Wakarusa Jay Miller has trained his fair share of horses over the years, but none quite like Levi, a 6-year-old mustang who is almost completely blind but can still do an array of tricks, including some better than his sighted counterparts.
When Miller got Levi this past June from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to train him for 90 days for a September mustang show in Lincoln, Neb., he didn’t know the horse could barely see. Neither did the Bureau of Land Management, he said.
However, no sooner did Miller get Levi home that he realized something was amiss. The horse wasn’t responding to hand or body movements, even those that normally would send a mustang into a gallop.
“I actually figured out the eye problem the first day I had him,” said Miller, 49, of Tonganoxie. “Six hours after we picked him up and put him in the round pen, I knew there was a problem.”
Saving Levi’s life
Miller said he could have given Levi back to the Bureau of Land Management to exchange for another horse. But he knew Levi likely would have been put down.
Not wanting to see that, Miller kept Levi and trained him to do a variety of tricks, including to walk, trot and canter, for the Extreme Mustang Makeover show in late September in Lincoln, Neb. Miller can even stand upright on Levi’s saddle.
Miller, who recently brought the horse to the Mustang Fun Show at Heartland Ranch in Wakarusa, is attempting to raise funds on a Facebook page dedicated to “Levi Miller” to help offset approximately $7,500 for surgery to remove cataracts from both of the horse’s eyes.
The surgery is scheduled to be performed at Kansas State University, but only after Levi undergoes some retinal tests to make sure cataracts are indeed the problem.
“If he’s got retinal damage,” Miller said, “it does no good to pull the cataracts off.”
Miller estimated Levi has about 10 percent of his vision, but he can’t see well beyond about 2 feet. He said Levi has developed exceptional hearing and smelling senses, enabling him to compensate for his lack of vision.
His for $500
He said organizers of the Extreme Mustang Makeover show questioned whether Miller should try to train Levi for the event.
“To the best of their knowledge,” Miller said, “they’d never had a blind horse in the show before.”
The Extreme Mustang Makeover, held at the Lancaster Events Center in Lincoln, Neb., was designed to encourage people to adopt the mustangs, which formerly roamed wild in the western and southwestern portions of the United States.
By the time the Extreme Mustang Makeover rolled around, Miller was determined he would keep Levi.
He said one person at the auction drove the bidding up to $450 before Miller got Levi for $500.
“That was too bad,” Miller said, “because I could have used the money to help pay for his cataract surgery.”
‘Kindness of his heart’
Miller said every time a specialist comes out to look at Levi, it costs about $300 to $350.
To help pay for the horse’s surgery, Miller said he has sold off some of his “toys,” such as a John Deere Gator utility vehicle.
Dona Brown, of Topeka, one of the founders of the Midwest Mustang and Burro Saddle Club, which sponsored the event at Wakarusa, applauded Miller for wanting to keep Levi and get surgery to correct his vision.
“The possibility that the horse might be put down weighed heavily on everybody’s mind,” Brown said. “It’s out of the kindness of his heart that he’s doing this.”