W - Toby

Toby the horse is just a little over two months old. He had to have surgery due to intestinal blockage.

HIGH SPRINGS – Toby, the 2-month-old horse, had an appetite too big for his stomach.

Toby, a young American miniature palomino, owned by Debbie and Jorge Garcia-Bengochea of Gentle Carousel Horse Therapy in High Springs, underwent surgery in Newberry two weeks ago for an intestinal blockage caused by eating hay. This type of problem is the number one cause of medical deaths in horses according to the owners.

“Toby is doing well at the moment,” said Newberry veterinarian Erica Lacher, of the Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic. “He is recovering from surgery and his prognosis is good, but there is always the possibility of complications in a case like this.” Toby has to make it through the next year before Lacher will say he is out of the woods.

“Toby, like all young horses, wants to buck and kick,” said owner Debbie Garcia-Bengochea. “We can’t allow him to do that for the next 30 days to give his sutures time to heal.” After that, he will gradually be allowed some controlled exercise, Lacher said. His owner agrees. “It is difficult to not let a baby act like a baby,” she said.

Lacher is the heroin of this story, Garcia-Bengochea said. “She was very creative in resolving this problem. She brought in Bridget Bourke, DVM, also from Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic, to handle anesthesiology, and Lance Baltzley, DVM, from Newberry Animal Hospital, to work with her on the surgery and also provide his operating room for the procedure.”

“She has been an amazing veterinarian,” said Garcia-Bengochea. “What she did was to make it affordable for us to have the surgery performed.”

Toby was 52 lbs. when he was weighed before surgery, which is the size of an average dog. “I contacted the University of Florida to see what it would cost to do surgery there, and heard a price of $5,000-$7,000. That would have annihilated their budget for the year. Because of Toby’s size and the cooperation and coordination with Dr. Baltzley, we were able to perform the procedure for $2,000-$3,000 in his operating room,” said Lacher.

Surgery at the university would have been cost prohibitive, said Toby’s owner. “They were able to use drugs on Toby, because of his size, which could never have been used on a full-grown normal horse. We really wanted to save this horse,” she said.

Toby was named by children from Oklahoma after their hometown hero, Toby Keith, because he was born the day a second tornado hit the state June 5. “We just couldn’t let them have another loss after all those people have been through,” she said. “Those kids wrote us about how concerned they were for Toby. We just couldn’t let them down without a fight,” she said.

The little horse had a blockage in the small colon, which is at the very end of the GI tract in horses, Lacher said. “For some reason, mini horses seem to be more susceptible to this problem,” she said. “It appears he ingested some of his mother’s food.”

The surgery took about 60-90 minutes to perform. “Normally horses wake up after surgery in a padded room,” Lacher said. Because of his small size, Toby woke up after about an hour, raised his head, and they helped him to his feet.

Before surgery, Lacher characterized Toby as somewhat placid. After surgery, she said he behaved like a big dog, following people around. “He’s just got a fantastic personality and it really shows. He wants to crawl into your lap,” his owner said. “He has a very healthy self-esteem.”

In addition, the miniature horse with four white socks and white face has the unusual characteristic of having each eye with a brown and a blue pigment.

Lacher said because of the amount of Facebook hits, which were more than 3,600 on her hospital site alone, she had to make sure to report every day on her site about Toby’s condition.

“When you’re doing surgery, you are just doing your job. You always want your patients to do well. But when you get done and all of a sudden you start getting emails and Facebook posts from all over the world, you know your patient just has to do well,” she said.

Right now, Toby is back at home with his mother, Princess, and is being monitored daily. His mother was with him at the hospital and during early recovery as well. His mother is on a diet with special food and vitamins while Toby’s surgery is healing. “We don’t want to take a chance he will get into hay again,” Lacher said. After 30 days, a small amount of an easily-digestible type of hay will be added to his diet to see how he handles it. If he does well, they will gradually add more. They will also start increasing his exercise.

Lacher is appreciative of Newberry vet Lance Baltzley’s help on this case. “It normally takes massive amounts of equipment to do surgery on horses. They are not made like dogs and cats,” she said. “Because of Toby’s size, and the equipment and facilities he made available for this surgery, we were able to perform this particular surgical procedure,” she said.

Eventually, Toby will become a therapy horse and visit children in hospital settings. Lacher said they tried to be relatively conscientious with photos during Toby’s procedure and recovery so those photos could be shown to children in hospitals when Toby goes to visit. “That way they can see he went through the same types of things they are going through,” she said.

Mini horses are pretty impressive, Lacher said. It’s not uncommon for them to live up to their late 20s and into their 30s.

“I have known a few that have lived up into their 40s, she said.”

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