Zach Holmes / Lantern reporter
Northstar, a horse burned by unknown arsonists in August, stood at full attention with his eyes locked on the peppermint held just inches from his face.
The horse lunged for the peppermint, rattling his wooden neck cradle, and came up successful. Northstar chomped the candy with a certain sense of satisfaction.
“He loves (peppermints), he will do anything for treats,” said Dr. Sam Hurcombe, assistant clinical professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “I think he’s a happier horse and his attitude is much improved now.”
Northstar, who was intentionally drenched in flammable liquid and set on fire last August, is making strides in his recovery process at Ohio State’s Galbreath Equine Research Center.
“He’s a different horse,” said veterinary technician Amanda Hutcheson. “He looks much better now.”
The 7-year-old paint gelding underwent his latest skin graft surgery on Tuesday as part of his long journey back to health.
Hurcombe, Northstar’s primary veterinarian, is happy with Northstar’s progress so far.
“It’s a slow process, but even in the time that we have been going, which has been four to five months, he has made pretty remarkable progress,” Hurcombe said.
Typically with burn injuries such as this one, only about half of the skin grafts will be successful, Hurcombe said. Northstar’s skin grafts have had an above-average success rate.
“We are remarkably surprised at how many skin grafts have actually taken,” Hurcombe said. “I would say we are in the 60 to 70 percent range. His pain management and pain control is in such a better place. The neck is essentially healed.”
Northstar has had four skin graft surgeries at OSU since the assault in Crawford County, Pa.
The surgeries consist of extracting a sheet of skin from Northstar’s chest and inserting it into the damaged areas, said Dr. Victoria Scott, a resident in the College of Veterinary Medicine. If the graft is successful, then it spreads into the damaged area, covering the wound.
Northstar was covered in multiple layers of heavy form-fitting bandaging and was wearing a wooden neck brace after the Tuesday surgery to keep him from scratching at his wounds.
“It is quite the elaborate bandaging system. Because this injury is so itchy, we don’t want him to self traumatize the tissue. So we have had to come up with ways to help him from itching,” Hurcombe said.
Hurcombe and Northstar’s owners Bob and Jessie Woodworth remain both positive and realistic about Northstar’s future, Hurcombe said.
“His owners just want him to be happy, pain free and live his life in the pasture with his pasture mates,” Hurcombe said. “If the skin heals better than we think, he might be able to be used for light trail riding, especially with small kids.”
Northstar returned to an Ohio farm on Saturday, the location of which has been kept secret for privacy reasons. He will return to OSU next month for more treatment.
“I don’t want to diminish the fact that he still has a long way to go, but we are really pleased with the progress he has made in a really short time,” Hurcombe said.
Northstar’s treatment is expected to continue throughout the next year.
“He had a birthday last month, he turned 7. I was thinking it would be really awesome if we had a layer of coverage by his eighth birthday,” Hurcombe said.