Willmar girl keeps blind show horse in competitions
WILLMAR, Minn. - From a distance, the beautiful gray Arabian nuzzling his young owner looks just like any other horse - and he is, except he's completely blind.
The 23-year-old show horse registered as Positive Vibes lost his sight in May, but his owner, Mercedes Schueler, 10, of Willmar, has never given up on him.
Steering and leading him with her body and voice, Schueler maintained Vibe's trust and quickly became his eyes.
The pair has competed in eight shows together this summer.
"Every Friday night, we're grooming and cleaning; and Saturday morning we're on the road," said Kristine Schueler, Mercedes' mom.
With five horses, Mercedes and her siblings, Dylan, 16, and MaQuelah, 14, have been riding and showing horses for as long as they can remember.
Mercedes started showing horses for 4-H when she was 5, but it wasn't until last year that she found Vibes.
When Mercedes first rode Vibes, he was completely blind in his left eye due to an unknown injury that occurred about 10 years ago. The left side is the side you always lead from, so Mercedes had to tell him where to go using clucking sounds and kissing, Kristine said.
Mercedes rode Vibes several times before showing him at the Kandiyohi County Fair and making the final decision to keep him.
At that point, there was no doubt that he was coming home with us, Kristine said.
Mercedes rode and showed Vibes for the rest of the summer with a red rose marking his blind eye. He would tilt his head to the side and ride farther from the rail when he turned left, but he could see and make his way around.
During the winter, Vibes began losing vision in his right eye. He would run into the wall and get lost in the barn, Kristine said. "It was getting worse all winter."
Steven Rumsey, owner of South 71 Veterinarian Clinic in Willmar, discovered a cataract in Vibes' right eye in May. A cataract is opacity in the lens of the eye that affects the vision. It is caused by inflammation in the eye, inherited genetic traits or toxic substances.
Kristine said Vibes was no longer responding to movement by blinking or shifting his eye. His vision was completely gone.
The Schuelers were presented with a couple of options: put Vibes down or take him in for surgery, which they could not afford.
Rumsey said it's uncommon for horses to go completely blind, but when they do, they are usually put down.
The Schuelers weren't ready to let Vibes go, so they learned to adapt.
One of the family's other horses, Breeze, became Vibes' pasture buddy.
Breeze started taking care of Vibes and leading him around the pasture, Kristine said.
Mercedes learned patience steering Vibes, so he wouldn't run into walls.
"It's OK, buddy. It's OK," Mercedes says reassuring him as she leads him down the path.
Jasmine Maki writes for the West Central Tribune