4/6/11

'Horse crazy' is an incurable disease

A dear friend of mine sent me this video after I was lamenting the transition of my beautiful horse property to a frumpy old livestock farm.



It occurred to me after watching the video that the love of horses, or what I call being Horse Crazy is a lifelong affliction. Some people who claim to "like horses" may not suffer from the disease, but for those of us who would trade anything--dignity, money, friends, normalcy--for the chance to be near one of those creatures, it's a life sentence. It can be expensive, painful, frustrating, infuriating, rewarding, blissful. But the addiction doesn't ever go away. You may be able to hide it for a while, but eventually, it will rear it's forelocked head.

My beloved horse Blacky turned 23 this year. I've had him for 10 of those years. I make time to get on him periodically to lope his arthritic joints around the pasture, but since kids, the old guy and I just haven't been able to do the trail riding we used to live for.

Blacky, taken 10/2010
Did I ever tell you about the time Blacky saved my life? No? Well, it goes something like this...

We were up at elk camp in the Colorado mountains. The horses (Blacky and hubby's mule Red) and I had dropped him off at the top of the mountain to archery hunt on foot. On the way home we spied a lovely little trail and decided to take a stroll, me atop Blacky, Red being ponied behind. Baxter the dog (my first child) trotted along beside us sniffing the trail and marking it as we went.

As we came to the treeline, the trail started getting muddier and muddier. A ways into the trees, a huge pine lay across the trail, but upon closer inspection, I noticed animal tracks heading off the trail to the left on what appeared to be the path around the obstacle. Baxter also investigated the path and, though it was muddy, he successfully navigated around the log.

Following Baxter's lead, I turned Blacky off the trail, dragging Red behind me. A few steps off the main trail, I felt Blacky's front end drop out from beneath me. Believing that he stumbled, I kicked him on, and felt the back half of him drop down too. The rope connecting the horn of my saddle to Red was taught across my leg as the old mule saw what had happened to his buddy and refused to follow. 

Red the mule at elk camp
As I looked around to evaluate my predicament, I observed that I was hip deep in mud, atop my 15.3 hand horse who was struggling to keep his nostrils from filling up with swamp water. The same mud that was thick enough to support my 40 pound dog was only the shell on a bog-like sink hole that Blacky and I were now in.

Blacky never struggled, flailed or panicked. I untied the mule's rope from my saddle horn to free him (and me). I swung my leg over the mud topping my horse's rump. I slithered down, clinging to the saddle while I searched for a foothold in the mud. I found a submerged log to stand on that Blacky was apparently straddling.
I began to pray...it wasn't fancy, but went something like, "OK. What do I do now, God?" Thoughts of leaving to get the truck to drag the horse out, and firing off 3 shots as the universal signal to send help went through my head, but I needed to try to get Blacky out first.

Still grasping Blacky's rein, I spotted some trees growing out of the mud a few yards away. I estimated that the trees must be rooted to something, so there should be solid ground beneath them. Half laying on top of the thickest surface mud, while simultaneously kicking my feet in the soup beneath me, I made my way to the bank. Once there, I began pulling on Blacky's rein to drag him toward me, literally on top of me, as it was the only exit I knew of.

Still, he never panicked, and never fought. He made a first huge lunge toward me and landed to rest. I urged him on again. He gathered his might and leaped toward me again. This time I felt his front legs slip past mine as he searched for firm ground. He found it. Slowly, carefully he picked his way up the embankment until he was standing on dry land, coated to the ears with mud and algae.

As I looked down, I realized that my appearance matched my horse's as my jeans, now heavy with mud were situated somewhere below my rear end.

We were quite a group, walking back to camp. Red mule led the parade, his lead rope dangling. He checked back periodically to ensure we were following him, but there was no way in his little mule mind that he would trust me to lead him after I nearly drowned his best friend. I was next in line, pants sagging, mud-caked pistol protruding from the pocket, and blaze orange hunting vest coated with black & green from the mud and algae. Last came Blacky, soaked with mud, head dragging from exhaustion. We all made it back to camp that morning by the grace of God and I spent the next 6 hours before the Hubby got home attempting to clean human, horses and tack using a dish sponge from the camp's kitchen dipped in the creek running by camp. 

Some non-horsey people will read this story and wonder how I could see it as horse saving human, when I was the one who dragged the old guy out of the swamp. But anyone who really KNOWS horses understands that a horse who, when tested with a fight for survival, puts his rider first is worth his weight in gold. I've ridden horses that tried to kill me for taking off my helmet at the end of a ride. I've rehabbed thoroughbreds that have been airborne more than they were in contact with the arena floor because they were so hopped up on rocket fuel that 2 weeks of stall rest turned them into ticking time-bombs. So, to now own a fellow like Blacky, I feel truly blessed, even in his retirement. He's not perfect and he still crow hops and bucks on virtually every outing, and he'll never be a beginners horse or a lesson nag, but he's still my horse & I love him. 

The point of this story is this: if, like the girl in the video, you're willing to train a flippin' cow to jump because you long for a horse so badly, you've got the same disease I've got..."Horse Crazy". There's no cure, and even the most trainable cow won't stave off the symptoms forever. Only a horse will do, and the good ones will keep you coming back for a lifetime.

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