'Horse was friendly before knife attack'
Margaret Lyle, a frail 81-year-old, gently whispers calming words in the ear of her son's horse Patch and strokes its head so that the vet can treat a savage wound inflicted when a vicious gang stabbed the defenceless animal.
The five-year-old piebald horse has such a gentle and trusting nature it did not run away from the thugs who callously stuck a knife in her leg, leaving a lump of flesh on the ground and blood pouring from the open wound.
Almost a week after the assault Margaret's eyes still fill up as she watches the vet administer painkilling medication to the mare her son Adrian has had since birth.
Patch has led an idyllic life. Her gentle nature makes her a big attraction for local children from the Steelstown area of Londonderry, who came every day to pet her and feed her handfuls of grass.
Now Patch's trusting nature is gone, and she trembles and even bucks away from Adrian, and needs to be sedated before the vet can get close enough to treat the gaping hole in her leg.
Last Friday Adrian had left to visit his brother when he got a call from his distressed mother telling him that Patch had been badly hurt.
Adrian, still clearly angry and upset at the sight of his favourite horse so badly injured, wants to see those responsible caught.
He recalled: "My mother rang to say some of the neighbours had come to the house because they were passing the field and saw that Patch was bleeding badly.
"It wasn't that long since I had passed that way myself and she was fine then, but nevertheless I came up to the field and I will never get over the sight that met me.
"There were a gang of boys, about 10 or 12 of them all with hoodies up, and the blood was gushing out of Patch.
"I called to them and said 'what have you done to the horse', but they laughed and told me that if I came near them I 'would get the same', and I knew at least one of them had a knife so I had to back off.
"I had to stand and wait all the time looking at poor Patch and knowing that she was badly cut, but eventually they left.
"I went into the field towards her but by this time she was in such a terrified state she backed away and ran off, so it took me quite a while to get a hold of her.
"I keep a head collar on her but that was broken so it was hard to get a grip on her.
"Patch is a gentle horse and has a very trusting nature normally.
"The local children love her and come over to the field to see her, and as soon as she sees them she comes running.
"They make a big fuss of her and feed her handfuls of grass, so she would have just thought that these boys were the usual children and would have run straight to them."
The deep gash on Patch's front leg is the worst that vet Damien Owens has seen in his 40-year career treating animals, and has proved less that straightforward to treat.
He explained: "Whoever did this actually gouged a two-inch lump of flesh out of the mare which is so wide it was not possible to stitch, and that in itself has led to all kinds of difficulties.
"The wound is infected and it causing Patch a lot of pain so she is being treated with two different kinds of antibiotics and painkillers, but we need to sedate her before we can administer them because of the trauma she has suffered.
"A big concern for us now, because of the time of year, is stopping flies getting into the cut which could lead to a bad infection, but for now we are doing all we can for her, but it will be a good couple of months before the wound has repaired itself."
While the vet assures Adrian that the physical damage will heal eventually, the same cannot be said about the psychological damage that Adrian feels may never heal.
He explained: "I have four other horses, including Patch's mother, which I keep in a field near Springtown, but I kept Patch down here near the house because she was such a gentle, calm horse.
"She is in the stable now but when I go in to get her when the vet comes she goes mental the minute she sees me, and you can see the fear in her eyes and that's with me, who she has seen and been used to from the day she was born.
"I don't see her ever coming back to what she was.
"The ones that did this have a lot to answer for and you have to wonder, if they would do this to an animal, what would they do to a human being?"
A piebald horse has a spotting pattern of large black and white patches. In America such horses are known as pinto, with pinto horses crossed with American quarter horses known as paint horses. These animals were a favourite of the North American native tribes. The only survivor of Custer's last stand was a paint horse called Comanche, whose rider was Irish-born Captain Myles W Keogh. Paint horses are prized for their speed and agility and are still used by cowboys and in rodeos.