"I don't think anyone knows yet if this is major or not," Roy Jackson said from his home near the New Bolton Center in Kennett Square, Pa., where the horse underwent surgery Tuesday night on his left rear hoof. "[Dr. Dean Richardson, Barbaro's surgeon] is still analyzing it. ... Hopefully, this is just a hitch in the road, just one of those things that occurs."
Barbaro has been hospitalized at the New Bolton Center since suffering multiple fractures in his right rear leg at the May 20 Preakness. After five months of progress, the horse started showing discomfort Monday in his left rear hoof, which is recovering from laminitis.
A foot cast that was applied Jan. 3 by Dr. Scott Morrison, a podiatry expert from Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., was removed, according to a statement from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine.
"Some new separation of the medial [inside] portion of his hoof was found. This required some additional debridement [removal of the damaged tissue] Tuesday night," the statement said.
Dr. Kathleen Anderson, Barbaro's personal vet based at the nearby Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, where Barbaro trained during his racing career, said the horse "lost some of the hoof he has regrown" since the original case of laminitis struck him in July.
"This came as a surprise," Anderson said. "The further down the road he got, the more optimistic we all became. But once he foundered, once you go down that path, it takes a long time to resolve the insult. He was 50 percent of the way to recovery, if you base it on our earlier projections that it would take up to a year [to fully regrow his hoof].
"Now, a step back. But it's not necessarily the end. It is a problem when it's acutely painful, but is it major? It's significant.
"I don't think anyone should be disheartened. Barbaro is Barbaro. He's a fighter, and he'll give it his best shot, as is his team."
She also said the medical staff is attacking the foot problem aggressively with the resectioning of the injured area and with pain management.
Roy Jackson said his wife had visited Barbaro early in the day yesterday and reported, "He seemed fairly comfortable."
Anderson and Roy Jackson said there is no real way to know what caused the new problem.
"Maybe the new cast created some new pressure on the foot, but we don't know and probably won't know," Jackson said. "Basically, the cast was put on last Wednesday with the idea of it being that it would lead, at some point, to giving him more stability, by trying to change the angle on the coffin bone into the foot. But he got uncomfortable with it."
Barbaro suffered multiple fractures in his right rear leg early in the Preakness and while that leg was recovering suffered the life-threatening attack of laminitis during the first week of July. The laminitis eventually cost him nearly all of his left hind hoof wall.
Richardson was able to successfully manage Barbaro's pain, and the horse had made uninterrupted progress. With the broken right leg healed and with his left hoof growing steadily, if irregularly and slowly, Richardson said last month that Barbaro would be able to leave the hospital "in the not too distant future."
The Jacksons had hoped to have found a new home by the end of this month for Barbaro, whom they call "the people's horse" and who needs to be in a place capable of handling fans who want to visit.
Yesterday, Jackson said they had made a lot of inquiries and had been making progress, but now that process has been put on hold.
"This will set things back a while from the end of January," said Jackson, who planned to visit his horse yesterday evening.