Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Story of Lyle, Part 1

Today is Lyle’s seventh birthday. How did that happen? Wasn’t it just a couple of years ago that I was sleeping in the barn waiting for him to be born? He and I have been through a lot since then – some of it tragic , some of it hilarious, and most of it memorable.

My transition from a normal person to a horse person began in April 1999, when I bought a well-trained, foundation-bred, 11-year-old, chestnut Quarter Horse mare, who I named Emmy Lou. At my barn, she was an only horse, and I convinced myself that Waylon, Willie, and Wynonna (my two goats and pig) would be enough company for her. After about a year, though, I recognized that horses really need one of their own kind for company.

Emmy Lou came with quite a royal Quarter Horse pedigree (Skipper W and Two-Eyed Jack), so I decided to breed her and let her offspring be her forever companion. This would also give me the opportunity to raise and train a foal and start him/her under saddle. What did I know about any of this at the time? Nada. Zip. Zilch.  But I would have 11 months to figure it out.

So I went looking for a boyfriend for Emmy Lou and found a foundation-bred black stallion out of Hollywood Gold. Off to the stud farm she went, and she came home in foal. When she was about 6 months’ pregnant, she coliced, and thus began my long-term relationship with my vet, Kevin Dralle, as she coliced again...and again...and again. Initially, he suspected ulcers. After an arduous trial-and-error process with a multitude of diets and medications, we found that the best way to manage her discomfort was to feed her 7 times a day, starting with small portions in the morning and gradually working our way up to larger portions by the evening. Thankfully I was working from home and could handle this schedule. On the rare occasion when I had to leave the house for more than a few hours, I would have a friend or neighbor come over to monitor and feed her.

This went on for five months, but she stayed in foal. During her last month of pregnancy, I slept in the stall next to hers, with two alarm clocks set to wake me up on the hour. The morning of April 9, 2001, she told me “this is the day”– her body showed all the signs. Sure enough, at 9 pm, out came Skippa Little Lyle. It was a textbook delivery, and I was able to imprint him. His mom was chestnut, his dad was jet black, and he was some indeterminate color with lots of chrome and a huge white blaze. The blaze ended at the middle of his right eye, so half his eyelashes were brown and half were white, and they remain that way today.

I was optimistic that once Emmy was no longer pregnant, she would return to her normal, healthy self and I would go back to having a life. Not so.  The upside was Lyle learned how to load in a trailer at the age of two months, when I began hauling Emmy to a host of specialists in Albuquerque for stomach x-rays and endoscopies.

On a Sunday morning shortly after September 11, 2001, Emmy coliced as she had never coliced before – I remember standing in the corral, watching her writhe in pain and screaming her name. Somehow I managed to call Kevin to tell him we were on our way, then got her and Lyle loaded in the trailer. Kevin did surgery and found a displaced intestine, which he was able to put back in place. He also found yards of damaged intestine, which he could do nothing about because she had been under anesthesia for the limit. He suspected the damage was from parasites and lack of deworming when she was younger (I was her third owner).

Emmy would be staying at the clinic until she recovered, so I took Lyle home by himself. He had been weaned a few months prior and was a pretty independent little guy, so he seemed to be all right with just the barnyard animals for company.

I went to Albuquerque every afternoon to visit Emmy. While she recovered from the surgery itself, it was clear that she was in pain every time she ate - the scar tissue that lined her intestines prevented the food from passing through normally. What kind of quality of life could an animal designed to eat 24 hours a day have when every bite she took made her hurt? So after two weeks and oceans of tears, I made the hardest decision of my life, and Kevin euthanized her.

This is supposed to be the story of Lyle and all I’ve written about so far is his mom, but everything that happened to her made him who he is, so I can’t separate their stories. I’ll continue his story in Part 2 - it won’t be as sad...promise.


  1. I love how his blaze covers one eye but not the other!

    Reading this story I see that you deserve that award even more than I knew! Looking forward to more about Lyle, and happy birthday to the handsome boy!

  2. Thanks, Billie. Is there anything we wouldn't do for our horses? I don't think so.

  3. happy b-day lyle!
    as a new reader to your blog (I found you yesterday), this story is truly moving. I look forward to reading part 2 and I couldn't imagine being in your situation. But seven years later, I think it turned out well. :0)

  4. Welcome to the 7MSN, Faith. We love virtual visitors, since we rarely get the actual breathing variety. Stop by any time you like...the coffee's always ready.

  5. oh my, I never knew you had Lyle since a foal... well, since before his birth! How sad, but think of Emmy's fate had she not been with someone so kind and compassionate as you. They would have given up. You gave her a chance then helped her along peacefully. It was the week before 9/11 that I had to help my beautiful Fox to the other side....