Though few horsemen wanted to come right out and say it, Barbaro’s demise wasn’t unexpected. The odds were always against Barbaro. It was unlikely that even a super horse, with the world’s best veterinary care, would be able to overcome the typically life-ending afflictions. First came the initial trauma of horrific fractures in the colt’s left hind leg that occurred just after the start of last year’s Preakness Stakes. Then followed laminitis in his opposite hind hoof, which compromised the horse’s recovery. When a video snippet surfaced on the internet, showing a bedraggled Barbaro being carefully handwalked with his hind legs wobbly and askew, the question became: What quality of life awaits such a horse?
In the end, it was the quality of life issue that caused Barbaro’s owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, to euthanize the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner on Jan. 29. Detractors thought that the decision should’ve been made long ago, sparing the horse some suffering. But how can someone on the sidelines assume to know what grim thoughts and heartaches met the Jacksons each day? All along they had said that when Barbaro showed signs of abject suffering, they would put him down. Eventually, that came to pass.
However, there are positive aspects to the Barbaro story. Over $1 million was raised through the Barbaro Fund at New Bolton Center, where the bay colt spent the last eight months. The money will help add new, innovative equipment to the surgical suite to aid other equine patients. Barbaro’s legacy will also live on, in some manner, through his full sibling: His dam was bred back to his sire, Dynaformer, and will foal in the early spring. Finally, Barbaro’s struggle gave all of us a lesson in hope. Though defeated in the end, his spirit energized all who followed his story. We fell in love not just with the horse, but with his struggle. Barbaro’s story was a noble journey, even if it ultimately ended sadly.
“Certainly,” Gretchen Jackson said of her horse’s brave story, “Grief is the price we all pay for love.”