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Better days for a horse determined to live

He was in bad shape.

When Sky arrived at Penny Lane Foal Rescue in Rio Rancho, he was weak, in extreme pain and likely to die. But you could tell he is a fighter, Shani Silver said. (Courtesy of Shani Silver)

The 4-week-old foal had a chunk of flesh ripped from his left haunch. His front right leg was so torn that bone and muscle were exposed. He had deep punctures and bites and tears, some so deep that several fingers could fit into the wounds. Had the gash on his neck gone any deeper, it likely would have severed the carotid artery.

Near as anybody could figure, the young wild paint was likely attacked by a pack of dogs. A coyote would have finished the job and killed him.

Shani Silver, who runs Penny Lane Foal Rescue and Penny Lane Foal Rescue and Training Center in Rio Rancho, has seen a lot of injured foals. Rescuing and nursing them back to health is her specialty.

But this one.

Four-week-old Sky was likely attacked by dogs, and suffered extensive wounds to his legs, neck and haunch. He was found last month in northern New Mexico. (Courtesy of Shani Silver)

“My vet said, ‘I don’t know, Shani, you might be over your head this time,’ ” she recalled. “And I said, ‘Oh, you say that all the time.’ I always take the ones on death’s door. I figure these guys have no chance if I don’t.”

So when the frantic call came May 21 about the injured colt in northern New Mexico, Silver said yes, she would try to save him.

And by “she,” she meant “we,” as in her community of students, volunteers and friendly businesses.

“I put out a call to action,” she said. “And they responded.”

Silver’s ranch sits on nearly 4 acres in a rural pocket of Rio Rancho, yet it is only three minutes from V. Sue Cleveland High School to the northwest and N.M. 528 to the southeast. To run the ranch, she had to obtain a conditional use permit. To become a nonprofit, she had to file reams of paperwork.

To find her life’s work, she had to find Penny Lane.

That’s the first foal she rescued in 2009, a four-day-old filly abandoned in an arroyo. She named her Penny Lane after her favorite Beatles song, but only after it seemed a good bet that the filly would survive.

Today, Penny Lane is healthy and remains on the ranch that bears her name.

Autumn Gonzales is one of the many student volunteers who helps Shani Silver care for the severely injured foal. (Courtesy of Shani Silver)

Silver funds her rescue efforts through donations and whatever she makes from her training center, which focuses not on how to ride a horse, but how to connect with a horse.

“Riding lessons are not my thing,” she said. “The horses help the kids learn leadership, confidence and self-management in all areas of life.”

Often, though, the cost of rescuing injured and abandoned foals requires Silver to use a good chunk of the salary she makes as a Rio Rancho special education teacher.

“Two things I care most about are kids and animals,” she said. “I like to connect the two because they have a lot to learn from each other.”

What she has learned is that when one of her horses is in need, she needs a little help from her friends.

So it was for the injured foal, who arrived at Penny Lane two days after that frantic call.

“There’s no way I can do what I do alone,” she said. “All of my youth leaders and their parents just went above and beyond. They donated sheets and blankets. They came to sweep out the foal’s area, took shifts washing blankets and helping me with wound care. That first week, they even brought me dinner because I just had no time for anything else.”

To protect Sky from bacteria, dirt and sun, Shani Silver devised an outfit using men’s sweatpants, a sheet and a long-sleeved shirt. At left is Lily, a resident sheep. (Courtesy of Shani Silver)

Wounds had to be cleaned for more than two hours twice a day, antibiotic ointments applied, pus drained. The foal had to be fed every two hours. Instead of bandages, which fell off anyway, Silver devised a protective covering for the foal’s wounds made of strategically cut men’s extra-large sweatpants, and a light-colored bedsheet held in place with a long-sleeved shirt.

Besides students and their parents, among the others who stepped in to help were Meddleton Equine Clinic in Corrales, Four Corners Equine Rescue in Aztec, Big R in Santa Ana Pueblo (which is also holding a fundraiser for Penny Lane at its store July 6), Lowe’s in Rio Rancho, Walmart in Bernalillo, PetAg, Silver’s personal farriers and accountant, and anonymous donors to the center’s Facebook page.

Within days, the little horse with no name began to gain strength. Pain medication was halted, wounds began to close. He could prance a bit in his corral and kicked Silver when he was tired of her tending to his wounds.

“When he got here, he really looked like death and he smelled like death, but he had a surprising perkiness to him,” she said. “He’s a little fighter. I’ve never seen a little guy so determined to live.”

But the courageous colt isn’t totally out of the woods yet. His care remains expensive and exhaustive and is expected to continue for some time. Sepsis is always one speck of bacteria away.

But on Friday, Silver felt confident enough to name the foal. After she and her hopeful horse community toyed around with various names related to Beatles tunes, she chose to call him Sky.

And maybe that is not so much a nod to Lucy and diamonds, but to the blackbird, who flies into the light in spite of it all.

“Take these broken wings and learn to fly,” as the song “Blackbird” goes. “All your life you were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to to submit a letter to the editor.