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Oklahoma State University

Giving Darkwatch New Light

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Pictured (left to right): Owners of Darkwatch Beth Lendrum and Erin Hofmann, Darkwatch, Dr. Todd Holbrook, Judy Branson, RVT, and Zach Arnold, fourth year veterinary student.

A championship horse named Darkwatch has a bright new future, thanks to experts at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Late last November, Darkwatch was traveling from California to the Fall Championships in North Carolina. Near Amarillo, Texas, the 13-year-old developed a fever.

“My coach was transporting Darkwatch and noticed that he wasn’t feeling well,” said owner and competition rider Erin Hofmann from Park City, Utah. “Our veterinarian at home, Dr. Jordan Hammer, is an Oklahoma State alum (’06) and recommended that we call OSU’s Veterinary Hospital. He knows Drs. Todd Holbrook and Lyndi Gilliam and recommended Oklahoma State for great care.”

Both Gilliam and Holbrook are board-certified equine internal medicine specialists.

“Darkwatch had developed a condition we call pleuropneumonia, which horse owners know as shipping pneumonia or shipping fever,” Gilliam said. “He had a lot of fluid around his lungs on both sides of his chest. He was having a really hard time breathing and getting oxygen.”

OSU’s care encompassed several components, she said.

“We did several diagnostics on him to determine what bugs were causing his pneumonia so we could find effective antibiotics to fight his infection,” Gilliam said. “We used diagnostic imaging to map his chest to see exactly where the problems were so we could follow his improvement. In addition to the antibiotics, we did nutritional care with him, which is important for his healing. He didn’t have a great appetite so we had to get creative to keep him eating. We used a lot of supportive care to keep his whole body healthy while his lungs are healing.”

Four weeks later, just a week before Christmas, Darkwatch went home.

“I work for a medical device company so I’m in hospitals for humans all over the country and see that level of care,” Hofmann said. “This is above and beyond anything I have ever seen anywhere, for veterinary or human care. The conversations we were having when we arrived were that he might not leave.

“It’s just been amazing how much effort everyone has put into him and making him better. It’s definitely a collaborative environment with much discussion going on between the veterinarians and finding solutions. It’s been very impressive being here. He’s healthy and happy and making a recovery.”

As an event horse, Darkwatch does dressage, cross country jumping and show jumping all in one weekend. He must be an all-around horse, good at multiple things that require much athleticism. 

“At this point, his prognosis is good,” Gilliam said. “He has one piece of lung that hasn’t quite healed. It will probably be 30 to 60 days before he’s back to where we want him to be. We expect him to continue to heal.

“Being an eventer requires a lot of cardiovascular fitness so he will have to get back in shape. He’s been out of work for a while. I wouldn’t expect him to be back to full competition for a year.”

Throughout his hospital stay, Darkwatch’s owners visited regularly.

“His owners have been extraordinarily committed to his care,” Gilliam said. “One of the concerns with horses that have to be on antibiotics and hospitalized is antibiotic-induced diarrhea. Exposing them to grazing in the natural environment, getting those natural bugs back in their system as much as possible, helps prevent that. His owners literally stayed in Stillwater and took him out multiple times a day just so he could graze. They helped us make his food just exactly how he likes it and took him on walks. I feel like that was key in helping him get better.”

Holbrook added details about Darkwatch’s care, offering credit to all.

“It was a team effort for sure,” Holbrook said. “Darkwatch also received intensive care around the clock from technicians, residents and students after hours. Horses that develop this condition can get seriously ill very quickly and require intensive management that honestly is quite expensive. We appreciate all that his owners have done. Our ability to offer round-the-clock care makes a big difference in these guys because they can change rapidly.”

His owners are thrilled with the horse’s treatment.

“We will be eternally grateful for the people here who have taken care of him and had a vested interest in his recovery,” said Beth Lendrum, Hofmann’s mother. “It’s amazing that he survived the illness; pleuropneumonia takes so many. When we pulled in with the trailer, an entire team in white coats, filled with genuine concern, came out to meet us. It was like ‘here comes the team to save the day,’ and they did. They saved this amazing athlete and family member. Thank you to everyone who helped. It will never be enough to express our gratitude.”

Darkwatch will continue under the care of his veterinarian in Utah.

“Darkwatch will have seamless care as he transfers back to Dr. Hammer’s care,” Gilliam said. “We have been in contact all along the way, and I think that’s made a huge difference in us being able to know his history and Dr. Hammer being able to know what we’ve done here.”

MEDIA CONTACT: Derinda Blakeney, APR | OSU College of Veterinary Medicine | 405-744-6740 | derinda@okstate.edu

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