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A Healing Bond


Rylee shows Pops some love as she spends time with him.

Rylee and Pops at home.
By Tootie Trouy
There is something magical that is shared between a little girl and her first horse. For Sandra and Jason Thomas, that bond was apparent from the instant they bought Pops for their little girl, Rylee. Only 4 years old at the time, Rylee's love of horses encouraged her parents to begin searching for a trustworthy mount for her. Through a veterinarian friend, the Thomas' were referred to someone selling all of their horses, and they headed over to look at a 20-year-old, 15.1 h, red dun trail horse. A gentle giant, Pops has taken care of Rylee for nearly 7 years now; from giving her the opportunity to shine at horse shows, to keeping his cool mid-fall on a trail ride, allowing her to dismount before he picked himself back up. Sandra Thomas tells the story of Rylee taking a spill while barrel racing on Pops. She vividly remembers how the horse pushed himself to the side to avoid stepping on his tiny rider as she fell to the ground. Pops and Rylee are the perfect example of that magical bond between a little girl and her horse; a horse that would always do whatever his little girl needed. However, no one knew how much Rylee would need Pops in June of 2013.

On May 11, 2013, nine-year-old Rylee fell extremely ill. She was taken to a local hospital and soon transferred to Vanderbilt Children's Hospital in Nashville, TN. Her diagnosis: HUS or Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome. Most likely caused by exposure to E. coli, Rylee's red blood cells were breaking down at a rate so fast that her kidneys could not keep up, sending her little body into acute renal failure. After weeks of hospital stay, dialysis and blood transfusions, Rylee broke down. “She was over it,” her mother said. “She just wanted to go home. So, I thought, what could I do to make her happy? How could I bring a piece of home to her?” After much prayer, Sandra Thomas knew what she needed to do.  She made a public plea on Facebook for someone, anyone, to bring Rylee her horse, Pops. Responses flooded in and the plan was set into motion. On June 4, after getting the hospital's approval, LeeAnn Johnson and Annette Reese of Back 9 Farms in Lavinia, TN, personal friends of the Thomas family, picked up Pops and headed north.

Local police blocked off traffic on the road next to the hospital so that Pops could safely exit the trailer and wait on the grass for his little girl. Meanwhile, inside the walls of the hospital, little Rylee was making the descent, headed for the front lawn. Knowing what awaited her, Rylee's face lit up when she spotted her four legged friend. For nearly an hour, that little girl loved on her horse, brushing him, letting him graze and letting her troubles fall away. What happened in the days that followed was truly magical. After weeks of bad results, Rylee's blood work completely turned around, improving so greatly that she was discharged on June 8, merely 4 days after Pops' visit.

Rylee Roo, as she is affectionately called by family and friends, is still recovering. However, that has not stopped her from returning to acting like a normal nine-year-old little girl. A week after her discharge, she was back on her horses, showing at a local arena. Although he is retired, 27-year-old Pops is and always will be Rylee's number one, for no one can replace the magic that is shared between a little girl and her first horse.

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