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Deep bond between girl, her blind horse

“He is my buddy, and I love him a lot.”

There’s a special bond between a girl and her horse, just ask 11-year-old Mercedes Schueler, of rural Willmar. Her horse, Vibes, is now 24 years old and totally blind, and dependent on her. The two are comfortable with each other, and he trusts her completely. “I think it’s pretty cool that he trusts me enough to be his eyes.”

She first got the beautiful Arabian when one of her other horses went lame. He was partially blind when she got him because of a stick that had somehow poked him in his eye. The next year he started getting a cataract in the other eye, leaving him blind. “I was wondering if I would be able to ride him, but it wasn’t really bad. The vet said usually when horses are fully blind they put them down, but he was doing really fine. He could find his way around.” They also could have had surgery to remove the cataract but that was too expensive.

Mercedes decided she wanted to train Vibes, whose show name is Positive Vibes, and train him. She would tell Vibes what to do and tell him it was okay if he started getting nervous. “When he started getting blind I didn’t do games anymore because if he touched something he would jump forward.”

Mercedes said she was comfortable with riding Vibes in outside arenas, but when they rode in the arena at the Kandiyohi County Fairgrounds it was too small of a space. “When he started to lope, he would think he would run into a wall or something so I didn’t do that anymore.”

Mercedes is a member of the Country Club Riders, which is a horse 4-H club in Kandiyohi County. “We show them at the fair, and when we bring our horses, it’s usually for a clinic, which our club sets up. It’s for 4-H shows too. There are helpers that come out, and they help us be better with our horse.”

Last year she learned how to side pass with Vibes. “The horse will be going sideways, and it’s usually for a trail where you side pass to a mailbox and open it up. My horse can do that, but sometimes he doesn’t stop. He knocked it over once, and it hit him on the butt.” That kind of made him jump, and Mercedes fell off.

“He’s touchy sometimes because he can’t see – I talk to him and say ‘it’s okay.’ If you want him to lope you’ll kiss, if you want him to stop you say whoa, and if he doesn’t calm down I would pat him on the neck and get him to calm down a little and talk to him.” She said Vibes is more comfortable with her riding him than when she’s walking him because he knows he’s not going to run into anything when she’s riding him. “He feels more comfortable. I don’t think he can see anything anymore, but he might be able to see shadows.”

She said it’s very easy for her to control Vibes. “Everybody wants to know how I do it. I talk to him to get him to calm down, just tell him what to do, and he does it. He’s really easy to control.”

Mercedes’ mom, Kristine, said they kind of retired Vibes this year, so Mercedes mainly rides him at the barn. “She showed him a lot last year; she did about a dozen shows, including the fair. She showed in Music and Motion at the fair too, which is where they dress up in costumes and ride for fun.” They go to about eight riding lessons at the fair, to game lessons and riding lessons, usually once a week depending on the skill level. “She did all that plus riding him at home. But, she finds she likes to ride him in the big arenas that we don’t have at our facility here at the fairgrounds. It makes it hard if there’s a big class and he would happen to turn his head to the side because he could get bumped and get scared.”

Mercedes rode him in trail class at the arena in the fairgrounds before the fair. She explained how they make a square box, lay logs out and do an oval pattern, depending on if they want the gate opened or whatever. The horse has to trot over the logs, walk over the logs, walk over the bridge, whatever the obstacle may be. “He did really, really well,” her mom said. “She’d tell him when he had to lift his feet and when we got to the bridge it was one step up and he’d know he was going at an angle to go over the bridge.” Mercedes began teaching Vibes to do that last year when they loaded him into the trailer. She’d tell him to step up and he got used to that.

Mercedes’ sister has a colt at the barn, and Vibes spends some time with him. “They don’t mind each other at all. Cherokee, the little one, has been Vibes’ eyes this year. When he (Vibes) isn’t with Cherokee, he’s with the goats. He’s got a little bit of a pasture with a little bit of grass ,and he knows where he’s at.”

Mercedes said they were “pretty sad” to hear the vet’s diagnosis that Vibes would be blind. “He (the vet) said ‘as long as you feel comfortable riding him and he’s not getting spastic and jumping at everything, things should be fine.’” He suggested they only do a trail as long as it’s not too rocky, that it’s pretty straight. At Sibley there are a lot of ups and downs so that would probably be a little more difficult for him, Kristine said. “Vibes is definitely in good shape for a straight ride, but it’s the showing part that gets Mercedes a little stressed, and he can sense that,” her mom said. She added, “I could tell by the end of the summer that she was enjoying herself at the other shows when we went to Bird Island, Litchfield, and Sauk Centre, but those arenas are outdoors so there’s lots of room there.”

Last year Mercedes dressed up for Music in Motion and rode Vibes to the music Dynamite. “They dressed up in crazy clothes. She had a shirt on that said ‘Me and My Vibes.’”

Mercedes said when they do showmanship Vibes puts his head next to her because he wants to cuddle. “Sometimes it was ‘you can’t stand here and cuddle with us, this is what you’re supposed to do.’” He loves showmanship, she said.

She also participates in English and Western. English uses English equipment. The saddle is smaller, and Mercedes wears long boots, breeches, a jacket and helmet. In Western, she uses a Western saddle and wears Western attire, plus a helmet or a hat. In Hunt you always wear a helmet as well as in 4-H.

Kristine said her daughter has grown as an individual and is a better rider, for not only training Vibes but for all the events in which they’ve participated. “She had to think for him and for herself. It was big man pants that she had to wear.” She added, “It’s a neat relationship they have. She goes out to the barn, talks to him and he’ll come right over to her.” Mercedes said sometimes he doesn’t know you’re there, and then you say Vibes and he’ll come. He can tell who’s there by the voice. “Since he can’t see, he sometimes knows there’s nobody here because he hears nothing, but when you start walking up to him he knows you’re there so he’ll try find you.”

Kristine said Grandma goes up there with apple peelings and doesn’t want Vibes to know she’s coming. “She says ‘you can never sneak up on him, he knows I’m here, and he likes them (the apple peelings) too well.’”

Mercedes was at the fair with Breeze this year. His full name is “Call Me Mr. Goodbar.” Kristine said they originally bought Breeze for Mercedes, but he was too much for her to handle, so her sister, McKala, rode him for the first couple of years. “Then we acquired Vibes.” They also have other horses they use for trail riding, and sometimes, Kristine said, they’re just lawn ornaments. They have a 20-year-old Appaloosa called Major, two 19-year-old Paints called Breeze and Bell, Jazz, Vibes, and Cherokee, who is a Paint that McKala won in an essay contest at the state horse show. They also have four goats, dogs and cats. “We love animals,” said Kristne and that extends to the entire family, from her husband Brian, to their three children: Mercedes, McKala and Dillon. Mercedes smiled and nodded her head in agreement.

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