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Oklahoma State University
Center for Veterinary Health Sciences

Healthy Animals - Healthy People

A Big Win for a Tiny Colt

Thursday, July 21 2016

foal sitting after surgery

A colt born premature to Dharma on April 17, 2016, was a mere 50 pounds at birth. Facing the fight of his life, within his first 12 hours owner, Karen Smith of Newkirk, Okla., rushed him to Oklahoma State University’s Veterinary Medical Hospital.

“When he arrived in the hospital’s Gaylord Neonatal Care Wing, he was able to stand but had severe tendon laxity of all four limbs and suffered from partial failure of passive transfer due to inadequate colostrum intake,” said Dr. Jenna Young, equine intern on the case. “Nursing within the first few hours of birth is vital to the health of any foal, much less a premature one.”

Foals rely on their mother’s antibody-rich milk or colostrum for protection from disease. Without it, the foal developed pneumonia. But that wasn’t his only problem.

“He was born with incomplete ossification of his carpal and tarsal bones,” explained Young. “He was at risk of crushing his underdeveloped bones and for developing severe lameness and arthritis long-term if he was allowed to walk on them.”

OSU’s team placed a tube cast on each leg to ensure proper alignment of his bones. He then had to lay in a bed and was only allowed to stand for feedings. Weekly, radiographs were taken to monitor his progress and the casts were changed. The foal was in casts for three and one-half weeks. He had round-the-clock care to make sure he stayed laying down and to change his position frequently.

Smith decided to name the colt after one of the students assigned to his case—Jeff Henderson. According to Henderson, the colt would follow him everywhere. OSU faculty and staff started calling the colt JJ for Jeff Junior.

“A little under one month after JJ was born, his bones had developed enough that we were able to take the casts off his legs,” reported Young. “It was great to be able to see him standing on his own and interact with his mother as a normal foal again.”

JJ got to go out to the paddock and stretch his legs for short periods of time initially.

Unfortunately, in the meantime JJ developed an abscess in his umbilicus which had to be removed. Luckily he bounced back from this surgery in no time.

And to top it off, JJ made one more hurdle.

“JJ has been fed out of a pan or bucket since he arrived. Soon after his casts came off, we began trying to encourage him to nurse from his mother,” said Young. “Shortly thereafter he latched on to Dharma for the first time and never looked back to his milk bucket again!”

JJ went home on May 31, 2016, after more than six weeks in the hospital.

He returned for a recheck 10 days later and had developed an angular limb deformity of his right hind hock. JJ underwent surgery to place a screw across his growth plate to retard growth on the overgrown side.

“We’ve had our registered quarter horses at OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital before and we’ve used their breeding services at OSU’s ranch west of Stillwater,” said Smith. “JJ is doing great. He’ll be back one more time to have a screw removed from his back right hock. They put it in there to even out his growth. OSU took super care of him. The kids even slept with him while his casts were on to make sure he was okay.”

“It’s very rewarding to see him go from a premature 50 pound little colt who could barely walk to a strong 150 pound guy who can buck, kick, bite, and play as good as the rest of them,” said Young.

“It’s not very often that we are given the opportunity to treat foals born with incomplete ossification because of the intensive care and significant cost needed to treat these foals that in the end may still carry a poor prognosis. Luckily for us, Karen gave us this opportunity to try and the end result of a happy and healthy JJ made all of the long nights and hard work by all of the faculty, students, and staff more than worth it,” added Young.

The Gaylord Center for Excellence in Equine Health includes the Gaylord Neonatal Care Wing. The wing has three enlarged stalls with swinging half-Dutch doors to accommodate mares and foals. Critically ill foals can be managed in the adjacent partitioned stall region, which allows separate access for veterinary medical staff while ‘mom’ looks over the half-door. To support the Gaylord Center for Excellence in Equine Health contact Jayme Ferrell at or 405-385-0729.