25-year-old ‘miracle’ dressage Arab thrives after op to remove eight feet of intestine

  • A 25-year-old Arab who was “born for dressage” – and who had eight feet of intestine removed this year – is happy back in work.

    Kaitlyn Bonis’ “miracle horse” Sunny defied the odds to survive surgery when a tumour was found strangulating his guts a few months ago.

    “It was a typical Saturday several months ago when 19-year-old Kaitlyn Bonis completed a dressage workout with Sunny, her 25-year-old Arabian horse,” a spokesman for the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine said. “But the next day, her family received a call from Sunny’s barn that he didn’t appear well, and the veterinarian was on his way. The horse Kaitlyn had owned since she was 11 was fighting for his life.”

    Kaitlyn and Sunny started competing together in hunter-jumper events, in 2016, with “varying results”. Their trainer suggested they try dressage, in which Sunny “truly found his calling”, winning at their first show. The pair moved up the levels, winning four regional championships and standing reserve national champion, until Sunny’s semi-retirement last year.

    “Kaitlyn’s mother, Andrea Bonis, describes Sunny as the kind of horse who doesn’t come along very often – Kaitlyn’s horse of a lifetime,” the spokesman said.

    “It is clear they were willing to do whatever it took to save Sunny.”

    The spokesman said Sunny showed no improvement after initial treatment for colic, and the vet referred him to the veterinary hospital.

    “Upon arrival at UC Davis, Sunny was immediately examined by an extensive team of faculty critical care and surgery specialists, residents, technicians, and students,” he said.

    “He appeared uncomfortable and showed signs of colic with a distended abdomen. A belly tap revealed peritoneal fluid with signs of septic peritonitis, a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the abdominal cavity.”

    The team carried out exploratory surgery owing to Sunny’s pain, and found a lipoma, or fatty abdominal tumour. Lipomas, which are more common in older horses, strangulate the intestine, cutting off the blood supply. In this case, eight feet of small intestine was affected.

    “Due to the seriousness of his condition, the anesthesiologists maintaining Sunny under general anesthesia had to work extremely hard to keep him alive while we performed the surgery,” said Isabelle Kilcoyne, chief of the equine surgical emergency and critical care service. “Drs Harriet Flynn and Manuel Fernades-Barrientos did a tremendous job in helping to save Sunny’s life.”

    The surgeons removed the section of intestine and connected the healthy ends. Sunny spent 10 days in hospital, after which he was allowed home. A month of box rest followed, with in-hand walking after a fortnight, then Sunny was allowed out, first in a small area, then in a field, “completing all levels of recovery without complications”, the spokesman said.

    “He’s our miracle horse, and we owe this to the UC Davis team – he couldn’t have been in better hands,” said Andrea. “Everybody was very kind, understanding, and professional, and they all took excellent care of our little boy. For a horse who was given a 10% chance to make it, you’d never know by looking at him now what an ordeal he underwent.”

    Sunny has since had his 25th birthday, and Kaitlyn is back on board.

    “She hopes to enjoy Sunny as a pleasure horse for many years to come,” the spokesman said.

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