The Philadelphia Daily News
June 6, 2011 Monday
THE HORSE WAS scrawny and matted and so sick, he could stand for only minutes at a time.
When Arizona animal-control officers found the thoroughbred wandering the desert last December, they considered immediately euthanizing the animal.
But someone suggested they bring the horse to Judy Glore at the Heart of Tucson, an equine rescue center. She sat with the dying horse.
“He had more fight in his eyes than any other horse I’d seen in my life,” she says.
She soon learned why: He came from a family of fighters. The tattoo on the horse’s inner lip revealed he was Dyna King, son of Dynaformer, who also sired Barbaro.
And then Glore knew where she could go for help to pay for the horse’s expensive care.
Since Barbaro’s death in 2007, an informal network of supporters known as the Fans of Barbaro has, by rough estimates, saved thousands of horses and donated more than $1 million to their care.
“Barbaro has made a huge impact, a much larger impact than most individuals will ever be able to make,” says Alex Brown, who runs AlexBrownRacing.com and is the author of “Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and his Legacy.”
“Barbaro’s made things better for a lot of horses and a lot of people.”
Fans of Barbaro continue to contribute to the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, where Barbaro received his final treatments.
“They’ve been very, very generous. Actually, to call them generous is an understatement,” says Dr. Dean Richardson, the center’s chief of surgery and Barbaro’s veterinarian. “They want something good to come out of a very bad outcome.”
Barbaro’s story is well-known to horse fans.
In 2006, Barbaro streaked down the track at Churchill Downs and won the Kentucky Derby by 6 1/2 lengths to stay undefeated.
Barbaro was heavily favored going into the Preakness Stakes. But he shattered his right rear leg as the horses passed the grandstand early in the race, hobbling to a stop before nearly 120,000 fans at Pimlico Race Course and millions of television viewers worldwide.
Although his racing career was over, doctors tried to save the leg. In all, Barbaro underwent more than a dozen surgeries.
His recovery was complicated when he developed laminitis, a disease that affects the hooves, first in a rear leg and then in both front legs. He was euthanized Jan. 29, 2007.
The stories of Barbaro’s brave struggles dominated headlines for months. There was just something about this horse that grabbed people, Richardson says.
“He really had genuine equine charisma. Even from a distance, people could tell he still had style,” Richardson says. “He was everything you could ask for in a patient. He was trying his best to help you help him . . . He was tough and explosively fit, but he was still a gentleman.”
When Barbaro died, people who had followed his struggles, such as Pat Assan, of Maryland, were devastated.
“I fell in love with a horse,” says Assan, a medical doctor from outside Baltimore, who donates annually to the New Bolton Center. “It wasn’t just the beauty of his physical presence. It was the beauty of his spirit.”
The Fans of Barbaro have no headquarters or hierarchy. Some operate independently. Others “meet” via social media sites. Fans generally learn of endangered animals via Brown’s website or other sites, then follow their own hearts when it comes to giving.
“It’s all self-organized . . . A lot of the time, it’s about people being alerted to a situation,” says Brown, of Chester County. “We never want or would be a central point for receiving money.”
Some of them don’t even like the name “fans.”
“It sounds too superficial,” Assan says.
She and her husband are so serious about their feelings for Barbaro, she says, that “he’s in our will,” meaning a portion of their estate will be donated to the New Bolton Center.
“When I went to visit, I was so impressed with the facility, and it’s clear the money goes to help the animals,” she says.
By Brown’s tally, the Fans have donated more than $1.4 million to equine care in Barbaro’s name; most of that, he said, “is $5 here or $10 here . . . It’s not like it’s been one big benefactor giving this money.”
But the amount given easily could be much larger, as Brown tabulates only the contributions of those who report in as having donated. It does not include donations to the New Bolton Center.
“A lot of people do a lot of work off the site, and a lot of work inspired by Barbaro is never discussed on the site at all,” he says. “We’re not the only resource where people inspired by Barbaro came to do that work. He’s inspired a lot more than what you see on that site.”
The Fans also tally 3,700 horses saved, but that, too, might be a low figure. And while not all of the horses rescued have a genetic tie to Barbaro, it does happen.
In Johnstown, Short Squeeze, another horse by Barbaro’s sire, now runs in a herd with 15 other horses on a private farm. He was saved from a kill pen at an Ohio auction in January 2010 after a Fan of Barbaro noticed the mark on his face was the same as the one on Barbaro’s. His lip tattoo confirmed he was a son of Dynaformer.
Short Squeeze, or “Shorty” to his friends, was transferred to Bright Futures Farm outside Erie. The facility has taken in about four dozen horses rescued from slaughter by the Fans of Barbaro, says Beverly Dee, who runs the farm.
“Barbaro really hit a soft spot with people,” Dee says. “It was his courage and the fact that his owners were willing to do whatever it took to make him well.”
Shorty eventually was adopted by Nicole Shaw, of Bright Star Horse Haven. The 12-year-old will live out the rest of his days at play, Shaw says, his reward for his hard work on the track, where he ran 41 races, with five wins, 10 seconds and five thirds, earning about $200,000.
“I don’t think a lot of people want to look past the glitz and the glamour of horse racing,” Shaw says.
In his younger days, Dyna King ran 56 races and had been nominated to run in the Kentucky Derby in 2000, Glore says. His last race was at Tucson’s Rillito Racetrack in 2007. He was 10 years old.
“At one time, he had grooms and good care and was just treated like a prince,” Glore says.
After Dyna King retired from racing, his owner gave him to a friend. The horse was handed down that way until his last owner, a Mexican immigrant, was deported, and Dyna King was left to wander in the desert.
Glore says that when she first saw the horse, she assumed he was about 20. His ribs were prominent and his feet were abcessed. He couldn’t stand for more than 5 minutes at a time.
But he had the will to live.
“I had no idea who he was, and now people send me emails and tell me Dynaformer is one big, tough cookie and he makes tough babies,” Glore says. “I believe it, because I’ve watched this horse. This whole family of horses has got this fire, this really strong spirit to live.”
Glore and her team took on the challenge of making Dyna King whole again. The process has been expensive and painstaking. One of his ailments? The disease that led to Barbaro’s death, laminitis.
“We couldn’t have done it without donations,” she says. “If this horse wasn’t related to Barbaro, he wouldn’t have lived. Nobody would have kicked in the money to save this horse if he was no one.”
Fans of Barbaro have flown in from across the United States to visit the horse. One sent in one of Barbaro’s halters, and Dyna King now wears it. Another sent in a racing blanket.
“People feel like Barbaro is looking over him, like he’s his guardian angel,” she says.
Recently, Glore brought a saddle out to the waiting horse. She gently placed it on his back.
“As soon as he saw it, his ears perked up,” she said. “It was almost like he was waiting for the call to post.”