middle of all this, Lance, our up and coming Three Day Eventer, suffered a fracture in his third metacarpal bone…a broken leg.
We (meaning myself, my mother, and my father, who is Lance’s registered owner) were crushed. He was only 6 at the time and he had such a bright future ahead of him. In the beginning, we didn’t even know if he’d be able to wear a saddle again, let alone compete in one of the most physically demanding equine sports. Then, we thought of Barbaro.
Although the injuries were significantly different, there were some eerie coincidences between Barbaro’s life threatening injury and Lance’s career threatening injury.
Lance’s injury was by no means anywhere near as severe as Barbaro’s; if everything went as planned, Lance wouldn’t need surgery at all. Rather than being held up by a sling, Lance needed several months of stall rest. And instead of swimming in an equine pool to keep the blood flowing like Barbaro did regularly, Lance would go for short walks once or twice a day to prevent anything from settling.
But we noticed interesting events that made us all pull for Barbaro even more than we had been.
When Lance had a good day, much of the time Barbaro was having a good day. When Lance wasn’t feeling so well, Barbaro wasn’t feeling so hot either. This trend continued for much of Lance’s recovery time.
I’m not saying that there is any spiritual connection or anything crazy like that between a Kentucky Derby winning stud colt and an inexpensive, modest, quiet Event prospect, but the coincidences we saw were interesting, none the less.
Then, things started getting bad for Barbaro. Laminitis plagued him and minor infections grew and began spreading. Things weren’t looking good for the colt. Lance, on the other hand, was doing great. His walks had gotten longer and he had perked up. His latest set of x-rays shows that the fracture had healed.
In late January 2007, we got the okay from our vet to bring him back to work.
On January 28, Lance took his first ride in almost six months. On January 29, Barbaro was euthanized.
The irony of the timing made the news of Barbaro’s death even more difficult for me to handle. Lance was back…why wasn’t Barbaro? How could this be?
Then I realized something. Barbaro helped me through Lance’s injury. Yes, I know…I never met the horse…how could he help me? Or better, how can a horse help you at all?
Here’s how – he gave me hope.
When Lance got hurt, Barbaro was progressing well. My mindset: if he can do it, then Lance can too. Lance had a setback. Mindset: Barbaro had setbacks too and he’s still doing okay. Lance goes outside for the first time. And my mindset: Barbaro is going out…Lance is too.
In the horse world, mental strength is priceless in countless situations. Barbaro gave me the mental strength to believe that Lance would pull through this career threatening injury. And in the end, he did.
Barbaro’s death saddened me deeply. It saddened much of America deeply. But, in the end, his owners made the right decision to put him down; in the last week of his life, he was in almost constant pain. And deep down, I knew that.
But he helped to pull me through one of the most difficult times in my life…I feel like I’m forever indebted to him for that.
It still upsets me when people say that he was “just a horse”. Yes…he was a horse, but his story and his strength touched people – horse people and non-horse people alike – all over the world in ways that no one cold ever imagine. I understand that not everyone is a horse, or even animal, person and I understand that not everyone will understand why he meant so much to so many people. But that doesn’t give them the right to mock what some people feel so passionately about.
Barbaro was a hero in many people’s eyes, mine included. The racing industry lost a great horse when he died, but there is still hope…Barbaro’s two little brothers are making waves throughout the equine industry. His legacy is promised to live on forever.
2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro was euthanized in early 2007 after breaking down in the Preakness Stakes. His eight month fight for life captured millions of people’s hearts from around the world. Photo from www.KentuckyDerby.com
In April 2007, Lance made his comeback to competitive riding after breaking a bone in his left forleg in October of 2006. In his first outing, he stole the show at the annual Battle Creek Hunt Club hunter pace. Photo by Keith Larson.