KENNETT SQUARE, Pa. – Treadmills pinpoint what's wrong with an ailing horse. Pools ease the transition from surgery to stability. Monorails make sure horses can stay off their feet after an operation.
The University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center is considered the top hospital for horses in the mid-Atlantic region.
Tucked away on a sprawling, 650-acre campus, the New Bolton Center is where Kentucky Derby winning Barbaro underwent surgery Sunday to treat "life-threatening injuries."
"He's at the best possible place he can be at," Barbaro trainer Michael Matz said.
Penn is known for its care of animals needing complicated surgery for bone injuries. Veterinarians at the center first started performing arthroscopic surgery on horses in the early 1980s.
The center has a sophisticated orthopedic and rehabilitation center. It is mostly noted for a system that allows a horse to recover safely when awakened from surgery with minimal risk of injury. When the horse is on the operating table, it's fitted with a sling, then placed on a raft and lowered into a large swimming pool.
The horse stays in the pool for about an hour before it's lifted on a sling and transported by monorail to its stable.
Most horses are panicked and begin thrashing when awakened, sometimes damaging the area that was just repaired. In the raft, the horse can move without risk of hitting a solid surface.
Dr. Dean Richardson performed the complicated surgery on Barbaro.
"We do not see this severe injury frequently," Richardson said Sunday.
One of Richardson's peers believes Barbaro is in excellent hands.
"Dr. Richardson is an incredible surgeon and there are certain procedure's he far better qualified than me or anybody else to do," said Dr. Patricia Hogan of the New Jersey Equine Clinic in Clarksburg.
Hogan successfully treated 2004 Kentucky Derby winner Smarty Jones after he smashed his head on an iron bar, fracturing his skull and driving his eye deep into his head.
Hogan said the pool made New Bolton the hospital to go for major operations.
"We do a lot of the same procedures," Hogan said. "But if there's something where they're much better getting up in the pool I don't hesitate to send them there, even if I could repair the same fracture."
The center also uses a treadmill to diagnose maladies in poor-performing horses.
Barbaro was diagnosed with a fracture above and below his right hind ankle after stumbling a few hundred yards from the starting gate at the Preakness on Saturday. The horse was loaded into an equine ambulance and taken away, his injured leg in an inflatable cast.
Barbaro was taken back to his barn at Pimlico, where he was X-rayed, tranquilized and stabilized before being transported to the New Bolton Center, about 70 miles north of Baltimore.
The center has treated some horses from as far away as Florida and Canada. Penn acquired the Chester County, farm in 1952 and a large animal clinic was opened at the center in 1964.
The Widener Hospital at New Bolton Center consists of 70 buildings and 141 stalls and treats more than 6,000 animals every year.
In addition to horses, the center treats many other animals, and is the diagnostic center for many poultry farmers.
Barbaro's owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, live less than 10 miles away on their farm. Now the fate of their horse could be determined down the road.
"I don't think he could be anywhere better for this type of injury," Hogan said.