I Was a Middle Aged Barn Rat, Part 8, “Injury.” This is a ten part blog series about the year I decided to pursue my lifelong interest in horses, based on an article that appeared in Equus, March 2015.
The thing that makes what I’m learning so difficult is not so much my age, but my health. As a Type II diabetic with nerve damage, at first my left leg was not as strong as I would have liked it to be in order to work with horses. I understand the inherent risks and know that I need both legs under me to stay out of trouble, but it took a few months for the exercise to bring back the muscles in my leg.
It was risky in the beginning, particularly considering I didn’t know any of the horses well and was by myself most evenings. There were boarders, and the number of animals, including horses, dogs, and cats, varied. One time I arrived and found a strange horse in the upper pasture. He was the largest I’d ever seen up close.
He was a light sorrel, wearing a blanket that kept me from seeing whether he was a gelding or a stud. Or even a mare, though he didn’t seem very mare-like. He was eighteen hands—I learned later he was a Thoroughbred-draft cross—and had the look of a horse who knew he was the biggest guy around. I figured he was probably a gelding, since I’d been told the stable wouldn’t accept studs, and not a mare because he kept calling to the other gelding in the barn down the slope. Charlie answered, and so I knew there could be trouble if I wasn’t careful. Charlie was fairly ornery and had once rushed me at the gate so that I tripped over my boots. I rather hoped the new horse wouldn’t need to be moved.
I texted Kristen, “New guy?”
She replied with an apology for not alerting me, and gave instructions for the new horse, whose name turned out to be Friday. She assured me he was civilized, and so I prepared to take him from the pasture to a stall. It wasn’t hard to guess which halter was his; it was the biggest one hanging on the wall. Yes, he was civilized as promised. But as I said, he also knew he was the biggest kid on the block and his attitude toward Charlie made him a little intimidating. I got the halter on him and was able to keep him under control all the way to the barn in spite of his eagerness to confront the other gelding. I stepped carefully, kept a tight lead, and when he became too excited I asked him to stop for a moment. He went into his stall without too much fuss. Everyone ended up fed and where they belonged, and I went home feeling as if I’d been brave.
A few months before, I’d learned a lesson which made me very, very careful leading any horse. It was November, after the time change and during some rough fall weather. Suddenly I was moving horses back and forth from barn to pasture after dark and in stiff winds that rattled trees filled with dead leaves. One night I was leading the mustang, Addie, to the upper pasture while Daisy the dog was loose and running around. As we left the lighted area and approached the restless trees, Daisy made a run from behind and startled Addie. I wasn’t paying enough attention when the mare took a leap sideways, and next thing I was flying through the air. She’d rammed me from behind with her shoulder. I landed hard on my left side, and nearly had the air knocked out of me.
My first thought was that she would run off, and I scrambled for the rope though I didn’t need to. Addie is a good girl, and stood still once she realized her attacker was just Daisy. When I got hold of the rope, I struggled to my feet to calm myself down and assess the damage. There was a sharp pain in my left ribcage, and I’d plainly pulled a muscle in my left shoulder. For a moment I thought I might have to make a trip to the emergency room, but after a few deep breaths I decided I hadn’t broken anything. I’ve never had a broken bone, and though at my age I expect my first one any time, my luck is holding out. So I gathered my wits and the lead rope, and continued the walk to the pasture. My ribs would be sore for the coming month.
After that, I never moved horses unless Daisy was contained, and whenever possible avoided moving them after dark. As winter progressed that became impossible, but the good news was that the leaves finished falling and stopped making scary rustling noises in the darkness. I’ve learned not to let a horse crowd me, to never let a horse get away with something I don’t want him to keep doing, and to choose my battles wisely.