By Mickey Winfield: PNT staff writer
Montie and Michelle Nickels of Elida wanted to get their daughter Hailey a horse. By doing so, they earned the trust of a new friend and saved the life of an abused animal.
Nine-year-old Hailey Nickels showed her horse, Butterscotch, Saturday morning at the Roosevelt County Fair youth horse show in Portales, and regardless of ribbons, everybody involved is a winner.
Less than one year ago, Butterscotch was in desperate need of love and care.
“A couple of years ago, outside of Melrose, (the Humane Society) rescued about 25 horses, and he was one of those horses,” Michelle said.
Hailey’s grandmother brought home the old, feeble horse.
“He was pretty skinny,” Hailey said. “They weren’t feeding any of their horses but they were still riding them.”
According to Montie and Michelle, Butterscotch was one of several horses that had been malnourished and abused over the course of several years.
By their estimation, Butterscotch is nearly 25 years old.
“He had no muscle tone. You could see every bone in his body,” Michelle said.
The horse had infections in his hooves. Those infections weren’t just ignored, but were shoed over so he could be ridden. And there were other signs of abuse.
“He’s got some scars on him, we think someone might have whipped him, we’re not exactly sure,” Michelle said. “When we got him, he had hardly no hair on the top because they had been trying to get through a fence to get some food (and) they had scraped all the hair off their top mane.”
Once the family took possession of the horse in November 2006, they had to nurse him to health.
“You can’t just feed him, which is what you want to do because they’re so poor, so you have to ration their feed,” Michelle said. “So, we started out feeding him around two cups of grain twice a day and then a flake of hay and then as his stomach got better with that, you up the feed.”
In nine months, Michelle says they have seen great improvement in Butterscotch’s health and his personality.
“When we first got him he was scared, he was very not sure and now he’ll come right up to the house, stick his head through the fence and love you and he just wants you to love him all the time,” Michelle said. “It was probably two or three months before he would quit, kind of, flinching whenever you’d touch him.”
Along with the joy and reward that comes with nursing and loving an injured animal back to health, Michelle and Montie also believe a horse like this has taught Hailey one other very important lesson.
“It also teaches her patience,” Michelle said. “She had to wait till we got him healthy before she could even start to ride him. All we could do was just love him for several months and so that’s what she did. She just kept her hands on him and loved him, let him know that she could care for him.”
Why did Hailey name him Butterscotch?
“The color of his fur sort of looks like the candy,” Hailey said. “What makes him special to me is just how nice he is and how gentle he can be.”
“(I love him) a lot,” Hailey said. “And he loves me a lot.”