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Horse injured from Hurricane Irma will run again thanks to prosthetic limb

Florida nonprofit and hospital team up to help
Posted at 9:14 PM, Sep 04, 2018

WELLINGTON, Fla. — A Florida horse is on an incredible journey of second chances.

After losing his hoof due to complications from Hurricane Irma, Bet On A Star faced euthanasia.

But thanks to Jupiter, Florida nonprofit Hopes, Dreams and Horses, as well as a dedicated horse hospital, he now will have the opportunity run again.

"He just turned 4 years old this April," said Brittany Brett, who helps run the nonprofit with her mother and founder, Sue Copeland.

Bet On A Star's journey started in Texas, where he was bought by a rancher from Clewiston, Florida for $30,000. He comes from a champion bloodline and is more well known by his barn name of "81" signifying the 81st horse born under his father -- a champion stallion of the quarter horse cutting world.

"He truly is a bright shining star," said Copeland.

But life had other plans for him, one year ago this week.

"Unfortunately with Hurricane Irma, his barn was destroyed," said Brett.

With the ranch flooded and the storm sending communities into mayhem, 81 was stranded in flood waters.

"He was in standing water for days," said Brett.

The storm caused 81 to contract a waterborne disease and an infection to a cut in his ankle. Luckily, Hopes, Dreams and Horses stepped in to help him.

"Take him in as a foster and give him the medical care that he needed," said Brett.

After several months of recovery, surgery and treatment, the disease forced doctors to amputate 81's foot just above his hoof. It was possible for his hoof to grow back after a year but due to the missing coronary band in his foot due to the disease, there was no hope.

Brett said 81 had two options: euthanasia or limb replacement. In equestrian sports -- because it's in the horse's blood to run -- losing a leg can be a death sentence.

"With three legs, it's impossible for them to live on," she said. "What will his quality of life be like? Will he be able to walk, trot? Will he be able to go back to work? Will be happy or in pain?"

His new foster family knew he was too special to let go.

"He's super connected to humans," said Brett. "His intuitiveness is very spot on."

And because a huge part of Hopes Dreams and Horses work includes Equine Assisted Therapy for humans, Brett and Copeland could sense 81's instant knack for helping their clients -- who struggled with anxiety and other issues -- feel at ease.

"He's like that with everybody, he's pretty amazing," said Copeland.

Dr. Haynes Stevens of Equine Services in Wellington, the only hospital that was willing to take on his case, continued to help the non-profit care for 81. 

The hospital was able to get connected with Dr. Ted Vlahos of Sheridan Equine Hospital in Wyoming, the leading world expert on equine limb replacements and helping horses to run again. The two doctors worked together to prepare 81 for a second chance in his life.

"It was really exciting for our community because an amputation like this hasn't happened locally," said Brett.

In just a few months, 81 will be fitted with a special prosthetic leg.

"His quality of life will be back to normal," said Brett.

The prosthetic works like a sleeve over the end of the leg and comes with a metal peg and straps to help the horse run with ease. For weeks, 81 had been walking around on the exposed, protruding coffin bone on his leg and now, he has a cast with a similar metal peg to help him until he can get fitted for the prosthetic.

And in a twist of fate, 81 will be giving back to others by becoming a therapy horse for the patients assisted by Hopes, Dreams and Horses and others who just like himself.

"Whether it be children with prosthetic devices or military veterans with PTSD, or really anyone in the amputee community," said Brett. "He's going to be an even bigger asset then he already was."

His foster moms say he's proof that when one door closes, a window of opportunity and hope is always open.

"He was just able to keep a positive attitude and move forward and we're hoping that he's able to continue to teach people this, for the rest of his life," said Brett.

81 has two more months of healing in his cast and then he will be fitted for that new prosthetic leg.

Hanger Clinic in Riviera Beach will fit him with the device. They mainly work with humans but have helped a dolphin with a prosthetic fin in the past.

There are only 70 cases in the world of horses being successfully fitted with a new leg.