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Vet: Barbaro was 'different horse' in final hours

Story Highlights

• Doctor said horse was in pain before being euthanized
• Infections meant Barbaro had no good legs
• Vet says knowledge gained from treating Barbaro has been used to help others
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(CNN) -- The veterinarian who treated Barbaro for eight months before the Kentucky Derby winner was euthanized Monday said the horse was for the first time living in pain since the accident that ended his racing career.

"He was a totally different horse yesterday morning," Dr. Dean Richardson told Larry King on Tuesday night. "He had gone through the entire night before for the first time ever being uncertain of himself, not knowing what to do, not knowing how to get up or down."

He said ultimately it was a "complex series of things that went wrong" with the beloved horse.

Richardson said Barbaro had developed laminitis -- an inflammatory condition -- in his front feet. And for the doctor, that meant it was time to "quit." The thoroughbred no longer had any good legs.

Roy and Gretchen Jackson, Barbaro's owners, said it was heartbreaking to have to euthanize the colt.

"It was a mutual ... feeling and knowledge that the time was right, that everything that could be done to ensure his well-being and quality of life and pain ... had been done," said Gretchen Jackson.

She added that in the end, it was "remarkably loving."

"There's such an outpouring of love and grieving. I mean, it gets blended together in a situation like this."

In the right hands

On May 20, Barbaro pulled up during the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, clearly favoring his right rear leg. The leg was broken in three places. One bone shattered into 20 pieces.

His initial surgery lasted five hours and required 27 pins and a stainless steel plate. From that point on, the colt had numerous ups and downs.

Richardson, the chief of surgery at the George D. Widener Hospital for Large Animals at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, was watching on television and knew immediately the injury was life-threatening. The horse's trainer called him.

It was the beginning of an eight-month saga as observers cheered the horse that survived a catastrophic injury that would have caused most vets to put it down.

The doctor, however, said he and his staff came away with new ideas and new treatments for animals with similar injuries.

"We do this on a regular basis," he said. "We learn from every case. We employed techniques in treating Barbaro that were relatively new and we've used them since him."

Richardson, who has been at Penn's New Bolton Center for 27 years, wanted to be an actor when he enrolled at Dartmouth College -- this despite his Navy captain father's career as a physician specializing in internal medicine.

But by the time he graduated in 1974, he'd fallen in love with horses, thanks to a physical education course, and took off for The Ohio State University and a doctorate in veterinary medicine.

"When I went to college I wasn't going to be a medical anything," he was quoted as telling BloodHorse.com in August. "The only reason I became a vet is because I was hooked on horses. Later, I found out I had a thing for medicine and surgery."

Richardson's work with Barbaro recently earned the New Bolton Center and Barbaro's owners a Special Eclipse Award for individual achievements or contributions to thoroughbred racing.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Richardson now lives in Landenberg, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Laura, who is also a veterinarian. Their son, Alec, is a senior at Penn. And, yes, they have horses -- three of them.

Richardson was saddened by Barbaro's death, coming close to tears at the news conference after the horse had died. The next day he told the Philadelphia Inquirer he wished there had been more he could have done.

"Because you wanted the horse so badly to survive," Richardson told the newspaper. "To me, the goal wasn't achieved. We didn't save the horse. I'm not embarrassed or ashamed or anything like that about what we did. But it's still so profoundly disappointing, that it's hard not to feel like you've let him down."

Other equine surgeons applauded Richardson's work.

"If Richardson couldn't get him fixed, no one could," Jeff Alldredge, a doctor in Scottsdale told The Arizona Republic.

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Dr. Dean Richardson said a "complex series" of problems hit Barbaro.

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