WESTFORD -- When Amy Spencer trotted out of the ring with her large horse, Moose, she held her head high.
Even though the two didn't win the round, which required balancing a spoon and an egg, Amy, 16, of Maynard, escorted Moose back to her team's spot under the pine grove with a smile. Her peers from the group Littleton Hack n' Tack crowded around them at the Middlesex 4-H Fair, chatting about just one of the many rounds of competition the pair had endured over the weekend.
Amy asked her mother to grab her horse another handful of hay at their tent. And when Moose, a 16-year-old just like his owner, turned his head to the left, you could see one eyelid swollen shut.
Moose underwent a serious surgery just two months ago in which he had his entire right eye removed. With a prosthetic eyeball in place, he persevered through numerous rounds of competition at 4-H, showcasing for the third time there.
In the past, the two have placed in the top three of various categories and even won the championship, but Amy said she couldn't have been happier with the winnings they earned this time around.
Amy took home first place for horse equitation, meaning she showed how well she could ride Moose. The two also placed seventh in "showmanship" and eighth in the championship round.
Amy, entering her junior year at Maynard High School, has been developing her craft for the last eight years, and riding Moose for the last three. After leasing Moose from Farewell Farm in Littleton, she officially purchased him about a year ago. And soon after, Moose developed the problem in his eye.
Amy's mother, Jeanne Spencer, said that was a tough thing for her daughter to handle.
"We didn't expect it, that's for sure," Jeanne Spencer said. "It was just as traumatic on her as it was on him, and he adapted very well. It took a little longer for her. It's not easy at 16 to deal with such trauma."
Looking at the two together, a visitor to the fair wouldn't know the teenager and her horse had been through so much. Amy said she has had to deal with "non-horsey" people shooting strange glances their way, but she said in all, life is essentially back to normal. Now she just wants people to understand that even animals with disabilities can be just as special.
Moose -- with a rich bay brown-colored coat, a black mane and jet black creeping up his strong legs in an ombré-like effect -- is a very social animal that Amy said loves to hang out with people. He had several visitors to his stall Sunday afternoon, the last day of 4-H.
Glenn Eglington operates a horseshoeing business out of Winchendon and said he had to come down to see one of his favorite customers. Eglinton said he shoes Moose's hoofs every six weeks, and with up to five horses coming his way every day, he still remembers the great steed.
"Moose looks like he just has his eye closed," he said. "He looks like he's just winking at you. And he's a very good boy."
Nashua resident Jenn Kett, Amy's trainer, said she has known Moose for the last decade, working with him first with another rider. Not only is he "very pretty," she said, but he's unique in that Moose shares a special bond with his owner.
"Amy rides him at least an hour every day," Kett said, not including lessons every week.
Amy added that Kett is like her "second mom."
"We just have to be conscious of what's happening on this side of his body more," Kett said, referring to the right side. "The first horse show we went to, he was a little skittish. ... But he's getting better. As far as his general performance, it hasn't changed."
Kett said that's largely due to Amy's devotion to him. "It's that he really trusts Amy."
Throughout the three-day county fair in Westford, Amy tied a red ribbon around Moose's black tail, to signal to others to give him some space as he still gets used to his new condition.
Amy said that at 16, Moose is just about midlife, but she looks forward to many more years together.
She said the day they brought Moose to the emergency room at the Tufts University center in Grafton was a trying day. But with the end of the 4-H Fair, it feels like they've moved past that difficult chapter. She said he's now her "one-eyed wonder."
"He keeps me going every day," she said.
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