Eight months of trying. Eight months of fighting. Never a question in anyone’s mind that the odds were long. Was the fight worth it?
From the beginning, Barbaro’s owners were clear: They would continue only as long as Barbaro was comfortable. “We just reached a point where it was going to be difficult for him to go on without pain,” owner Roy Jackson said. “It was the right decision, it was the right thing to do. We said all along if there was a situation where it would become more difficult for him then it would be time.”
This is one of the most difficult decisions: how far to go. Not just for a champion thoroughbred, but for any beloved animal. Over and over, I hear people say: This is the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. We talk together about quality of life. We discuss signs to watch for: of pain, of joylessness, of the animal giving up. More often than not, when the owner makes the decision, they tell me: I knew it was time. He told me. I could see it in his face.
“He was just a different horse,” said Barbaro’s chief surgeon, Dr. Dean Richardson. “You could see he was upset. That was the difference. And it was more than we wanted him put through.”
They came close. So close that last month, Barbaro’s doctors were beginning to talk about releasing him from the hospital this spring. But in veterinary medicine, the tide turns with quality of life. Acute pain that can be managed, where there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, yes. Pain that is ongoing and can’t be controlled—no. You can’t explain to an animal, Well, we’re just going to keep pushing ahead, see if we can turn this thing around. Hang in there.
As long as Barbaro was comfortable and fighting, then it was a good fight. The moment that changed, the fight was over. Barbaro was fortunate to have had owners and doctors who understood that, and who were willing to let him go.
“Grief,” said his owner, Gretchen Jackson, “is the price we all pay for love.”