by Laura Crum
First of all, happy holidays to all on this winter solstice. From now on, the days get longer. Yippee!
And second, I am posting this from my ancient computer (thirteen years old, uses Windows 95), as the new one gave up and is in the shop. For some reason, I can’t seem to comment on posts, so if I don’t reply to something you say, its because I can’t (and on my previous post, too—I would like to thank all of you who gave me such insightful comments—and White Horse Pilgrim, I really appreciate your thoughts and your blog). I do read and very much enjoy all comments, and hopefully will get myself back in working order here soon. And really, such minor setbacks as computer woes are a small thing when you think about it. My family and critters are thriving, and I’m very grateful for this. My 12th mystery novel comes out in the spring, allowing me to achieve the goal I set for myself many years ago—to write a dozen published books in my series featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy. I’m actually pretty amazed that I did it. And I recently accepted a job teaching at our local community college, so overall, things are going just great. I can handle a few computer woes.
I had in mind to do a sort of year end wrap up post with lots of photos, but this computer would pass out if asked to post a photo, so instead I thought I’d tell you about my latest equine adventure. I’m hoping this small story may help someone else avoid a similar problem.
So, anyway, we’ve been riding two or three days a week and all has gone very smoothly. My son has been teaching Henry to pop over (very) small jumps. Big fun. But most of my energy lately has been going into fixing-up-the-place type projects. I’ve been living here--and keeping horses here—for twenty years, and some things are starting to wear out or get overgrown. I replaced some feeders that were falling apart last week and decided to cut down a euchalyptus tree that was in the wrong place on the ridge above the corrals and barn. Euchalyptus are an invasive, non-native species here and they grow very fast. If I had left this one in place it would soon be towering over my barn in a threatening manner (they come down very easily in storms). So I asked my neighbor, who is a tree trimmer by trade, if he would cut it down for me.
Well, he was glad to, and refused to take my money; he said he’d “drop by some day; it will only take ten minutes.” Okey-dokey. I bet some of you can see where this is going already.
Sure enough, my neighbor came by with his chainsaw one afternoon last week. I pointed out the tree on the ridge above the corrals. Not being a complete idiot, I said, “Let me catch the horse that’s closest to the tree before you start.” And I headed down to the barn to catch Twister, my boarder, whose corral is nearest the tree. And my neighbor headed up the ridge toward the euchalyptus.
By the time I got to the barn it was already too late. Twister, who can be a very flighty horse, was already in full panic mode, just from hearing my neighbor crashing through the brush above the barn. He couldn’t actually see what was making the noise, which was intensifying his fear. All the other horses had their ears up but were calm. Twister was bouncing off the fence panels like a pinball, and I could tell from his demeanor that he was going to try to jump the fence pretty soon.
Instantly my mind flashed back to the last time I had seen a horse do this particular thing. Fifteen or twenty years ago we had four two-year-olds in a round corral on a hot June day. Not a breeze was stirring. One of the horses began to act the way Twister was acting now. We all stared at this gelding in consternation, not understanding what could be wrong. The other three two-year-olds stared at him. This went on for a minute or two. And then, simultaneously, two separate things happened. The wacked out young horse tried to jump the fence and essentially went right through a pipe panel, destroying it in the process, and a big oak tree that overhung the corral went crashing to the ground.
The other two-year-olds followed the first one through the wreckage of the panel in a panic and we all stared at the oak tree that had suddenly given up the ghost in amazement. Shaking our heads, we agreed that the one colt must have heard tiny noises that warned him the tree was about to fall. And we all desperately hoped that none of the young horses was badly injured. Eventually we got the colts caught and found that scrapes were the worst of it, which was incredibly lucky. It would have been very easy for the broken pipes to have done some serious damage to the horses. And I knew I was looking at the same possibility here with Twister.
I can’t tell you how fast my heart went to the pit of my stomach when I saw the blind panic in that horse’s eyes. I hollered at my neighbor to freeze, even as I tried to get Twister’s attention, just get him to acknowledge my presence. No go on either front. My neighbor, not a horseman, shouted cheerfully back that he wouldn’t start the chainsaw until he heard from me…and kept on crashing through the brush toward the tree. Twister kept bouncing madly off the fences, his eyes bugging out in panic, his nostrils as wide as they could get. Great. Just great.
I stepped into the corral, thinking to myself that I was going to be seriously pissed off if this horse ran me down and hurt me. I don’t have time to be hurt. I’ve organized my horse life for many years such that it is very low risk. And here I was, about to catch (or try to catch) a horse that was out of his mind with fear.
Once again, I yelled at my neighbor to please freeze, hold absolutely still. This time he heard me, thank God. “Oh,” he said, “You want me to hold still.”
When the crashing in the brush stopped, Twister eventually paused in his frantic charging about. For the first time, he looked at me. He was still mighty scared, shaking all over, but he was looking at me.
OK then. I talked to him and moved steadily toward him. He stayed where he was, looking at me. I could tell he was taking some reassurance from me. I got my hand on his neck and patted him, told him what a silly critter he was, and reached up to get the halter over his nose. This was not a pleasant moment. Twister is high headed at the best of times (and this was not the best of times), and I am short. I had to stand right under him to get the halter on him. I felt like I was catching a wild giraffe. I crossed my fingers he would not choose this moment to panic again and charge over the top of me—and that my neighbor would keep on holding still.
I got the halter fastened. Now I just had to lead the beast away from here. It was a lot like leading a kite on a string on a windy day. Twister bounced around on the end of the leadrope, as skittish as a barely halter broke colt. But he knew enough not to try to drag me, and I got him over to a place where he could see what was going on, but wasn’t too close to it. He could also see the other four horses—who were not panicked. It wasn’t going to get any better than this. Tying Twister up was not an option—he’s known to pull back--hard. I just needed to hang on to him. I told my neighbor to go ahead.
One thing I can tell you for sure. Horses do not like the sound of trees crashing to the ground. Something deep in their DNA warns them that this is a danger. Not one of my horses, including Twister, batted an eye at the sound of the chainsaw. But the sound of the tree crashing down (and it was a multi-trunked tree, so this happened maybe a dozen times) did not go over well. My calm horses ran about a little, not panicked, just alarmed. Twister’s eyes bugged out again and he thought hard about leaving. I talked to him and kept a hand on him, while I watched to be sure no other horse looked like freaking out. I successfully kept Twister from departing the scene. He was scared but held it together. We did OK. Eventually the tree was down. We all heaved a huge sigh of relief. No harm done.
But…if I ever have more trees dropped, I am darn sure going to be prepared and have all the horses where they are not too close to the action (and by the way, they were all perfectly safe in reality—the felled tree came nowhere near the fence or barn, as I had known it would not), and I am going to make sure Wally is there to supervise his spooky gray gelding. The main thought that went through my head the whole time is “I am never going to forgive myself if this horse gets hurt on my watch” (and because of my dumb decision). Fortunately it didn’t happen. But I’ll remember to take felling trees a little more thoughtfully in the future. Always something new to learn.
Hope you all are having a happy holiday season. Cheers--Laura