Horse gets new leg and new mission in life

FLORIDA — A four-legged victim of Hurricane Irma has found a new purpose in life, thanks to Hopes, Dreams and Horses (HDH).

Bet on a Star, known by the barn nickname of “81”, was on his way to becoming a world champion cutting horse in the summer of 2017, when tragedy struck.

Despite his medical issues, Bet on a Star (also called 81), has kept a positive and friendly attitude. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

81, whose sire was National Cutting Horse Association Open World Champion Bet Hesa Cat, had been purchased as a yearling for $30,000 by a rancher in Clewiston. As a 3-year-old, he was well on his way to make his own name famous.

Then Hurricane Irma destroyed his barn and flooded the pasture on the ranch near Clewiston. Stranded in a flooded pasture for days, 81 contracted the deadly tropical disease Pythiois (sometimes called “swamp cancer” or “Florida horse leeches”) caused by exposure to a species of water mold.

“There were expectations of him attending the futurity,” said Sue Copeland, executive director of Hopes, Dreams and Horses (HDH) in Jupiter. “As talented as 81 was, he probably would have been a world champion.”

HDH in partnership with Major’s Solution (formerly Fungus Free Plus), are specialists in aiding in the recovery of Pythiosis.

“81 was brought to us by his owner, Jack, for care until the barn was rebuilt,” explained Mrs. Copeland. After three debridements and daily internal Major’s Solution in conjunction with External Major’s Solution on fresh bandages, 81 was was considered free of the disease.”

Meanwhile 81’s owner, struggling with more problems at the ranch, decided to transfer ownership of the horse to HDH.

“81 joined the team of therapy horses and immediately had a major impact on the center,” she said. Despite his wound and continuing medical treatments, the horse was always friendly to people.

Unfortunately, as it healed, his wound produced an excess amount of new tissue called “proud flesh.”

When the field operation options were exhausted, HDH decided to try one last surgery in a hospital setting with Dr. Weston Davis of Palm Beach Equine. One of the volunteers, whose own father has a prosthetic leg, raised the funds for this surgery. He did an amazing job of removing the proud flesh, Mrs. Copeland explained, but weeks later a complication with the cast resulted in the loss of 81’s hoof. The choice was now euthanasia or a prosthetic limb.

“The thought of euthanasia broke our hearts,” she said.

Dr. Davis happened to be friends with the leading world expert in equine limb replacements, Dr. Ted Vlahos of Sheridan Equine Hospital in Wyoming.

Another campaign was started to raise the funds for the amputation, hospital recovery and the prosthetic device. To date a quarter of the funds have been raised.

After a month of preparation, Dr. Haynes Stevens assisted Dr. Vlahos in operating on 81 at Equine Services LMT in Wellington. Part of the horse’s leg had to be amputated and he was fitted with a temporary prosthetic device embedded in a cast. Once the amputated leg is completely healed, in about two months, Hanger Clinic will fit and custom make a prosthetic device for ‘81’. He is expected to be able to walk, trot and canter as soon as the device is in place.

Bet on a Star takes his first steps after waking up from surgery. The Hanger Institute, an innovator for both human and animal cases, will be referring patients that come from around the world for help from the Paley Institute to the Hopes, Dreams and Horses center for therapeutic sessions once Bet on a Star is healed. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

Hanger Clinic has worked with animals before. They are known for making a prosthetic tail for an injured dolphin — the true story that was the basis of the movie, “Dolphin Tale.”

81’s own story is expected to have a happy ending.

The 4-year-old gelding will rejoin the HDH horse therapy program this winter. “He will now be a huge asset to the Equine Assisted Psychotherapy program, explained Mrs. Copeland.

81 will work with disabled veterans, children and others who have lost a limb, as well as serve as a general therapy horse.

Mrs. Copeland said 81’s story can also help educate horse owners about Pythiois prevention and treatment.

About Hopes, Dreams and Horses

Hopes, Dreams and Horses (HDH) was founded as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization in 1998 after Executive Director Sue Copeland experienced the healing power of equine therapy firsthand. Mrs. Copeland founded HDH to help others in her community find peace and healing through equine therapy. In 2004 Ms. Copeland was certified as an Equine Specialist in Equine Assisted Psychology and Equine Assisted Learning. She, along with another certified mental health professional, added these two programs to the center.

HDH is also a rescue facility. HDH has also rescued, rehabilitated and re-homed more than 50 horses throughout the years. Some of these rescue horses were well suited for therapy work and joined the team at HDH. In 2006 they partnered with Major’s Solution and became leading experts on healing horses with a lethal disease called ‘Pythiosis’.

HDH encourages donations but does not charge for the equine therapy. For more about HDH online go to

TV news covered 81’s return from a surgery on Aug. 31, 2018. Special to the Lake Okeechobee News.

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