Young cancer patient Caroline Taylor, 5, of Caraway received a very unusual gift last month - a miniature horse, complete with saddle and equipment.
Caroline's parents, Curtis and Lisa Taylor, said their daughter had always wanted a horse, and often expressed that to her family and friends.
"My wife Jill, daughter Kara and I had looked on the internet for a pony to purchase for Caroline," said Royal Tilley, Lisa's father, from Monette. "We got a response from Renee and Stanley Tilley of Marshall. They are not related to us, just a coincidence. We were shocked when we received contact from the Tilley family, offering to give Caroline a pony. They had heard about her story and wanted to help. They had gotten word of Caroline's wish and told us it had touched the heart of their 10 year old daughter Lacey.
"The Tilley's 10 year old daughter Lacey wanted to give Caroline her own miniature pony," Lisa Taylor said. "The pony had been born on a stormy night and they named it Twister."
"The local merchants and business people from Marshall and Morning Star pitched in to raise money to buy Twister a brand new saddle, blanket and halter," Curtis Taylor said.
"We traveled to Marshall on April 21 to pick up the pony," Royal Tilley said. "Shannon Sanders had loaned us his horse trailer to bring her home in. That tiny little horse sure looked small in that big trailer, but she made the 150 mile trip home very well."
Twister has temporary housing in the back yard of the Taylor's home in Caraway. Grandfather Tilley fixed a small shelter for her in the fenced and shaded yard.
"We have had a lot of visitors coming by to see Twister," Lisa Taylor said. "One morning she woke us up about 7 a.m. kicking the shed. We all ran out there in our sleepers. She had seen her reflection in the new tin on the shed and was kicking what she thought to be another pony that was getting too close."
"Twister is just 34 inches tall," Curtis Taylor said. "She is about the size of a large dog. Our Shetland sheep dog Macey plays chase with Twister. The pony is losing her winter hair and will soon have a nice slick coat."
"Dad got us some special food to feed her, a mix of grass, clover and sweet feed," Lisa Taylor said. "She eats and sleeps well, and seems to like visitors."
Twister is one and a half years old and has never been ridden, so the Taylors are trying her new saddle on her each day to condition her to having something attached to her back. Right now there are no plans for Caroline to ride her, as they will have to make sure it is safe.
"Caroline had on a long sleeve ruffled shirt one day, and Twister started nibbling on the sleeve," Lisa Taylor said. "Before we knew it, Twister had bitten Caroline. That set her back a while, and she is slowly getting back to petting her.
"It just amazes us how kind and generous people have been to help Caroline. She has received so many gifts, presents, parties, phone calls and visits. Every time someone finds out something she has wished for, they try to get it. We will never be able to show our appreciation enough for what people have done for our family during this trying time. Their love and support has helped us without measure.
"The staff at St. Jude Hospital have gone out of their way to help us also. Caroline was taking treatments on April 28 and was scheduled to be in the Petite Miss competition at BIC that night. Caroline had always wanted to be in a beauty contest, to get all dressed up and walk out in front of all those people. The staff made special arrangements for her treatments so we could drive home, get her ready for the pageant, and come back afterwards to finish up.
"She was so happy to get all dressed up and realize another dream of hers. She didn't win the contest but they gave her a beautiful crown for bravery. When she got back to St. Jude she told everyone she had won, and I didn't correct her. I guess having that crown just made her feel like a winner."
Caroline is back at the Riverside Pre-School with her friends this week and telling countless stories about her new horse, her crown, and all of her new adventures. No doubt she is surrounded by a wide range of supporters and well-wishers, and most of all - by love.