Therapy Pony Faces Surgery to Prevent Blindness


A young boy prepared his beloved pony for experimental surgery on Friday.

Nathan Young received Buggs on his first birthday present, 10TV's Andrea Cambern reported.

"My mom put a little saddle on him. I got on. I didn't know what to do and I was just like, ‘I love this horse. I'm going to keep him forever,’" Young said.

But that may be a problem because Buggs is going blind. At seventeen, which is middle-aged for pony, Buggs is already blind in one eye, and quickly losing the vision in the other.

The issues are caused by a recurrent inflammation that can flare up several times a month. Buggs does not know it, but he has a date with an animal eye doctor at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Anne Gemensky-Metzler, a veterinary ophthalmologist at Ohio State, has seen a lot of this kind of eye disease in horses.

"It triggers blindness because the inflammation inside the eye can have some complications," she said.

Those complications include cataracts, painful glaucoma and optic nerve damage, which end in blindness.

Until now, the Young family put medicine in Buggs' eye through a port just above it, to no avail. He was still in pain.

In April the veterinarian plans to put a drug-coated implant into Bugg's left eye.

"The implant controls inflammation, and by doing that hopefully you would hopefully limit those complications," Gemensky-Metzler said.

It is a clinical trial that may halt the progression of the disease.

Jennifer Young spent thousands of dollars on medicine for Buggs. It was money she had saved toward replacement of the small red barn on her tiny Willowcreek Farm. In addition to Buggs, the barn houses two horses.

Jennifer Young said that she needed the new barn, but willingly handed over her money to try and save Buggs’ sight.

Buggs became the first and last equine that many people would know. For half his life, he was a therapy pony for a nursing home in Fairfield County. The smallest of the aged got to ride him. Others got to pet him.

"A lot of them probably had horses or ponies as kids, and that's a great memory for them," Jennifer Young said.

Buggs also provided rides to the children of the Southern Ridge Riders in Perry County, a 4-H club.

Children who had never been on a horse were treated to their first rides on the patient pony. Other kids borrowed him so they could participate in horse shows. Jennifer Young said that Buggs has earned more than fifty trophies.

"The littlest children in our 4-H club, they've grown up with them," Jennifer Young said. "They're always saying, that's the pony I'm riding."

Sharing Buggs was fine with Nathan Young.

"He's just been a good companion of mine. As I got older, I became a little bit too big for Buggs," Nathan Young said. "I'm glad to help kids who don't have a chance to ride horses, so they can borrow Buggs. I'm glad to make them happy with Buggs."

Jennifer did not know where the money would come from to help save Buggs sight. She said that she's a proud person, and did not want to ask for help.

"I realize that it wasn't about me. It was about Buggs. And I couldn't do this alone. It started out with the 4-H club offering their help and support, holding fundraisers and raffles for him. And then Whiskers contacted me."

That's Whiskers Animal Welfare, run by her lifelong friend, Chris Morrow.

"We started out putting something up on Facebook, and opening an account for people to donate. And after that it just sort of snow-balled," Morrow said.

Jennifer Young set up an account at Standing Stone Bank in Lancaster, and said there is around a thousand dollars in it. Half came from Whiskers Animal Welfare, and half from fundraisers by children. She estimated that the surgery and post-operative care will cost around five thousand dollars. She said that Buggs is worth it.

"I was walking him back across the road the other night from being out on the pasture and he was so quiet. He was staying very close to me, " Jennifer Young said. " I realized the trust the he has in me, and the bond that I've developed with him all these years. And I started to cry, and I told him, I said, ‘I'm going to see you through this.’"

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