Paraplegic Foal Update: Lucky as a Long Yearling

Last year we brought you the unique story of Lucky, a Quarter Horse foal rendered paraplegic at about two weeks of age by an abscess pressing on his spinal cord. Veterinarians at North Carolina State University devised a special treatment for his abscess, and with the help of his devoted owners, he pulled through. Today at more than 17 months of age, Lucky isn't completely back to normal and may never be, but he's close enough that his owners are happy with the result (and he's continuing to improve).

"He's walking good and he acts like a racehorse with his halter and chain on; he always wants to go fast," says his owner Anita Powell, of Clayton, N.C.

Lucky targets the camera with his horse ball

Lucky, clearly no longer paraplegic despite lingering incoordination in his hind end, works out with his horse ball.

 Lucky stomps at his horse ball

He also shows off his improved athletic ability with a horse ball, she reports. "Some people walk their dogs or sit by a pool (for recreation); we sit by Lucky's lot and watch him play with his ball," she says with a laugh. "I can't tell if he loves it or wants to kill it, but I think playing with it has made him a lot stronger. We can tell him to go get the ball and he will. He's actually got very good aim with it too--he's pegged one of my friends and a visiting veterinarian with it.

"He canters as nice as any horse, but when he's trotting, he'll still take a few good steps and then shuffle a little, especially if he's excited," she adds. Despite Lucky's increasing size, he's also improved in other areas--he no longer needs a sling for farrier work or trailer trips, and he's able to get up on his own.

These days, Lucky still lives indoors in Anita's dog grooming kennel, spending several hours a day outside in a paddock in sight of his dam and another mare. Anita reports that he's gotten a "horse lesson" or two from the mares, from which any stud colt can benefit.

"We haven't helped him up in over a month--although he still often doesn't get up until we tell him to," she reports. "But we don't have to go in the stall any more, we just scrub a little on the chain link (fence around his enclosure). Evidently all this exercise has been good for him."

"It's great that he's doing as well as he is considering what we started with," says Betta Breuhaus, DVM, PhD, associate professor of equine medicine at NCSU and the lead veterinarian treating Lucky when he was a foal. "I don't know how much he's continuing to improve neurologically at this point compared to just getting stronger.

"I don't know if (Anita) would do it again or if I'd recommend it unless the owner has the resources and determination that they had; most would have put him down a long time ago," she adds. "But it's good to know that this level of recovery is possible! The biggest thing I worry about is him putting a foot wrong and having some sort of catastrophic trauma, but you could certainly argue that that could happen to any horse." She hopes to visit Lucky soon to see his progress firsthand.

Day by Day

The Powells continue to take each day as it comes, trying different strategies and cues to help Lucky learn to get up and down without a consistent human prompt. He stayed outside alone one night, during which he clearly laid down and got up on his own (wet coat on one side from laying in the grass, but standing when his caretakers checked on him). However, as the temperature and bugs have ratcheted up, he is being brought in again at night to keep him comfortable.

"I still wouldn't feel comfortable leaving him alone (unmonitored) for very long in case he got cast or something; we've come too far," Anita says. "I want to 'wean' him, though! He'll probably not be far from a person until he's getting up and down on his own like a normal horse, not using the walls to lay down or needing cues to get up. We can't live the rest of our lives like this, but we've made it very comfortable here. Instead of making Lucky go home, we brought home to him."

"Every time I look back at videos we've taken of him, I think he's gotten so much better," Anita comments. "Today I noticed that he's picking his hind toes up better than he was. But we've still got a ways to go. The biggest thing we need is him getting up on his own."

Stay tuned to for more updates on Lucky.

More information:

  • Saving a Paraplegic Foal (9/4/2007): Article | Video
  • Paraplegic Foal Update: Lucky at Home (9/26/2007): Article | Video

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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