Saturday, February 20, 2010

Amigo - One Amazing Horse

Saturday February 20 2010

It's been a traumatic 5 weeks since a shocking and distressing sight greeted Gary Sanderson the afternoon of January 17 at his barn door in Tennessee. His 9-year-old Arabian endurance horse was standing apart from his herdmates with a tree branch impaled in his side.

"I couldn't talk," Gary said. He did manage to call his veterinarian, Dr Martin, and his girlfriend Kara Disbrow. "He was incoherent," Kara said.

Though they still don't know what happened, Gary and Kara surmise Amigo either slid in the mud into a tree, or a tree fell on him in the 110 acres where Amigo and his two buddies roam. One veterinarian later deduced that Amigo had had the stick lodged in him for 10-12 hours before Gary discovered him.

Dr Martin recommended putting Amigo down immediately. Gary asked him if he had any chance of survival. "Dr Martin said he might have a 2% chance to live if we got him to the University hospital." Amigo had shown Gary nothing but heart in their 5 years together, and, besides, Gary says, "What are you going to do? He's like my son. I had to give him the chance to survive."

Amigo walked on his own and loaded up into a trailer and was hauled to the University of Tennessee Large Animal Clinic, where his surgery immediately began. He took it all standing up, and it took the team of veterinarians about an hour to remove nearly 30 inches of the 2-inch diameter branch from his body.

It had collapsed his left lung and broken two ribs, and introduced a deathly load of bacteria into his body. The veterinarians packed the gaping hole left by the branch with four rolls of gauze, re-inflated his lung, put in ports to drain fluid from the lung and wound, and put him on several antibiotics to combat the bugs and toxins in his system. Eventually his right lung also needed a port. "He looked like he'd been in target practice with all the tubes coming out of him," Gary said.

It was touch and go over the next few weeks; Amigo came close to death several times and defied it each time. He received two series of plasma from donors, but had an allergic reaction to the second series, where his platelets attacked the plasma, instead of the infections in his body. He went into respiratory distress several times, once falling down kicking in a seizure (a vet deduced he'd had a blood clot in his brain).

Then, 4 weeks after the accident, came the dreaded "L-word" - laminitis. Gary had been hopeful and upbeat up until that day. "That's what got me," Gary says. "He'd been doing so well, getting better, every day progressing a little, PCV (red blood cell volume in the blood) good, lung drains removed, wound healing, bacteria dying, then BOOM. He crashes." Gary had a hard time keeping a positive attitude around Amigo, something his horse definitely needed.

The vets had removed the lung drain because the blood work looked good, but the bacteria had increased. Drain tubes were put back in and the lung flushed twice a day. Amigo returned to the Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber for daily treatment and got ice boots for his feet. One antibiotic was changed, and a fourth added. He was put on IV fluids, he was put on tube feeding because he needed more nutrients than the hay he was eating (he wasn't interested in grain).

And once again, Amigo thwarted death. The laminitis threat was arrested. He's now alert, walking outside several times a day, and grazing (he is still being tube fed). He's down to two antibiotics.

Through it all Amigo has amazed and stolen the hearts of his veterinarians and the vet students working on him."He's an amazing animal," Gary says. "He's been the best patient. He has never fought or objected to his treatments. In fact, that's one of his problems - this horse doesn't show any pain. He's very stoic."

One of Amigo's veterinarians, Dr Nicholas Frank, concurs, calling Amigo the "most cooperative patient." He credits some of Amigo's amazing progress to Gary's devotion. "He has an extremely dedicated owner who loves him very much. We should never underestimate the power of that in a situation like this."

Amigo's friends started a Facebook page for him; he now has almost 3500 fans following his progress and sending good wishes his way.

While Amigo still has a long way to go, and he's not completely out of the woods yet, his chances of survival are now better than 50/50. He's on the upswing again, though he's pretty exhausted. He hasn't laid down once since the accident.

And while just coping with Amigo's survival has been traumatic for Gary, now comes the reality of the vet bills. The original guesstimate was $5-6000. But nobody could have predicted what Amigo would be going through, and those bills are now close to $20,000.

"Financially, I'm devastated," Gary says, but he doesn't regret anything. "What would you have done, when your horse is showing he's wanting to fight for his life? I love the horse. Next to Kara, he's my best friend. I had to give him that chance."

Gary is starting a second job; some fund-raisers are in the works, by local groups and Leslie Greenwood, a fan from from Canada; and friends and fans of Amigo on Facebook have begun sending donations, which as of Saturday February 20th, totaled over $1600.

Anybody wanting to join Amigo's fanclub and follow his progress and send good wishes can do so on, "Amigo - One Amazing Horse!" Anybody wishing to donate money towards Amigo's bills can do so through paypal using or by sending a check payable to

University of TN Large Animal Clinic Patient #211197 Amigo

University of TN c/o Business office
2407 River Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996

Leslie Greenwood from Canada has started a Fundraiser for Amigo, making Italian Charms (with a photo of your equine friend) for $10, with all proceeds going to Amigo and Gary and Kara. Leslie can be contacted at . Her fundraiser page on Facebook is on this page.

Any money raised over the amount of the vet bills will be placed in an Amigo Fund at the hospital, Gary says, to help other horses in need.

Now, all of you go out and hug your horse and say a little horse prayer for Amigo. He's not done fighting yet.

(most photos by Kara Disbrow)


  1. What a heart-warming tale. A devoted owner, to say the least, and one amazing animal both determined to keep each other! Thanks for posting this.

  2. This story just breaks my heart. If all of us horse owners/lovers sent just $10 we could help Gary pay this bill. Just $10. I can think of $10 worth of stuff that I can give up this week. What about you?

  3. Such an incredible story. I have been following his story and can not imagine what it would be like for the owner to have discovered Amigo in this condition.

    I'd like to think that I would have remained calm and got the help that was needed. And then I wonder if I could have kept from having an emotional melt down.

  4. WOw. That's just an incredible story of love, perserverance, devotion and bravery.

    Thanks for sharing,

  5. I just made a modest donation on paypal. I won't eat out next week. It's worth it. Thanks for posting it, I'm going to link to it. I hope people can help!

  6. AHA should cover Amigo- Arabs have bad raps as being delicate little halter horses who are crazy Boy does Amigo prove that isn't true.

  7. I wonder if anyone has checked that out? (AHA covering the cost or some of it.) Had an Arabian owner recently tell me that all registered Arabs are covered under an insurance policy. Dont know if that is true, but if it is and Amigo is registered, that would be a massive help to his devoted Dad.

  8. It is incredible what a horse can survive in one instance and what will kill them in another. Kudos to his owner for going to great lengths to save his beloved horse.

  9. I found your blog while nosing around Grey Horse Matters and... Wow!

    What an incredible story! That first picture made my heart skip a beat! I'm so glad Amigo is doing well and that his owner was compassionate enough to take the chance. This is such an amazing tale to read about, and I think Amiga and his owner need all the press (and money for vet bills) they can get. I'll pass the story and donation link around my blog.

  10. Anonymous and Mrs Mom, I told Gary about AHA and he said: "yep, Amigo and my other two are covered through AHA but it is $1 million in liability insurance only! If they kick a truck door....covered...if they break someone else'sarm...covered...but...when they decide to go jousting in the pasture and critically injure themselves....unfortunately....not covered!"

  11. Amigo-One Amazing Horse!February 22, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    Amigo says Thanks guys! He appreciates all the love and support! He's getting stronger daily and there seems to be a light at the end of this very dark tunnel....

  12. Phiew. What a story.
    Amazing horse, and equally amazing owner.
    The photo beside my blogname is showing me on my old gelding, Amigo.
    So I have an extra soft spot for a horse with that name...

  13. He IS one amazing incredible story to say the least. I'm glad you posted it.

  14. Looked up this great horse in Data Source. His registered name is Galapagos Amigo, AHA # 573303, Chestnut gelding born 2002.

    We should get this story to AHA to see if they could help.

  15. That would be a great idea. Send it straight to Denise Hearst and not through the 'channels' so to speak.

  16. It's all in a name. Friends never give up on friends, Amigos. My Amigo suffered an injury many years ago and the vet decided it would be best to euthenize him because he would never walk again. I couldn't accept that and I went to work. With a lot of help from a friend and a lot of love I never gave up on my amigo. Today I have one of the greatest horses I have ever owned and at 19 years he's still going strong and running with the youngsters. Have faith and pray, miracles do happen.

  17. I just sent a modest donation to the University of TN in Amigo's name. If everyone who could spare even the smallest donation would also do so Gary probably wouldn't have to work a second job.
    I had a pregnant mare who had a similar accident 2 years ago when she was a week from her delivery date. Only she impaled her stomach when a fence post broke, we think from her itching against it. Although she developed a massive infection we were very lucky that her uterus wasn't compromised. Thanks to my vet & the folks at UC Davis large animal hospital both survived & are doing well today.

  18. i know of a local midwest story, much the same as amigo's. i hope this helps w/ your faith in him, and a horse's ability to self-heal. in this case it was a draft mare,WITH FOAL, who was given about the same odds, w/ an almost identical tree branch impalement. it was many, many month's of healing, but they BOTH survived beautifully. gosh they r a hearty species, so never underestimate their abilities!

  19. I just came across this story and am amazed at Amigo and the love of his owner. This story is very inspiring. I hop Amigo gets well and goes home soon! Go Amigo!

    I have horses, dogs and birds and two months ago one of my dogs nailed my African Grey with 5 major puncture wounds that entered the body cavity, one next to her heart, one between her intestines and kidneys, and one in her upper air sac. I raced her to the vet and she also survived, against all odds. After $3000, I thought, what difference does it make whether it's one pound or a thousand, she is an amazing family member, and she's worth it. I'd spend this on a colic surgery in a second! It was only one week in the hospital of touch and go, and coddling when she got home, but I'd do it again in a second.
    Endurance horses are TOUGH!
    Kudos to you and Amigo, and I'm headed to PayPal now!

  21. As a Horse owner, i can feel the love of this owner towards his Best friend.
    I am thankful that all worked out.

  22. Gary, I also have an Arabian so that makes us kindred spirits. Have you ever read the book "Finding the Magic", by auther 'Dan Sumerel'? He repeatedly refers to using a diagnostic tool, "BioScan".He may contact you regarding finding someone in this area to do them, It would be a great advantage.Good Luck and special prayers.Diana Raines

  23. reading this brought tears to my eyes... i couldnt believe what i was reading... he is a beautiful horse who is very very VERY lucky.
    all the best