By LISA M. REED
IRON MOUNTAIN - Victoria Czech had owned Skips Golden Silk, a double-registered palomino quarter horse, for two years when she found out he would eventually go blind in both eyes.
Tori Czech of Chippewa Falls, Wis., rides Skip, a blind quarter horse gelding. Czech and Skip will compete at the Tri-County Horse Association show in Norway in June.
The Chippewa Falls, Wis., girl was 10 when Skip was diagnosed with glaucoma. Skip was 24.
"My first reaction was, I was really sad, because I didn't know if I could use him again," said Victoria, who goes by Tori. "I talked to my mom about it and she said he would be fine, and he was Skip, and he would have a special need."
Mary Czech, mother of Tori, said learning of their gelding's glaucoma in September 2010 was a shock and a heartbreak.
"We kept Skip because he had so much life left to give. You don't put an animal down because he can't see. He was in fantastic shape," Mary Czech said.
After doing research with Nancie Carlson of Iron Mountain, Skip's original owner, and finding out "the quality of life a blind horse can have if given the proper care," Czech's local veterinarian decided to perform surgery.
Carlson, a horse enthusiast, had bought 4-year-old Skip in 1990 at an auction in Cannon Falls, Minn.
He was trained by the late Heather Janssen of Vulcan. Janssen died in a traffic accident in July 2012.
"Heather and I showed him, and he won multiple grand championships," Carlson said. "Due to events in my life, I ended up selling him to a family in Wisconsin. For several years, their daughter showed Skip successfully with many state awards. Their daughter graduated and sold Skip in 2008 to the Czech family of Chippewa Falls, Wis."
Eye surgery, recovery
In 2011, one of Skip's eyes was surgically removed.
During Skip's recovery, Tori dedicated herself to giving him drops three times a day in the remaining eye.
Tori Czech said at first it was very stressful taking care of Skip.
"I tried to get out there three times a day, and I had to get out there in the early morning. He didn't like me opening his eye and putting ointment in it," she said. "He got used to it and it was going to be have to be done."
In 2012, Skip lost his second eye to glaucoma.
A couple weeks after his second surgery, Tori Czech started ground work with Skip and then began riding him.
Mary Czech said the family was worried about Skip adjusting. They had gotten him a pasture mate, Zipper, who is blind in one eye.
A week after surgery, Tori Czech began taking Skip out to trot and eventually training for shows.
"At first, I walked him around to see how he did. He tripped a lot, then I decided it was now or never. I put the saddle on him and walked him around. He got up to trot and he did fine with that," she said.
The Czech family never changed Skip's pasture. They made sure everything was the same as before he lost his eyesight.
Tori Czech put a cowbell on Zipper, a wind chime above the water trough and plastic bags on the wire fence to help Skip hear where the fence was.
She also used verbal commands.
Skip adjusted well following his surgery and established routines for eating, drinking and moving about the pasture with the help of Zipper.
In the show ring
In July 2012, just two and a half months after Skip became completely blind, Tori and Skip competed in a northern Wisconsin State Fair show where they took grand championship in western pleasure and reserve grand in western horsemanship.
Ironically, the vet who performed Skip's eye surgery, sponsored the pleasure championship.
Tori Czech said she cried when her horse won his first show after surgery.
She said it was Skip's first time out around other horses and of course, there were so many people at the fair. Zipper was brought along and he would whinny and touch noses with Skip before and after the show.
Last October, Tori and Skip competed in a Wisconsin Interscholastic Horseman Association Show at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Tori, a middle schooler, was able to participate in the Division A equestrian team.
Out of 24 entries, most of them high school kids, Tori and Skip took first place in horsemanship and fourth in western horsemanship/bareback, helping her team advance to the state finals later that month.
The Czech family invited Mike and Nancie Carlson to the WIHA state finals in Jefferson, Wis., to watch Tori and Skip compete.
There they placed third in horsemanship and eighth in western bareback, proving beyond question how incredibly much can be overcome with hope, care, hard work and love.
Tori Czech said even though Skip is blind, he can still jump and is a gamer.
"Skip taught me that even though he has a disability, he is still better than the other horses," she said.
Skip and Tori's story was recently featured in the May edition of Horse & Rider magazine.
This summer, Tori and Skip will compete on June 22 in the Tri-County Horse Association show at Dickinson County Fairgrounds in Norway. This is where Nancie Carlson and the late Heather Janssen trained and showed Skip and where he won many grand championship awards.
Carlson, who keeps in touch with the Czech family, is grateful.
"This horse amazes me. Tori and Skip are such an incredible pair with a lot of heart and they don't give up," Carlson said. "I feel so blessed to have met these people and that they take care of him. He meant so much to me, and it's so cool we keep in touch."
Skip is now 27 and still going strong without sight.
"She (Tori) wouldn't trade him for the world," Carlson said. "Most kids would want a new horse, but not Tori. She is an amazing young lady. They are a great team."
A horse's life span is approximately 30 years.
Lisa M. Reed's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.