Last week, people around the world said goodbye to Barbaro, the thoroughbred stallion who suffered a terrible accident in the Preakness. Barbaro was euthanized after an eight month struggle for survival. We remember the film footage of that fateful moment in May when he mis-stepped at the start of the race and snapped the leg bones of his right hind leg. Twenty years ago that injury would have necessitated his being put down immediately, but with today’s best medical care he had a 50% chance of surviving this catastrophic injury.
A couple of months later he developed laminitis, a devastating structural disease in horses that is the result of balancing the enormous weight on only three legs, creating stress. The disease required additional surgery, after which his surgeon said Barbaro’s odds were not good, but that this horse had enormous heart and character, which were important factors in his recovery so far.
Several weeks ago, Barbaro developed an abscess in his hoof requiring yet another surgery; together with the deadly laminitis, it left this legendary colt barely recognizable. His tail was half its normal size, his side was scarred, and he was walking unsteadily. In the last days, his surgeon who had come to know him intimately said, “He was not himself, he was a different horse, you could see he was upset.” It was more than he or his dedicated owners wanted to put him through.
Why do we mourn his loss? Because he reminds every one of us that heart and soul are important factors in our recovery from traumas, and that when faced with devastating prospects, we can find the courage to fight. Barbaro reminds us of our noblest selves.
Finally, no matter how courageous we are or how hard we struggle, there will come a time when each of us will have had enough. I hope I have a doctor like Barbaro’s who, even if I can’t speak, will see in my eyes that this is not me any more and ease my journey.
Farewell, Barbaro, you touched our hearts.