The Day Life Changed
My animals and my horses in particular, have always been my best friends. Although I have legally owned many horses in my life, there are only three who were truly my horses.
The first one was, of course, my first horse. Brandy came into my life when I was seventeen. He shared all the turmoil of my growing up and he is in my wedding pictures. Brandy was the horse of my youth.
The second horse was Tags, a big red chestnut gelding. He was a sweet horse to work with and had all the fire that I could have wanted under saddle. Tags came into my life around the same time as my youngest son. Tags and I tried everything, we showed dressage and hunter jumper, I rode him on trails and we even learned to play polo together. When I moved to Alberta from Ontario, he came with me. Tags was the horse of my middle age.
Emily, a bay Canadian Warmblood mare, is the horse of my old age and is currently sharing my journey.
Emily is the daughter of a Thoroughbred mare that I bought at an auction in 1997. I had no intention of buying the mare, she was thin, and homely is a kind way of describing her. But, just before the gavel fell I found myself sticking my hand in the air and she was mine. My friend shook her head and proclaimed I had just bought the ugliest horse in the sale. What could I say? She was right!
I brought the mare home and named her Sunny. Her registered name was Pug’s Escourt and it just didn’t seem fitting to call the poor thing Pug. She was a sweet mare, and in time I bred her to Pik Kasso, an Oldenburg stallion. Emily was born on a May morning in 2000.
Emily is the kind of horse that you can only describe as a child. She has to put her nose into everything. It’s a very good thing that she heals well, she wasn’t an hour old and she had managed to find something to cut herself on. It wasn’t an accident, the trend continued as Emily grew older. For example, one night the north wind blew down a section of the wind fence in the back corral. The six other horses and even the cow had the sense to look at it and walk around it, not Emily. Emily trotted up to the section lying on the ground and had to examine it with her nose and her front foot. Then, just in case there was something she was missing Emily decided she needed to have a look at the boards in the center. She walked onto the supine section of fence and of course managed to get cut herself.
Fast forward to August of 2005. I came home from work on August 2, 2005 and decided to ride Emily before dinner so I could spend some time with my husband in the evening.
I put supper in the oven and headed out to the corral to tack up. It was a beautiful afternoon; the sky was Alberta blue, the sun warm and the wind light. I rode Emily in the corral for about half an hour and as usual she was very good. We were trotting on the east side of the corral by the old cattle squeeze. I glanced down at the watch on my left wrist. It was 6:02pm on August 2, 2005. In an instant my life changed forever. The mare drifted half a step to the left in response to the slight shift in my weight. The handle of the squeeze hovered just in front of me. My left thigh caught under it and was pushed down and back and then up and out as Emily continued to trot forward. Things popped and crunched in my leg and back. If I had an ounce of sense I would have grabbed the cattle squeeze and let the horse go out from under me. But, hey, I’m a horseman, you don’t think of coming off, you instinctively think of staying on. Emily hit the end of the reins and yanked me forward stretching me diagonally between my right arm and my left leg still hung up on the iron handle. Of course up until this point I was still trying to stay on her! Poor Emily got reefed in the mouth and jerked around. As she hesitated, I had the fleeting thought that I could stay on. But of course I was so very wrong. I clearly remember reaching for the saddle horn. As was inevitable, she went out from under me and I hit the ground driving my left femur into the hip socket, which I now know is called the acetabulum.
Emily’s bridle came off she leaped forward to crowd into the corral fence. The first words I managed to croak out were, “Whoa, mare.” The worry was that she would whirl about and come back over top of me. The squeeze made a huge crash when I hit it and the horse would have been well within her rights to be spooked. Instead she stopped and turned to look at me with an expression that said “Why’d you do that?”
I tried to get up and found I was too dizzy and the pain was too bad. I reeled in the bridle, dragging it through the dust. Once the urge to hurl my guts up passed I crawled across the corral to the barn. Emily came and walked beside me with her nose on my shoulder. All I could think of was “please don’t let her step on my hand.” Of course she didn’t, Emily was very careful as she walked with me. She made the same kind of whickery noises in her throat that a mare makes to her foal.
When I reached the mounting block, I managed to crawl up onto it. I had to stop again to let the dizziness and sickness pass. No one was home and I knew I had about twenty minutes to get myself somewhere safe before the initial shock wore off it really started to hurt. Emily allowed me to dig my fingers into her shoulder and pull myself up to stand. She had no bridle at this point and could have easily run off to play with her buddies. She stood and waited while I took her saddle off. Looking back I know that was stupid, but the first rule of a good horseman is you look after your horse first—no matter what. Somehow I put the saddle away and found something to lean on so I could hobble to the house. Emily, now with nothing on her, walked beside me and took my weight on her shoulder and withers. She helped me out of the corral and across the yard to the gate. She stood at the gate for a long time after I got to the house.
My husband came home soon after and I explained what had happened. Then I took two painkillers and went to bed, sure that it would feel better in the morning. Alas, that was not to be and my husband came home from work at noon and drove me to the emergency ward.
I had broken the acetabulum and it did not heal well. I still walk with a cane and a limp. Emily walks beside me no matter how slow I am. If she gets too far ahead of me she stops and waits. The mare follows me onto the trailer, lifts her feet when she is asked and holds them while I clean them for her. Where once I dreamed of the ribbons we would win and the awesome dressage tests we would ride, now I just dream of getting back on Emily and riding around the corral.
When I think what could have happened, it makes me appreciate the truly loving and intelligent creature that Emily is. She would have been well within her rights to run off in fear, no one had ever fallen off her before or yanked on her mouth. The cattle squeeze made a huge clanking noise when I hit it which would have scared a lot of young horses half to death. Emily chose to remain and act in a way that a lot of horse experts I know of think is uncharacteristic. I can only point out that horses have great hearts and are capable of some reasoning skills. Often they react towards humans in direct response to the way humans treat them on a day to day basis. I choose to believe that Emily knew I needed her help and gave it to me. Skeptics can disagree with me and think that I am romanticizing the incident; my only response is that I was there and I know it happened.
© 2016, Nancy Bell. All rights reserved.
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