A couple of weeks ago my neighbor called to tell me that there were two horses in our hayfield. I looked out the window to our horse pastures, and our two horses were there grazing, as they should be. I asked my neighbor what color they were. He told me one was white, the other was brown (“chestnut,” in the horse world). I realized they were our other neighbors’ horses that had gotten out. I said thanks, hung up the phone, and started towards the door to go out and catch the horses and walk them back over to my neighbors’.
Just as I got to the door my wife walked in. She had just come home from a full day of work and then a long ride on a horse she is leasing at another barn. She looked tired. I told her about the horses.
“Ugh,” she said, “I’ll go get them.”
“The mare has a halter on,” I told her. “Do you want help?” I asked.
“No, you stay inside with the dog. I’ll just catch the mare and the gelding [a castrated male] will follow us back across the street.”
She grabbed the six foot dog leash that would make a good makeshift lead rope and headed out the door.
I’ve been taking care of horses for ten years, but I am by no means a horse person. I know them. To some degree I understand them. But, probably because I don’t ride, I do not share a connection with them. My wife, on the other hand, was born on a horse. She shares a deep, abiding connection with horses that enables her to calmly handle and ride them with grace in almost any situation. In ten years there has only been one time I’ve ever seen her move or act without grace while working with a horse. A horse reared up while on a lead rope and started lunging at her and striking out with his front hooves, clearly aiming at her head. Realizing she was in serious danger, she scaled and threw herself over a four board fence like a rodeo clown. Quick and agile? Yes. Graceful? No.
Horses are beautiful. They are majestic. They are amongst the most incredible athletes on the planet. But, they are also very dangerous. Every horse person everywhere in the world has at least one story about the time, whether on the ground or on the horse’s back, when so and so horse went ballistic for x reason and nearly maimed or killed them. Horses, no matter how gentle, no matter how sweetly dispositioned and obedient, no matter how “bomb proof,” as many in the horse world say when they are trying to sell a horse that is anything but bomb proof, the reality is that horses are essentially barely restrained volcanoes that can, and do, erupt with little or no warning.
So, I watched from the kitchen window as my wife approached the horses. She had an apple with her. When she was about ten feet from the mare, she took a bite and then held the rest out towards the mare with the apple resting in the palm of her hand. The mare walked forward and took the apple out of my wife’s hand with her mouth, and as she did so, my wife hooked the leash onto the mare’s halter. While this was going on, the gelding was agitated. He was pacing around. The window was open, and I heard him let out a great snort, which is horse for “I’m pretty fired up, and not terribly happy with what’s going on around me at the moment.”
My wife took a step or two backwards, away from the mare, and just as she was about to turn and start leading her out of the pasture, the gelding, who felt that my wife was taking “his” mare away from him, lunged forward and pushed himself between my wife and the mare, knocking the lead rope out of my wife’s hand. Then he pushed forward another step or two, turning the mare away from my wife while doing so. And then, to my horror, I watched as the gelding kicked my wife, who was only a few feet away, with both hind legs, a “double barrel.” As soon as I saw the hooves make contact with my wife’s puny, fragile, 110 pound body, time slowed to nearly a stand still. In excruciatingly slow motion my wife flew up into the air, went sailing about ten feet, and hit the ground in a heap. As I started turning towards the door, it occurred to me that she had made no effort at all to break her fall. She had been, in fact, as limp as a rag doll. Thinking the worst, I believed she would be dead when I got to her.
I ran to the door, frantically pulled my shoes on, and bolted outside. Before slamming the door shut, I turned and screamed “stay” at the dog who was charging out the door with me, all excited and eager to find out why I was scrambling around, what game we were going to play. The dog stopped dead in his tracks, winced, and cowered at the intensity of my voice. I slammed the door shut behind me and started sprinting (literally, and for the first time since about 1994) around the side of the house towards the hayfield.
When I came around the house, I couldn’t see my wife because there was a little rise in the field and she was on the other side of it. As I continued to sprint, I was staring straight ahead to where my wife should have been, but noticed out of the corner of my eye that as soon as the gelding saw me, he exploded from a standstill into a gallop and was moving, increasingly faster, directly towards me. Getting to my wife was all that mattered. Just then, my wife’s head popped up over the rise. She had sat up. Then I saw her quickly, though unsteadily, leap to her feet and start making her way towards me.
She immediately saw the gelding moving now at a full out, ground devouring gallop ever closer to me. Realizing that my wife was not dead, I looked directly at the gelding for the first time, and was, how should I put it, disconcerted. I saw a wild-eyed, but focused, determined 17 hand [five and a half feet at the shoulders], 1400 pound beast thundering (they really do thunder) towards me.
“Bobby!,” my wife called out, “watch out for the gelding, he’s being aggressive!”
Umm, you think? Thank you for that, Captain Obvious.
I watched as the gelding got closer. (I’ll be honest, I was a little paralyzed) I watched his great big nostrils flare as his lungs moved incredible volumes of air with each breath, filling his blood with huge amounts of oxygen that would enable him to keep up that gallop for over a mile if he had to. But, he didn’t have to go a mile. He only had another forty yards, and when he covered those forty yards, he was very likely going to do something like slam into me at full speed. There were only a couple of seconds left.
“Bobby!” I heard my wife scream.
Luckily, I hadn’t yet left the yard and there is a large oak standing on the edge of the hayfield. At the last second, I scooted behind the tree thinking that would get me out of harm’s way. I was wrong. The horse slowed, turned, and started coming around the tree after me. “Holy shit,” I thought, “this horse is freakin’ crazy!” I ran, and he chased me around the tree. Just as we were about to make another round about the tree, my neighbor, whose horse it was, appeared from across the street, distracting the horse. The gelding gave up the chase and stopped, his head high, his chest thrust out, his muscles and veins bulging. He let out another great snort and then, just like that, it was over. He stood still, trembling, breathing deeply. My wife and the mare walked slowly out of the field. My wife was cradling her left arm in her right, and she was limping.
My neighbor walked slowly up to the mare and clipped the lead rope he was carrying onto her halter. Then he turned and started walking slowly up the street back towards his barn. The gelding slowly and calmly followed.
I turned to my wife and said, “so, that was crazy. I thought you were dead. You alright?”
“That mother f’er! I can’t believe he kicked me. It was totally intentional. He’s such an asshole!”
She was alright.
We walked slowly back to the house. I opened the door and stepped inside with my wife following gingerly behind me, spewing expletives like a trucker.