SI Vault
Veda Eddy
October 06, 1986
The water is 13 feet deep but the horse's head is bobbing above the surface as his legs move rhythmically below. His eyes are fixed on a woman in jeans who is standing on a small, carpeted island in the middle of the circular pool, tugging at his lead rope. He seems to be enjoying himself.
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October 06, 1986

You Can Lead A Horse To Water And Watch As He Swims Away His Injuries

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At New Bolton Center near Kennett Square, Pa., the large-animal facility for the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine, the pool is not for training or therapy, but for recovering from anesthesia.

The postoperative procedure works like this: Immediately after surgery, while still under anesthesia, the horse is picked up in a sling and moved from the operating room to the pool area, where he is placed in a modified rubber life raft and lowered into the water. There he remains for about an hour, floating in a calm environment while the anesthesia wears off.

The raft, which was conceived by the late Dr. Jacques Jenny, is a modified four-man raft with four legs that act like "giant boots," says Dr. David Nunamaker, head of the center's large-animal surgery department. The boots allow the animal's legs to stay completely dry while they dangle beneath the water. When the animal wakes up, he can thrash about without harming himself or the surgeon's work. The horse is then lifted from the raft and moved to a recovery stall, where by this time he is able to stand.

The pool at New Bolton Center, which was finished in 1973 and is the only one that provides this kind of recovery facility, is used only for horses expected to have difficult recoveries. "All long-bone fractures call for pool recovery, plus those involving long leg casts or skin grafts where infections can occur," says Nunamaker. The pool was used successfully with Hajji's Treasure, the colt that broke down in the 1985 Preakness, and Micki Bracken, a filly who suffered a similar fate in the Black-Eyed Susan the day before.

"It certainly has saved many horses who otherwise would have destroyed themselves in the recovery stalls," says Nunamaker. "In the early '70s we had maybe two horses a year recovering in the pool. In 1984, 52 horses recovered in the pool."

So horses and water do mix. The last charge of the day climbs out of the pool at Castleview and into a shower room to wash away pool chemicals. Then it's back to the stall, where a giant beach blanket no doubt awaits.

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