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BLOOMFIELD — Christine Eicker is no stranger to helping horses with special needs.

"They have the kindest personality," she said. "People say animals don't have souls, but I don't believe it."

One of her mounts for barrel racing is a six-year-old bay who entered her family as a five-month-old colt with a broken leg. She credits that gelding, known as Little Bit, for saving her mother's life after a breast cancer diagnosis. Eicker said the horse gave her mother the will to live.

So it wasn't entirely unprecedented when another injured colt entered the Eickers' life.

In August, Christine Eicker and her husband, Ben, saw one of their neighbor's thoroughbred colts on the ground getting trampled by two larger horses — his mother and a paint mare who had lost her own foal and wanted to claim the colt.

The couple responded quickly to save the colt, and, now, months later, the horse has become an important part of their family. That's why they are asking for help to pay for a surgery to save the horse's life.

During the mares' fight over him, the then four-week-old colt had his rear ankle broken when a mare stepped on it, and he was kicked hard in the foreleg. The mother then rejected the foal, and the Eickers' neighbor gave them a choice: they could adopt the foal or it would be euthanized.

The Eickers took him in and named in Axle. Although his rear ankle had been shattered, it has since healed. But the right foreleg, which was kicked during the mares' fight, is now causing problems. An infection destroyed the horse's growth plate and the foreleg is now severely bent.

While Axle can get around on his bent leg right now, that won't be an option for much longer. The Eickers say the horse needs surgery before the end of March or his weight may break the weak foreleg.

"We're running out of time," Christine Eicker said.

The family has raised about $350 so far, but the surgery — a wedge osteotomy — costs nearly $12,000. Donations can be made online through the "Prayers for Axle" YouCaring account or by contacting the Eickers through the Prayers for Axle Facebook page. The wedge osteotomy, which would be performed by a veterinarian at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., would remove a portion of Axle's bone and straighten his leg.

"I can't fail him," Christine Eicker said. "He's tried too hard."

She said there were nights when the couple didn't think the foal would survive, but Axle always surprised them.

Over the last few months, a strong bond has developed between Axle and Ben Eicker. When Axle saw him on Friday afternoon, he nickered and rushed to the fence.

"As crooked as (the leg) is, as bad as it looks, he will get all four (of his hooves) off the floor," Ben Eicker said, adding that Axle rears, bucks and plays like any other colt.

Axle was originally bred to be a race horse and has bloodlines going back to Proud Clarion, the winner of the 1967 Kentucky Derby. The Eicker's neighbor bred him to be a racehorse.

Despite that, Christine Eicker said, "he's just going to be a pasture baby."

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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