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A way to see him through

The horse was doomed to blindness unless vets could find ...

By JAN WESNER, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2007


BRANDON - A girl and her horse. They stood together Thursday morning, in front of a crowd of cameras and reporters, the horse nibbling on her shoulder, the girl stroking his nose. His name is Ego Trip and he's 11. Her name is Tori Dahl and she's 15. They're best friends. Ego almost had to be put out to pasture earlier this year, after his good eye went blind.

"You could tell he heard all the sounds outside but he couldn't tell what they were," Tori said. "He was terrified."

She's owned Ego for three years, ever since her parents paid $6,500 to buy him from another girl who rode him at the same barn where Tori trained.

Tori's family brought him to the West Coast Regional Surgi-Care Center for Horses on Bloomingdale Avenue in Brandon.

Ego's right eye was diagnosed with glaucoma, which affects less than 1 percent of horses. Swollen and bulging out of its socket, it was the size of a pingpong ball.

His left eye had been destroyed by a previous run-in with a tree limb.

A 1,000-pound blind animal isn't safe to ride, and caring for him is difficult.

Most are put down.

Instead, veterinary ophthalmologist Franck Ollivier performed laser eye surgery on Ego's right eye in April. The surgery relieved pressure caused by fluid build-up from the glaucoma.

The laser procedure was a first for the Surgi-Care Center, which has been treating horses from Florida's west coast for 13 years at its Bloomingdale Avenue hospital.

Veterinarians at the center treat everything from snakebites to West Nile virus.

Ego spent only a day there before going back to his barn in the Lake Padgett Estates neighborhood in Land O'Lakes.

On Thursday, he returned to the hospital for a check-up. Ollivier said it was crucial because glaucoma is so rare in horses, there are no clinical studies to predict the outcome.

Ollivier pronounced the surgery a success. Ego has 50 to 60 percent vision in his right eye, and Tori is able to safely ride him again.

Ego will never be the race horse or the jumper he once was, but that's fine with Tori.

"He was my first horse and probably the only horse I'll ever have," she said.

The surgery cost $5,000. Insurance covered 10 percent of the bill, said Tori's dad, Larry Dahl. The family also spends about $150 a month on medicine.

Ollivier said there's a chance Ego might need another round of laser treatment in a year or so.

"Hopefully we don't have to cross that bridge again," Dahl said.

Jan Wesner can be contacted at (813) 661-2439 or jwesner@sptimes.com