When a patient weighing more than 1,000 pounds became seriously ill in late December, Sharon Gardner turned immediately to specialists in Elmont.
But the Ruffian Equine Medical Center there closed suddenly on March 1, leaving horse owners without specialty medical services on Long Island.
The center's website states that the facility closed "due to restructuring and plans to reopen in May." Calls and e-mails to the center's owner, Dr. James Hunt, were not returned.
Gardner, 52, a licensed veterinary technician from Garden City, credits the center with saving the patient, a chestnut-colored American Quarter Horse with a white blaze on his face, from serious abdominal problems.
"This really came as a shock," said Gardner, who has four horses of her own. "It was rumored it was going to close, and, bang, it was closed. Losing Ruffian leaves us with a big deficit."
The $18-million hospital was considered a hub for treating area horses since it opened in May 2009, serving as a center for diagnostics and orthopedic surgery. The 26,000-square-foot facility, adjacent to the Belmont Park racetrack, includes two surgery suites, three recovery stalls, a high-speed treadmill, digital radiography equipment, a full-service laboratory and 26 standard barn stalls.
Michael Iavarone, chief executive of International Equine Acquisitions Holdings Inc., which owns the medical center property, said Ruffian closed because activity at Belmont Park won't resume until the spring meet begins on April 29.
"It's a good time for them to shut down," he said.
But Dr. Carl Juul-Nielsen, owner of the New York Equine Veterinary Practice in East Norwich, worried about the effect of the closure on local horse owners. With the loss of the hospital's services, Juul-Nielsen said, his clients with race, show or recreational horses could pay as much as $500 each way to send an animal to the closest clinics in New Jersey, Connecticut or upstate New York to undergo major procedures.
"Sometimes the cost of the shipping might exceed the cost of the procedure," said Juul-Nielsen, who provides medical care to horses at Belmont and Aqueduct Racetrack, as well as recreational or show horses.
Until the center reopens, Juul-Nielsen said his clinic would try to take care of follow-up procedures his clients had scheduled at Ruffian.
"I welcome its reopening, especially if we have some assurance that we will have something that is permanent," Juul-Nielsen said.
The medical center was named after the filly Ruffian, considered by many racing historians as one of the sport's greatest. She snapped her right foreleg in the famed "Battle of the Sexes" match race against colt Foolish Pleasure at Belmont on July 6, 1975, and was later euthanized.