Axle: no more eye falling out 

Ranger Rich

His name is Axle and he has a big, brown glass eye covered with scratches because, well, it fell out a lot and he'd accidentally step on it. But nature allows, and even forces, great adaptation by its creatures. Axle, who gets along just fine, is one example.

If you need another example, I would point out that Sammy Davis Jr. hardly ever fell off the stage.

Here you might be saying, "Sweet Jesus, he's making fun of the late Sammy Davis Jr. and his artificial eye!" But I am not. I am writing about Axle the pony who lives at our Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and is, indeed, a one-eyed pony. (He should not be confused with Sarah Palin, who is a one-trick pony.)

Axle is 13, born in Colorado and raised in Pueblo before coming to the zoo's pony-ride stable last spring. He is a Welsh pony, and according to research by Oklahoma State University:

The original home of the Welsh Mountain pony was in the hills and valleys of Wales. He was there before the Romans. His lot was not an easy one. Winters were severe. Vegetation was sparse. Shelter, most often, was an isolated valley or a clump of bare trees. Yet the Welsh pony managed not only to survive, but to flourish.

For Axle, though, his lot is an easy one. He lives in the clean mountain air above The Broadmoor and feasts on a steady supply of fresh hay and oats and other treats. He's groomed and pampered daily by Beth Genz, his keeper at the zoo.

Other than the missing right eye, she is asked, how is Axle doing?

"Healthy as a horse," Genz says and everyone laughs at the joke, including Axle, whose laugh sounds like a snort as he taps a front hoof once on the ground, reminiscent of the way former Alaska Gov. Palin counts out the number of elected offices she has held.

"He can't see on the right side, so he adjusts," Genz adds. "When he hears something behind him, he moves his body and turns to the left to check it out."

This is nothing new for Genz. She had a one-eyed horse growing up on a ranch in New Mexico. Her sister had a one-eyed horse, too. One was kicked by a stablemate; the other lost an eye to disease. Genz isn't sure when or how Axle lost his right eye, but it has been a while.

Then she holds up the glass eye. Axle won't wear it any more. Soon, veterinarians will sew the socket closed and the eye will be sent to the Glass Horse-Eye Museum. (There is no such thing, of course, but if there was I imagine it would be in Calhan.)

"What we didn't want was for Axle's eye to fall out while he was giving rides, with a child on his back," Genz says, and you can only imagine how funny that scenario would be. ("Josh was a normal, happy child," said his mother, "until that day at the zoo when his pony's eye fell out.")

The socket is protected from dirt and insects by a mesh fly mask that allows Axle to see with his left eye. After the socket is surgically closed, Genz says, Axle will "look like he's winking, all the time." (Note to reader: Here you can insert your very own Sarah Palin joke. Although I would suggest the punch line contain the phrase "horse's ass.")

Anyway, Axle's good life will go on. He will live, if all goes well, to the age of 25 or 30. He is a good pony, all 710 pounds of him, gentle and peaceful and just fine with kids. He can carry 110 pounds with ease, Genz has found out, and Axle has become somewhat dominant among the eight-pony herd at the zoo.

And with spring looming, Genz has begun holding Pony Camp at the zoo, teaching kids to clean and groom and feed and clean up after the sturdy beasts. The kids even get to play games with the ponies.

"We have bobbing for apples," Genz says, and then smiles.

"The kids get to go first. It's kind of a health issue."


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