Dr. David Freeman still remembers putting Black Bart to sleep.
The black stallion suffered from major complications after surgery to manage the colic that strangled parts of his small intestine.
Black Bart’s death inspired Freeman, a professor of large animal surgery at the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, to create a grading system to determine if horses with colic caused by small intestinal strangulation actually need parts of their intestines removed.
“To this day, I strongly believe if I had not resected it he would have done fine,” Freeman said. “I know he would have done fine now.”
Freeman and a team of researchers collected data at UF and the University of Illinois on 35 cases from 1996 to 2011.
They came up with a subjective grading system that involves surgeons evaluating the color and movement of a piece of intestine after it’s released from strangulation.
Sparing horses from removal saves owners money and horses from complications, he said.
Ali Unger-Fink, a 20-year-old UF elementary education junior and equestrian team member, has had several horses get various types of colic. Her family owns a ranch with 30 horses in Southwest Ranches.
“It’s definitely something that’s definitely a worry among all owners,” Unger-Fink said.
The research was published in the Equine Veterinary Journal in 2013 and presented in July at the 11th annual Equine Colic Research Symposium in Dublin.
Freeman said they received feedback from the symposium that people were interested in the advantages of the grading method. He said his research is still fairly new, so it is too soon to tell if his grading system with catch on.
Freeman continues to use the method in surgeries at the UF Large Animal Hospital. About 75 horses per year go to surgery to treat colic, and he said some could benefit from the grading method.
[A version of this story ran on page 9 on 9/30/2014]