TRABUCO CANYON : Surgeons Pitch In to Help a Popular Pony

In the last year, a brown Shetland pony named Tony has won the hearts of students at Trabuco Elementary School with his friendly personality and playful manner.

But on Saturday, a day after the students left school for the winter holidays, the beloved pony, part of the school’s animal program, became ill with a life-threatening form of colic.

The 12-year-old Tony was examined by Dr. Mark Secor, a veterinarian and the parent of an 11-year-old student at the school. Secor determined that the pony would not survive without expensive emergency surgery, which the financially strapped Saddleback Valley Unified School District might not be able to afford.

“He’s a tough little pony and he wanted to live,” Secor said. “A lot of horses just lie down and call it quits, but he fought.”


Encouraged by Tony’s fighting spirit and burdened with the knowledge that the pony was a favorite of children at the school, Secor began trying to get a veterinary hospital to do the surgery, which normally would cost about $6,000, for free.

“I’ve never heard of anyone donating their services before, so I wasn’t real hopeful that we would be able to get the surgeons,” Secor said.

But after making a few calls, Secor was able to persuade surgeons at San Luis Rey Equine Hospital in Bonsall, near Oceanside, to donate their time and skills at no cost to the school district. But $2,000 is still needed to cover the bill for the costly medical supplies used during the surgery and to pay for medication in the coming months.

Dr. Jay Rose, a veterinary surgeon at the hospital, said he and his colleagues volunteered their services because they were touched by the horse’s plight.


“He’s not a real expensive racehorse, but he’s a real important horse to a lot of kids and I think that’s what made us decide to do it,” Rose said. “We all love animals and it isn’t always just about money. I think we’d all give our services away if we could figure out a way to do it.”

On Sunday, after two hours of surgery which involved opening the pony’s abdomen and removing an obstruction from his colon, the animal is improving but is not yet out of danger.

“He’s a very, very sick pony in critical condition,” Rose said. “He has responded to surgery and he has improved. It will be at least 48 hours before we have an indication of how well he will do.”

If all goes well, the horse will remain at the hospital for at least a week, Rose said. It will then take him about three months to recover before he is able to return to the school.


Parents are already busy planning fund-raisers to help pay the $2,000 in medical supplies needed to keep Tony alive.

“I’m really impressed with how everyone has really gone out of their way to help this pony,” said Trabuco Elementary Principal Sondra Morrow. “The district is very concerned about all of the animals at the school and they support them financially. But the community has a sense of ownership about these animals and I wouldn’t be amazed it they raise the entire amount themselves.”

Any additional funds needed to pay the pony’s medical expenses would come out of the district’s self-supporting recreation program, according to Tim Phelps, the district’s recreation director.

Tony is one of five ponies and three horses at the school, which also has rabbits, a goat, peacocks, roosters, ducks and doves in its animal program.


“All of the animals, especially the horses, are so important to the kids at the school,” said Secor’s wife, Sharon. “They know the horses and they are a part of their daily routine. Tony would have definitely been missed.”