Little horse with big heart inspires 2-legged friends
Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 5:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, May 5, 2013 at 5:48 p.m.
Roozer Brewz sounds like the name of a celebrity, and in a way, that’s true: the mini horse dwarf from Kansas City, called “Roo” for short, has more than 6,000 Facebook friends, and elicits “oohs” and “aahs” everywhere he goes.
Last week, that was the large animal hospital at the University of Florida, where Roo came for consultation about his limb deformities. Born bow-legged, Roo is considered a dwarf — at 19 inches long and 75 pounds, about half the size of a regular mini horse.
Like human dwarves, Roo has orthopedic problems due to uneven levels of growth hormones, said UF veterinarian Ali Morton, one of the doctors who cared for Roo.
Since he was born two years ago, Roo has walked with bulky bandages around his hooves to help him walk more evenly and to prevent trauma to his skin, said his owner Christine Clark, a former veterinarian technician turned nurse who has channeled Roo’s deformities into a learning tool for kids needing to overcome adversities. Mini horses are typically used as therapy horses, and those who are part of the “Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses” help rehabilitate patients at Shands Rehab Hospital. But Roo’s disabilities lend him an even stronger sense of purpose, Clark said.
Roo has visited at-risk youth and kids with psychiatric disorders and disabilities and has become a symbol of anti-bullying that works wonders on those he encounters, Clark said.
“He’s adorable and well-behaved,” said Morton, adding that mini horses can be “little bullies. Like little Napoleons.”
“Roo doesn’t judge. He accepts you for who you are,” Clark said, recalling one young man struggling with his sexual identity whom Roo helped.
At home — on a 4-acre property in Kansas City — Roo lives with three other mini horses, including his mother, a Tennessee Walker horse, and two dogs that he loves playing with.
Clark changes Roo’s bandages every few days, and more often when it rains or snows so the bandages don’t get too soggy.
After Clark read that UF worked on dwarf mini horses — one of the few places in the country that does — she drove with Roo for two days in her Ford Explorer, turning the back seat into his stall.
The doctors at UF decided against performing surgery on Roo to realign his bones, although Morton said that might be a possibility in the future. For now, they fit his back legs with orthotics and on his front hooves, placed aluminum “Magic Shoes” that function like arch supports, said Jody Schaible, a “farrier” at UF who worked on Roo.
Schaible practices the ancient trade of farriering, or equine hoof care, equipped with leather padding on his legs and cutting tools in his pockets: he first clipped Roo’s hooves with a giant nail clipper; then he filed them and placed Roo’s hooves in the aluminum shoes, which would later be glued on.
The treatments should help Roo walk more evenly and at least temporarily, prevent problems such as arthritis that typically result from the deformities, said Morton.
“These guys can live into their thirties. What we’re concerned with is quality of life,” Morton said, adding that the horses’ deformities don’t limit their lifespan.
After Roo was done at UF, Clark drove him back to Kansas City via a scenic route that included Atlanta, Tennessee and Illinois — so some of Roo’s Facebook friends could meet him.
Many of them contributed to the costs of Roo’s care, and Clark was able to raise about $9,400 through a fundraising campaign that spanned the globe. Roo has also appeared on news programs in Europe, New Zealand and the U.S.
Clark, who grew up on a cow farm and has had horses since she was 3 years old, vouched for Roo’s seemingly destined mission. Although Roo donned a Gator Jersey for his UF visit, a photo of Roo on Clark’s phone showed his birth marking: a heart-shaped patch of hair on his back.
And while Roo’s catchy name actually comes from the movie Rocky, his motto says it all, Clark said: “A miniature horse with a heart larger than himself.”
Contact Kristine Crane at 338-3119, or firstname.lastname@example.org.