Barbaro takes big step forward

Short walks, grazing show improvement of Derby winner

August 15, 2006|By SANDRA MCKEE | SANDRA MCKEE,SUN REPORTER

Derby winner Barbaro takes big step forward Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro is picking his own grass now.

Nearly three months after shattering his right hind leg in the Preakness, Barbaro took his first steps outside late last week and grazed in the grassy area adjacent to the intensive care unit at the New Bolton Center, where he has been since the devastating May 20 incident at Pimlico Race Course.

"I was at Saratoga, when Mrs. [Gretchen] Jackson called me and said, `You'll never guess where I am. I'm outside with Barbaro and he's eating grass!' " said Barbaro's trainer, Michael Matz. "I was very happy to hear that. It was the first time he's been outside the building since the day he arrived there."

Dr. Dean Richardson, chief of surgery at the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals and the man in charge of Barbaro's care, said yesterday that he felt Barbaro was ready for some new scenery.

"So, last week, we took him outside," said Richardson, who had been having volunteers at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center pick grass by hand for the horse to eat. "He's not outside for a long time, but it's enough to let him enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. If he remains this comfortable, he will be hand-grazed daily."

Hand grazing, said Barbaro's private veterinarian Dr. Kathleen Anderson, "is when the horse is on the end of a shank, so as not to be able to run free."

Richardson said the horse will spend 15 to 20 minutes grazing outside daily as long as he behaves. Matz, who has not seen Barbaro grazing yet, said he is not worried about the horse's behavior.

"He's always been calm when taken out to graze," Matz said.

Anderson said Barbaro "has gone to the next level of rehabilitation" and has reached the point where "it is safe to walk him out a short distance."

"We hoped to be able to take him outside six weeks ago, prior to his foundering," she said. Anderson was referring to how Barbaro had developed laminitis, a painful inflammation, in his left hind foot, which resulted in the removal of 80 percent of his hoof wall.

"But his fracture wasn't strong enough [for the exercise]," Anderson said. "If he did anything stupid, it would have made it a very bad decision. Obviously, he's progressed from there, and the walk provides a little stimulation to both of his legs, even though they are still both in casts. And it is very good for his attitude."

Susan Danner, Matz's farm assistant who was present for the first outing, said the horse was extremely docile when his stable door was opened, not expecting anything unusual. But once he was led outside, "he brightened noticeably."

Since developing laminitis six weeks after his broken leg, Barbaro had been given a "poor" prognosis for recovery. But Anderson said yesterday: "I am very encouraged. This is nothing but positive news. ... But we still have to be patient while his left hoof grows. That's a slow, steady process, like watching your fingernail grow."

Barbaro must grow enough of his left hind foot back to be able to stand on it and walk on it. Richardson said after taking radiographs a week ago that Barbaro's tissue looked healthy and that growth was visible.

Yesterday, he said he is "very pleased" with Barbaro's progress, pointing out that he is "measurably gaining weight and his overall attitude is great."

But in a phone interview with the Associated Press, he also cautioned against getting overly optimistic.

"Could there still be some major things resulting in him having to be put down?" Richardson said. "Yeah. He's absolutely not out of the woods yet."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

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