Future Reflections Fall 1994, Vol. 13 No. 3



by Allan D. Nichols

Does your horse have a broken leg? Should you shoot it and put the poor thing out of its misery? Not necessarily, if you happen to have a one-legged horse like mine.

When I was about three years old, I used to have a wooden stick horse painted in bright colors with a soft vinyl head. My friends and I used to play cowboys and indians with our stick horses. Using our imaginations, we soon turned those stick horses into imaginary charging palominos or fast pinto ponies. Those innocent days are long gone, but the memories still live on.

Fifteen years ago I lost my eyesight from a long-term diabetic condition. Back in those days, I think there were many blind people who were embarrassed to use a cane. My first experience with a cane was when I received one at the Alan H. Stuart Camp for the Blind and Visually Handicapped on Casper Mountain, Wyoming. A cane hardly seemed like a tool of independence then. Some of us there even pretended that they were an adult counterpart to the old stick horses that we used to play with as kids. Later, when I learned the true value of the long white cane, I still liked to think of it as being a sort of horse. As a child I would watch, on television and in the movies, the Lone Ranger riding off into the distance on his dazzling white horse, Silver. Therefore, I named my long white cane, Silver. To be sure, I began to trust my one-legged horse almost as much as the Lone Ranger trusted Silver. My cane enabled me to go many places where I could not have gone otherwise.

Learning how to use Silver gave me a lot of independence and confidence, especially after I learned how to use him properly while taking training at the Colorado Center for the Blind in Denver. Silver became my indispensable partner as I traveled all over the streets around the Center, on Denver's RTD buses, in the busy downtown intersections, and even out in the country. I took him rock climbing (though I left him tied at the base of the slope before I began my ascent).

Old Silver was smart. He told me a lot of things that I needed to know, such as if there was a drop-off ahead, or maybe a pole or tree in my path, ready to jump out and bite me in the leg. Silver could even detect subtle changes in pavement, and whether there were puddles of mud or water directly ahead. He never whinnied, yet he always passed the right information to me through his light, sensitive fiberglass leg. Once in a while I would have to re-shoe him when his metal tip wore out.

However, like some poor unfortunate horses, Silver eventually broke his leg. One day, I was walking next to another student at the Center when she accidentaly stepped on good old Silver. Stoically, he did not cry out in pain, though I distinctly heard him crack and felt a sickening shudder. His leg was broken about a foot from the tip, making him nearly useless. I felt heartbroken, but more than that, I really needed him then. I had been crossing a busy intersection when the break occurred. I did the only sensible thing I could do. I grabbed the two pieces of his broken leg and limped his handled portion back to the Center. Fortunately, we were only about three-quarters of a block away. Then, I put Silver out of his misery. I pulled off his partially used tip and promptly buried the rest of him in the dumpster. Then, I pulled a brand new horse from the rack, a horse I promptly dubbed Silver the Second. Then, without a word, we both were off.

It was easy. Silver the Second was just as smart as my original horse. He was smooth, shiny, and new-though a bit taller than my original horse. Old Silver stood 57 inches high, while Silver the Second stood at a lofty 61 inches. The extra length gave me just a bit more warning about any potential hazards that I might encounter. I took to my new horse like a duck to water. Silver the Second took me to the same places that Old Silver and I used to go, and even some new ones. We both attended the National Federation of the Blind Convention held in Denver, Colorado, back in 1989. Silver the Second would lie quietly beneath or just in front of my chair, while I listened to the speeches and other presentations at the Radisson Hotel complex.

My horse and I went all over the place. It was so crowded that I sometimes found him bumping into other white horses. Even so, we never had any accidents like the earlier one, which had done in Old Silver. Then one night it happened. About four or five days after the convention had begun, Silver the Second and I were traveling down the Sixteenth Street Mall. Beside me were a couple of my friends walking with their own one-legged horses. Silver the Second wasn't paying much attention (nor was I) when we both got a real jolt. I extended him out into the street a bit too far and Silver got stepped on by a real horse. It was one of those four-legged horses that pulled a carriage up and down the mall during the evening. It traveled between the mall's several hotels and eating establishments. The carriage horse didn't stop or even care about his suffering one-legged cousin. Silver the Second had a cracked leg, though it was not broken clear through. Even so, he would have to be put out to pasture or shot, I wasn't exactly sure. The next day, I limped Silver the Second around so he wouldn't break his leg any further. Finally, however, I had to purchase Silver the Third.

Again, my new horse responded as brilliantly as the other two. I was delighted at his performance as he took over for his fallen predecessors.

Over the next four years following my graduation from the Colorado Center for the Blind, I have had several more Silvers. (I think that I am up to about seven or eight by now.) Each, in his own turn, has had his leg broken. However, on about number five or six, I got an idea about how to mend a broken down one-legged horse. One day, after I slammed my cane in the car door, I got an idea. Putting the two broken parts of the cane on my shop bench, I considered how I might do a reasonable repair job.

Here's what I discovered that works the best for me. First, I located a two-inch-long finishing nail and a roll of duct tape. Then, I wrapped the tape around the nail until it was slightly smaller in diameter than the outside of the cane. I then twisted the tape-covered nail into the hollow end of one piece. Next, I forced the remaining taped nail into the remaining piece. During this process I had to take bits of tape off the nail, or put just a little bit more on. I tried to make this inside shim fit as tightly as possible, so that the two pieces would not slip apart easily. Then, I wrapped the outside seam with a couple more layers of tape to secure the mend. My horse's broken leg was fixed, at least until I could manage to purchase a new one.

(Obtaining a new one over the phone takes me about a week, if I buy it from the NFB Center in Baltimore.)

Using a horse with a mended leg isn't quite as easy as one that is new. When I swing my mended cane its weight is slightly greater than it was before. Nevertheless, I have a usable horse until the new one arrives. I even keep one of my old mended horses around in case another of my new ones suddenly has to be "put to sleep."

If I'm not around home where I can easily get to a nail and a roll of duct tape, I can make myself an emergency repair kit ahead of time. This simple kit may be carried in a pocket or purse. To make one, simply get yourself a finishing nail and wrap it with enough tape to make it as thick as your cane. If a break does occur, you simply pull out your trusty repair kit and go to work. With the cane in two pieces, begin by removing about two inches of the tape from the nail. Remove as much as will be necessary to force the remainder into the hollow portion of your cane. Then, you simply take the remaining two inches of duct tape and wrap it around the broken seam. You may not have a beautiful-looking horse any longer, but it will get the job done. Most importantly, you won't be stranded out in the middle of nowhere with a dead horse.