Dear Agape family, I come to you in great sorrow to share that Littlefoot passed away Tuesday evening around 5:00pm. This was completely unexpected and, needless to say, devastating.
Littlefoot came up mildly ill on Saturday, February 8th. The Agape team carefully monitored him through the weekend and saw signs of improvement on Sunday; his vitals such as temperature, heart rate, and appetite were all normal and he happily returned to his herd and his hay. However, by Monday afternoon some discomfort and illness set in again and we asked our vets to take a closer look at him. It was revealed that he had a fever, high heart rate, no appetite, and his breathing was raspy. These symptoms indicated an infection and we began treating him with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and electrolytes. Dr. Mudd instructed us to bring him into the clinic the following morning if he still did not have an appetite and looked withdrawn. On Tuesday morning he still had no appetite and his breathing had become even more harsh. At Janssen’s Veterinary Clinic diagnostic tests revealed an acute and severe swelling of the cartilage at the back of the throat, which was cutting off his ability to breath. It was determined that the kindest choice for Littlefoot was to humanely euthanize him.
Littlefoot was diagnosed with a condition called arytenoid chondritis. This is an acute onset condition caused by infection and inflammation of the arytenoid cartilage at the back of the horse’s throat. The arytenoids are small flaps of cartilage responsible for protecting the esophagus and the trachea, ensuring that only air passes into the trachea and only food and liquids pass into the esophagus. Arytenoid Chondritis causes the arytenoids to become inflamed and swollen. Breathing becomes difficult, and it becomes painful to swallow food or water. Unfortunately, this condition is rarely resolved with medication alone, and in Littlefoot’s case would have required an emergency tracheotomy just to ensure he would not asphyxiate.
Upon performing an upper airway scope, Dr. Mudd was able to see that the left arytenoid was so inflamed that it was immobile and obstructing 80 to 90 percent of Littlefoot’s airway. There was only a small gap allowing him to breathe, and any further swelling would have sealed his airways. Littlefoot’s prognosis was poor and immediate action was needed to keep him from suffering.
The legacy that Littlefoot leaves behind is long, storied, and packed with impact. He joined the Agape herd in June of 2007 and it is difficult to remember an Agape without Littlefoot. In thirteen years he served more individuals than we can even name or number. It is rare to find a therapy horse that has served even half as long as Littlefoot served our community. As we reflect now, we are amazed and thankful at the fact that when Littlefoot first came we all questioned whether or not he would be a good fit. But, our team at the time decided he was worth the chance to invest in his training for therapeutic riding more and…well, now it’s hard to believe we ever doubted him. Littlefoot not only served for 13 years, he did it with joy and unconditional love right up to his last days.
Words used to describe Littlefoot include:
Agape. That one word stands out above the rest. As one instructor said, Littlefoot lived out our mission every time he walked out into the arena. He is Agape. He embodied unconditional love. Love that is given without rules, restrictions, limitations, or burdens. That is the kind of love Littlefoot extended to each one of us, both horse and human, day in and day out.
Littlefoot came to each day with great joy. There was always a sparkle in his eye and a thought churning in his mind. He loved puzzles and playing. He would often pick up cones in the arena, kick balls, or play with his herd mates. He greeted each person with bright eyes and a willing personality. Like all horses, he lived in the moment, but he brought a special optimism to each of those moments. We know that so many of you have experienced these moments with Littlefoot and that his reach goes far and wide. We wish we could capture each of these moments as we remember and honor this amazing horse. For now though this is just one story and one rider he impacted for her entire life empowering her to accomplish things many thought she would never be able to do.
Stephanie Speck has been riding at Agape for over 15 years and she had a bond with Littlefoot that is rare and priceless. Her mother, Angie Speck, spoke with such gratitude and grace about Littlefoot.
“Stephanie has been with Littlefoot for over 10 years. He has gotten her through everything--emotional times, physical barriers, psychological walls, even major surgery. She walks in the barn and he brings such a smile to her face. They have a special bond and everyone can see it. They are one. They always will be.”
Angie attributes so much of Stephanie’s success to Littlefoot. She shared that as a family they visit the Black Mountain Ranch each summer out west. This dude ranch offers riding lessons and trail rides all around the ranch and high into the mountains. The Specks were not sure if Stephanie would ever be able to ride at a high enough level to venture into the mountain-top trails, but preceding their second summer visit there, they submitted a video to the head wrangler. The video showed Stephanie riding Littlefoot independently, and it was enough for the wranglers to say, “Let’s give it a try.”
“Because of Littlefoot, Stephanie was able to ride up the Black Mountain Ridge trail to elevations between 10-12,000 feet. Stephanie was one with the clouds because of Littlefoot. Those are the blessings he has given her.”Angie SpeckRider Parent
He’s always going to be in my heart, and he’s my family, and I love him. He’s got me through everything and I love him for that.Stephanie Speck Agape Rider
Losing a special partner such as Littlefoot is always hard, but it is so much harder when we lose them unexpectedly and without warning. What looked like an infection that would require a hospital stay at Janssen’s for more intensive supportive care turned out to be a diagnosis with poor outcomes. I wish with all my heart that each and every one of you could have been there to pour out your love and gratitude over him. In your stead, a handful of Agape staff were able to gather around and pray over him. We held him in love and stood witness to his passing.
For those that wish to remember Littlefoot with us…
This is very difficult for our staff, our riders, our volunteers, and even the herd that lived with Littlefoot. When we lose someone we love, we simply need your prayers, your quiet comfort, and your support as we mourn and journey through this together. We are going to have a memorial area setup at his stall for visitation from Thursday, February 13 through Monday, February 24. Everyone is welcome to come visit his stall during operating hours (Mon.-Thurs. 9am-6pm; Fri. 9am-5pm; Sat. 9am-2pm; Sun. Closed). You are invited to bring your favorite pictures and/or memories of Littlefoot to hang on his stall. You may also write him a message on his stall.