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After Highway Fall, an Extraordinary Recovery

Colby the miracle horse, one year after his fall
Colby the miracle horse, one year after his fall.

The inscription on the Gallop of Honor plaque couldn’t be more fitting: “Colby: the miracle horse!”

Pamela Johnson of Pikeville, N.C., said in March, 15-year-old Colby was in a trailer on his way back to the Johnsons’ barn. They were about to take an exit off Highway 70 near home when a truck driver got their attention and told them that they had lost a horse out the back of their trailer while traveling at 55 miles per hour.

The door was latched and secure; they had checked it recently during a stop. Johnson says the trailer is older and Colby is large and somewhat rambunctious. She believes Colby somehow bumped the door open and tumbled out.

Fortunately, he wasn’t tied to the inside of the trailer.

“He would have broken his neck,” Johnson says.

Johnson’s daughter, Amy, hopped out of their truck and ran back to check on Colby. She found him in a hole underneath a guardrail. Remarkably, a farrier driving another horse trailer came upon the scene. He and a friend helped get the horse upright. Colby got right back into the trailer and was taken home. Johnson got in touch with her primary veterinarian who rushed to meet them.

Colby suffered no broken bones, but he had deep, gaping wounds to his knees and fetlocks. Rocks and debris from the road were lodged into open tissues and exposed joints. Internal injuries were possible. After cleaning and bandaging, Colby was given pain medication the Johnsons were told to to bring him to the equine emergency service at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine right away.

Colby arrived at 8:30 p.m. and was seen by Megan Burke, an equine emergency and critical care clinician. Burke confirmed that there were no broken bones and said there were no internal injuries. Burke took Colby into surgery, where she removed rocks and dead tissue.

The care Colby received was absolutely phenomenal,” Johnson says. “We couldn’t have made it without NC State. He would have been dead.”

Burke noted joint fluid leakage in Colby’s deepest wounds. With the danger of infection high, Colby was treated with a spectrum of antibiotic and anti-inflammatory medications, as well as IV fluids and extensive bandaging. From there he was placed under the care of Lauren Schnabel, assistant professor of equine orthopedic surgery.

Schnabel is a renowned researcher focusing on stem cell immunology and use of biologic therapies to treat musculoskeletal injuries and diseases. Her use of advanced stem cell therapy accelerated Colby’s healing process. “The care Colby received was absolutely phenomenal,” Johnson says. “We couldn’t have made it without NC State. He would have been dead.”

Although there were doubts Colby would ever be healthy again, when he was discharged at the end of May, it was clear that he was well on the way to a full recovery.  Johnson has expressed her gratitude in several ways, including donations to the CVM supporting Schnabel’s research and the equine orthopedic service. Her donation to the Gallop of Honor program was a salute to Colby’s bravery.

Today, Johnson rides him regularly. The scars on his legs are the only reminder of his ordeal.

“With the right kind of support you can make it through the hard times,” Johnson says.

The Gallop of Honor: Personalized horseshoes are a perfect way to recognize a beloved horse, veterinarian or friend. For a gift of $250 or more, your horseshoe and personalized plaque will appear on the Gallop of Honor wall in the Large Animal Hospital. With this gift, you will be helping the College set and keep pace with the advances in equine health. For more information, go here.

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine