I have to ask so many favors on a regular basis for my “horse friends” (this happens when you don’t have a trailer and you’re a horse noob in general) that I’m always glad if I have a chance to repay favors.
It just so happened that a lot of favors got called in on this holiday weekend. Counting my three, I am taking care of eleven horses this weekend.
Last night, I was late getting out to Farm No. 2. They have two older horses that are on pasture. When the older horses didn’t come in, I had to scramble through thigh-high kochia to get to a canal road that rims the pasture to see what was wrong.
The gelding, Daytona, nickered and trotted over to see me. The mare, a palomino, was standing in a far corner of the pasture. Although she turned her head to look at me, she didn’t move her body, and her butt was turned toward me.
Uh-oh. Warning bells.
Now by this time the sun was setting, and walking on the rutted canal road was really unpleasant. I was worried the mare was stuck in the fence, so I kept watching her instead of looking where my feet were going. I kept taking missteps that made my teeth slam together. It was the end of a long day of chores at home as well as taking care of three sets of farm chores, and I was tired. The prospect of floundering around trying to untangle a strange horse in the dark in a weedy, marshy pasture filled me with dread. I didn’t even know this horse’s name.
Mare was still standing in the same position when I got there. Sweat marks streaked her withers (another bad sign, since it wasn’t that warm yesterday). I could see a fist-sized bloody wound on her right hind, right in front of the hock. It looked for all the world like a really bad scraped knee, except for I have no idea how she could’ve gotten a scrape like that on that part of her leg. At least it wasn’t a deep cut. I could tell her hock was swollen, though, and blood had dripped onto the rest of her leg. She was violently swishing her tail to try to protect herself from flies and mosquitoes.
I called my husband, stumbling back over the canal road, trying to remember where the fencer was so I could shut it off and climb through. I had a lead rope in my car, but no halter, and I wasn’t sure where the tack was kept at this farm. (And yes, I realize I should’ve known all the answers to these questions before the owner left, but ah well. To be fair, this was a two-day horsesitting job, and nobody expected there to be any problems.)
By the time the fencer was off, HM was on the way with a tube of Bute and the Vetricyn spray (after some heated back-and-forth about my distracted directions on where to find the stuff) and after I’d found a halter in the basement, Mare had decided she could move after all, thank god–at least she wasn’t stuck in some wire or something I couldn’t see in the weeds. I watched her trot off after Daytona, who’d finally decided it was OK to leave his hurt friend and head in for the night. So she could still move OK, too–big relief there as well.
After walking back around to the pens, I slipped in with the two horses. Mare came up at me with a little more energy than I wanted, and I asked her to stop. She didn’t. I asked again with stronger body language (and a lead rope) and she gave to me with a bit of a hurt expression and went to get a drink. When HM got there, she walked right over to him, and I could tell she was relieved there was a man there (just like a mare–sigh).
The interesting thing happened after I had her tied, though. I wanted to try to get some medicine on the leg and some flyspray on so she’d be more comfortable. She was clearly nervous about being tied, and was swinging her hind end around, but she wasn’t pinning or panicking. I let her touch the flyspray bottle with her nose and then backed off, and did that a couple of times and she stopped swinging around. I sprayed the bottle off to the side and she didn’t seem concerned, so I climbed out of the pen (so I was on the other side of the fence) and sprayed the side of her neck. She held still, and I praised her and stopped for a moment before getting the rest of what I could reach through the fence.
And then–get this–she moved her body over to the fence. This wasn’t the nervous fidgeting that she had been doing before–she moved over slowly, and when she was parallel with the fence, she stood still and looked at me. It took me a moment to figure out she wasn’t going to move away, and then I noticed she’d positioned herself so her wounded leg was closest to the fence. I picked up the wound spray, and she held still while I squirted the stuff right into the wound.
I couldn’t believe it…I thought the moment I tried to handle that leg I was going to have a rodeo on my hands, and here was Mare calmly asking me for help, positioning herself so it was convenient for me, and standing still while a stranger sprayed something right into her wound.
Anyway. I’m sure Palomino is a dead-broke mare, but dealing with hind-leg injuries has never been my favorite thing even when it’s been one of my own crew. This isn’t the first time I’ve been amazed at a horse’s innate ability to accept a potentially threatening situation and to request help from a human being. It is one of the first times I’ve been surprised that I could communicate so easily with a strange horse, though. Other peoples’ horses have always kind of been like blank slates to me.
There might be hope for me yet.