Being cute was enough to save tiny Princess Penelope from euthanasia. But, the devotion of her adoptive owner, Amy Stuverude, has ensured her ability to walk on all four hooves.The tiny little filly, now known as "Nelly," was born five weeks premature on an auspicious day - 08/08/08. She is the offspring of stallion and mare miniature horses. But, she was born a dwarf, weighing in at less than 20 pounds. The miniature paint had severe angular limb deformities. Her tendons were so lax that when she stood, her weight was on her ankles and her little hooves pointed up.
At about three weeks of age, her owners, who live in Landenberg, brought Nellie with her mother at her side to New Bolton Center. Doctors said there was hope that she might walk, if the owners could commit a great deal of time, money and tender loving care to the filly's treatment. Euthanasia was the alternative. The owners agreed to adopt her out, if someone volunteered to take her and provide her the care she needed.
Stuverude, 23, came to the rescue. She began volunteering at the veterinary hospital when she was in high school and now works full-time there as a nursing assistant on the night shift. When she first heard about the dwarf with disabilities she said she couldn't and wouldn't. But, one look at the absurdly cute little creature instantly changed her mind.
"I said, 'I can't let her be euthanized; she's too cute. So, I said I would try."
She did a lot more than just try. For the tiny horse to have any chance of walking on her legs properly, she could not stand up unless her legs were splinted and wrapped. She needed regular hospital visits, physical therapy and tons of love.
To spare Stuverude from having to bottle feed the tiny filly around the clock, the owners allowed her to also take home the miniature mother horse until her baby was weaned. The mother was very attentive and accepting of all that went in to caring for her.
Luckily, Nelly was a very convenient size.
Stuverude could pick her up like a small dog, throw her over her shoulder, carry her into the house to wash her in the bathtub and do all her doctoring on the patio table or the kitchen counter.
Every morning she would lay Nelly down on the table and change the three layers of bandages. One of her parents would hold her down so she would unwrap and wrap all four legs and then work the muscles of each leg.
As she got stronger, Stuverude looked for more exercises. Swimming, she knew, was excellent physical therapy. She needed a pool just the right size, so went to the feed store and bought a 100-gallon water trough. She filled it up and lowered Nelly in. She and her father would stand on either side, each holding an end of a towel that stretched under Nelly's belly. If the water was warm Nelly would relax so much she would fall asleep. But, in the cool water she would swim. When she was finished Stuverude would lay her down, towel her off and then take her in for a blow dry before wrapping her legs up again.
This entire process would take four hours every morning, in addition to the time it took to clean her barn and take care of her full-size horses. But, it worked. Slowly Nelly was weaned off the splints to just bandages and eventually no bandages at all. Her legs aren't perfect and never will be. She is rather duck footed and needs special glue-on shoes with heal extensions for support, but her doctors are amazed. Nelly cannot only stand, she can walk, trot and gallop full out.
Besides going to New Bolton for treatment, Stuverude has taken Nelly on other field trips to horse shows and other events where she gets a lot of "oohs" and "ahhhs" for her cuteness. She always rides in style, right in the back of her owner's Jeep Liberty. When she arrives the window pops up and out comes Nelly's head to see what's going on.
Nelly is now knee high at almost six months of age and weighs 60 pounds. With her ankle problems Stuverude needs to watch the little filly's weight. She thinks she might be getting a little too chubby from her handful of hay each day. But, it is almost impossible to tell where Nelly's long, curly winter coat ends and her body begins. She is a fluff ball, almost unrecognizable as a horse in the winter. In the icy weather she lives in a perfect little stall in the Stuverude's cozy Landenberg garage, waiting until she can go out with her big horse friends when the weather improves.
Tiny Nelly with her legs all wrapped and splinted three months ago