Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Well, I always said I'd probably fall off that horse and crack my fool head. I WAS kidding, but no, I've actually gone and done it.

Monday around noon I went by the barn to feed the horses. Got Galahad out of the pasture to put him back into his stall where it's cooler, and decided to ride down to the creek to get him a drink before putting him away for the day. We were only going to be gone for a few minutes, so I didn't put on the saddle or my helmet.

We made it down to the creek just fine. Galahad wanted to eat clover and I was paying attention to him wanting to eat clover and neither one of us saw the woman coming across the creek until she jumped from the last rock and made a big splash. Galahad, convinced she was coming to eat him, spun around on one hind foot. I had no time to react and so I did NOT accompany him on his spin, but fell off the other side. I landed shoulder-first but my momentum spun my head around and it collided with a small rock.

Galahad was very concerned when I didn't get up and yell at him--he kept coming over and nuzzling me to get up. When I managed that, I led him over to a bench and told him he HAD to let me get on, that it was very important for me to get back to the barn. Usually he fusses; that day he stood like a statue while I clambered on.

We made it back, I put him in his stall and iced my head, then decided to drive home. On the way there I realized I was only seeing part of what was in front of me, so I decided to head for the emergency room. I really got scared when I stopped at a traffic light to turn left and an oncoming car VANISHED. I mean, one second it was there and the next second it was NOT THERE. So I waited for the green arrow, said a prayer, and made it to the ER.

All seemed well. They did a CT scan and an MRI and were figuring on sending me home, because I seemed fine other than a little headache, mostly from my neck muscles. Then about 9:30 at night the ER doc comes smiling into the room and says cheerfully, "Wow--I'm shocked! You have a skull fracture!"

Um, OK....

So anyway, they kept me in the ICU overnight for observation, hooked up to every beeping machine known to medical science, and came in every hour on the hour to shine a light into my eyes and poke and prod me for a while. After another CT scan and many more hours of waiting, the neurologist came in to see me and sent me home with orders not to ride for two months.

Good news is that I'm apparently OK--visual field disturbances are gone, most of the headache is gone, and all seems to be functioning normally. I'm mostly just worried that if I sneeze, my head will explode.

I'm enormously grateful that I'm not still lying in that ICU bed, unconscious and brain-damaged, as I very well might have been. A new "helmet law" has been passed around here, and the word from all my wonderful friends is that it WILL be enforced. I love you guys! Your friendship and support means the world to me.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

An appointment with Raja?

What an interesting morning!

Last week a dance friend of mine, an older gentleman who is a bit frail but who is very interested in horses, came by the barn for a quick visit. We agreed that he would come again today to spend the morning grooming the horses and getting more comfortable around them. “James” hasn’t been around horses since he was a boy, and not much even then.

James was half an hour or so later than we had talked about. Before he showed up, I headed down to go get Galahad. On the way there, I passed the geldings pasture. I could scarcely believe my eyes: Raja, my skinny old friend, was standing by the gate all by himself. He was staring out at me and (I’m not making this up!) looking worried, like I was late for an appointment and he was beginning to think I wasn’t going to show up.

So I put Galahad’s halter on him and got him out—what else could I do? And of course, though I hadn’t thought about it, Raja was the perfect horse for my friend to work with. He’s the gentlest soul, a perfect gentleman, and needs a good feeding: just like James himself.

Here's my question for you: What do you suppose the odds are that this morning, of all the mornings I've been out there, Raja would be standing there waiting expectantly? He is normally halfway out in the pasture, either by himself or with Midnight and a few other friends. I have never, in more than a year, seen him stand by the gate. And no, his owner hadn't been there and just turned him out, or anything logical like that. Coincidence? Or what?

Horses are far more intelligent, more sentient, than we usually give them credit for. Raja and I have lately shared several very odd experiences that confirm, for me, what Linda Kohanov talks about in The Tao of Equus and her other books. Horses have ways of sensing and communicating that have nothing to do with language, and that are not limited by distance. I actually have no trouble believing (despite my years of scientific training) that Raja positioned himself there because he knew he was the best horse for the job. That, and the thought of fresh, spring grass and clover....

When James finally arrived, I gave him the task of grooming Raja, who stood quietly and contentedly and never threatened to step on James’s toes. I handled my pushy old black horse Midnight. Then the four of us walked out to the lane to graze. It was very peaceful, and James and Raja both really seemed to enjoy it.

It was quite a lovely morning—cloudy and cool, without the rain that had been forecast. The grass, despite the heat, is still lush and the clover is in full bloom--very nourishing for body and soul. After a while, we brought the horses back and put them both out in the pasture. They wandered contentedly off.

James and I then went down to get Galahad, who had been cooped up for the best part of four days. I wanted to ride him back down to the arena barn, past the place where there was a tractor loading shavings into a big trailer. It’s always good to get him used to noises and spooky things.

Galahad let me get on him with no trouble, though I could sure tell he was full of energy after being in his stall for that long. He was just fine on the ride down, past the noise and commotion. But when we got to the indoor arena, he decided to act up.

For a minute, I really thought James would get to witness me being bucked off! It’s a pretty unnerving thing to feel the front end of your horse come up, then to have the head and neck disappear between the front legs as the back end leaves the ground! I really don’t enjoy that any more now than I did the first time he did it, and especially not bareback.

Fortunately, I didn't come off, and I did manage to get him to do some work for me: turning on the front and hindquarters, sidepassing (not too well, but at least both ends were moving at the same time), backing up, moving forward without tossing his head. I didn’t push my luck too far, and pretty quickly I had him back out of the arena. Then I did feed him, and we put him out in the pasture with his buddies, where he bucked and caroused for our amusement and his own.

A lovely morning it was. James is good company, and I do hope he’ll come back again to hang around. I got home just before a storm hit—we had torrential rain for quite a while, lots of thunder, but mainly wind—it harvested a whole bunch of ripe apricots from the top of the tree in the front yard. A good day!

[I really must get more photos of old Raja!]

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A very bad day

"Stan," our farrier, is a gentle soul who's been shoing horses for 40 years. He came yesterday to reset Midnight's shoes and look at Galahad’s feet. Galahad's hooves were quite worn across the front—short, with the hoof part even shorter than the sole, and he’s been getting uncomfortable. He’s either pawing a lot or just plain walking on his toes because his feet are tender. Either way, given that we want to ride him on these rough, rocky trails and that his other two riders weigh a whole lot more than I do, he needed shoes on the front feet.

Everything went just fine at first. Galahad was calm, with no sign of anything wrong, while Stan picked up and cleaned his feet, trimmed the hooves, and fitted the shoes. But as soon as he started to nail, all hell broke loose, and Galahad turned into this rearing, plunging, terrified beast. Poor horse! He tried to pull away from the halter and managed to skin up his face, and somehow got the rope across the quick-release knot in such a way that it took me an additional five or ten seconds to get it loose.

It was horrible. For the next two hours he hopped and skipped sideways, he tried to refuse to pick up his feet, he turned and pranced and pulled…. Eventually, Stan had to put the horse equivalent of a choke-chain on him—a chain running under his chin attached to the lead line, so that when the horse pulled or reared, he’d get a sharp yank in a sensitive spot and (hopefully) be less inclined to do it again.

The pain did have some effect on the intensity of the rearing, but the look in Galahad’s eye was like a knife to my heart. I had promised that horse that he’d never have to experience pain and fear from a human again, and that I’d protect him. Of course, I should have known that wouldn’t always be possible.

In this case, he had a shoe with only four nails in it and was endangering the farrier. At that point, Stan had to get some kind of control of him. But seeing the horse I know retreat behind fear-glazed eyes was dreadful. And I know this horse: The fact that Stan got the final nails in was more a matter of luck and speed than of willing cooperation from the horse. Galahad would die before he would stop fighting. He has that much heart.

I also felt like I’d failed him because I wasn’t able to calm him down and to reassure him like I’ve done on so many of our “scary things” walks. But in retrospect, I need to remember that Galahad is a rescued horse. We will never know what he endured as a colt. Obviously, one thing he suffered through was one or more very bad experiences with shoeing. Stan figures he jerked as someone was shoeing him and a nail went into a sensitive spot. He was probably then beaten when he protested. It’s amazing that he’s as good as he is!

Abused horses always have “triggers” that set them off, and just as in this case, you never know what the trigger is until you pull it accidentally. One horse I know from the rescue ranch is terrified of the reins going over her head; another of having the top of his head touched at all. Still another is afraid to stand still with a rider on her back. If she’s moving, she’s OK; it’s the standing still that terrifies her. One can only imagine what experiences caused these fears.

These types of responses are very difficult to overcome. They’re like the equine equivalent of PTSD, I suppose. So there really was no predicting Galahad’s reaction, and once it escalated, there was nothing anyone could have done. Had I not been so shocked, and so convinced (by his previous reactions to other stimuli) that I could get him calm again, I would have called off the shoeing until we had worked with him more. But by the time I realized the depth of his terror, and gotten past my own instinctive acquiescence to the “authority” of the farrier, we were too far into it.

I wish I had understood the situation more quickly. If wishes were horses….

Galahad had calmed down completely by last night, it seemed, and was as affectionate as ever. I didn't recover as quickly. Humans dwell on things; horses don't. I had nightmares all night; he probably pawed down some more shavings with his new, shiny shoes, and slept like a baby horse. I'm going to start working more with his feet, so that maybe Stan's next visit, in seven weeks, will go better.