I was in shock.
I have learned to keep things like this at arm’s length when I hear about them on social media, YouTube, and the like.
But this came out of nowhere and at this moment I couldn’t think. I couldn’t react. I was frozen in place. Was I going tharn I wondered? Like the rabbits in Watership Down? The word had become a part of my vocabulary before I had even finished the book. It was a good word that filled a definite void in the English language. Tharn: that icy steel clutch of fright that could so thoroughly paralyze a rabbit that he would be unable to act, or react, easy prey for an enemy. Humans need a word like that. For some, going tharn was an every day answer to life. And now I was wondering if it was happening to me. In the old days, the question would’ve never come up.
But that was B.P. Before Poppy.
I knew I was teetering on fragile ground, where rational thinking can, without warning, give way to self‑pity. But I was accustomed to being in control, not being controlled, and a few moments ago choice had been removed as an option. I was being forced to act. My life, and Poppy’s, would depend upon it.
Over the years hundreds of requests have poured in asking us to give a home to this horse or that one, most of whom “will soon be off to the slaughter houses if not adopted.” Had we said yes we would now have between 500 and 600 horses on our 31 acres, none of which would be healthy because obviously that’s way too many horses to thrive on 31 acres. And we, for sure, would be forced into the horse adoption business. So a few years after publication of The Soul of a Horse I declared that in an effort to get my work done and to feel less guilty, I would stop altogether reading and responding to these requests. Yes, I would ignore all these horses needing help. But I didn’t manage to feel any less guilty.
“You have no option,” Kathleen said. “You got into all of this to help horses lead healthier and happier lives, and you have helped thousands and thousands do just that. To continue that work takes enormous amounts of time. Time you cannot spend on one horse at a time. Somebody else has to do that.”
She’s right, of course.
But I always say Never say never!
I was also right. Or so it seemed on this particularly beautiful sunny day.
For there, not 20 feet away from me was a beautiful paint mare.
Who was about to lose her life.
Five weeks before, our Zeke had run into something unknown that poked him in the eye and penetrated the surface. The Vet’s first prognosis hoped that he wouldn’t totally lose the eye. Would he be able to see out of it? Probably not. He was locked up in a stall at the vet’s, a catheter was put in place and he began to receive three different medications multiple times a day. He was a good boy considering he had not been in a stall for more than five years.
Every day I would take him the breakfast he would normally get when at home, a pocket full of treats for which he had to perform, and I would usually let him graze on the vet’s grass for 30 minutes or so.
That particularly beautiful sunny day was easy to remember as it was the only sunny day in the preceding several weeks. And it was the day I had overheard the vet respond to the owners apparent request to have the paint put down.
The owner put the paint into one of the stalls behind the building, went inside to get some paperwork, and drove away pulling an empty horse trailer. The paint watched them go, issuing a muffled nicker that broke my heart.
I tromped inside and confirmed that my assumption was correct. The paint was left there to be put down.
The vet toyed with his answer for a bit, finally filtering it down to a single word.
Caterwauling fury that turned every head in the waiting room.
And I stomped out toward the stalls in the back.
It turns out that the Paint was around 25 years old and in excellent health except for COPD, which can be managed with daily medication.
I spent time with her and she was very sweet. I began to teach her to smile and plied her with treats every time she did it right. I brought Kathleen over to meet her and together we told the vet to tell the owners that we could not stand by and watch her be euthanized for no reason whatsoever. We would take her. I wanted desperately to send the message that perhaps next time they should buy a motorcycle instead of a horse. I didn’t, but we deliberated for hours about how any human being could possibly make such a decision and drive away.
We brought her to her new home, and her new name, Poppy. And with knowing absolutely nothing about how she has lived in the past, we have assured her that she will live out the rest of her life being a horse, not an inconvenience.
Learning to Smile
The tears haven’t stopped. Every time she walks up and sniffs noses all I can think about is that had I not been standing there with Zeke on that bright sunny day, the next day she would’ve been a lump under a tarp waiting to be carted off by a dead animal removal service.
It all happened in less than five minutes. Zeke had to be there, and I had to be there at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon when the previous owner drove in with Poppy. Usually I was there around 3:00 pm. Not 4:30. The the entire scenario had been orchestrated by God. Precisely timed. With someone who God knew would look into her eyes and be drawn helplessly into her heart. Coincidence can only stretch so far.
She had been isolated away from other horses for more than three years.
And then she found Zeke.
To Live again indeed.
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Remember Why You Loved Him So
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