Our horses have a profound effect on our plans–whether you’ve made plans for a lifetime, a week or an evening. Our horses are in our thoughts during those few times each year we leave our farms. They are on our minds as we check the weather forecast or think about putting on nicer clothes. Horses also have a profound effect on the plans we haven’t made. They even have the power to direct events and decisions like conductors of unrealized symphonies. One moment you’re going about your daily routine when your trusty equine cooks up something unexpected for you. It’s the price of true love, right?
For example, I had made plans for this column. I write about what happens, but I had planned on writing about the new house, about Ellie not being pregnant, about finding Mandy and then about Mandy getting pregnant and so on. I was looking for a tidy, happy story structure, but Mandy had other plans.
Kimberly and I had experienced some recent changes–a few of our own choice, a few not. Kimberly had left her job and we started our own equestrian marketing agency. We quickly had three big clients for whom we were doing catalogs, print ads, websites and photography. It was the same work Kimberly had done for a decade, but this time it was our business. There were no overbearing bosses and any overtime we worked benefited our business, not someone else’s. Though I had planned to return to journalism, I was much happier to continue spending my time working with Kimberly at home. We cleaned and painted the small apartment above our detached garage and set up our office. We now work harder and for longer hours than we ever have, but we’re happy.
Not too long ago, we both worked for a company so dysfunctional and misguided that it nearly ruined us. After each work day, during our drive home, we would start complaining about our jobs. We complained over dinner and, once in bed, complained ourselves to sleep. When the alarm went off, all we could do is talk about how much we dreaded arriving at work. We were miserable. When we finally left that toxic job–totally unemployed and uncertain of our future–we drove away laughing and relieved. Life is too short to be wasted on such misery. Any horse will tell you that.
If a bad job isn’t enough to remind you how short life is, losing loved ones certainly will. Inside a few weeks we had lost an uncle to cancer and a grandfather to… well, old age, mostly. It’s never a good time to lose anyone. They will be missed.
At least Mandy was back home after her stay at Dr. Bob’s. Everything had gone well and her first ultrasound easily found the little foal-to-be. It was just floating around, but looking like it was supposed to… round and black. We wanted to print out the image for our wallets, or at least our wall, but I think Dr. Bob was out of the fancy, glossy photo paper.
As part of our new marketing business, we take pictures of our clients’ equestrian products for their literature and webpages. When we can, we use our horses as models. We were shipped some turnout blankets to photograph. These blankets were made for horses built like Mandy. Besides, she had fattened-up nicely and seemed excited to show off her new, healthy figure. I was in the office setting up the camera when Kimberly went to the barn to brush and clip Mandy. I grabbed a freshly-charged battery and an extra lens and headed to the barn. Kimberly was standing with Mandy in the wash stall.
“I think Mandy scratched her eye,” Kimberly said, looking concerned.
“How’d she do that?” I asked.
“I clipped her left ear, and she was perfect,” Kimberly began. “Then I switched sides to clip her right ear, and she threw her head sideways so hard she knocked the clippers out of my hand and almost knocked me down. It wasn’t until I put the clippers back together and she let me clip her right ear that I noticed a tiny cut by her eye and a scratch on her cornea. I’m worried that the clippers got her eye. I feel horrible.”
I winced and walked over to Mandy, who stood calmly in the cross ties. There was a hair-thin, inch-long white line across the center of her eye. Rather than push our luck, we postponed Mandy’s modeling gig.
“What do we need to do?” I asked.
“We still have plenty of the triple antibiotic we used on Vander’s eye last week. I’ll show you how to put it in since you’ll have to take care of it while I’m gone.”
Kimberly was leaving for a few days. Earlier in the month, her uncle was laid to rest in nearby Mt. Olive. Her grandfather, however, was to be interred in Panama City, Fla. I was staying with the farm while Kimberly attended her grandfather’s service.
“You’ll need to keep an eye on Mandy’s eye,” Kimberly said. “If it doesn’t look right for any reason, or if she’s acting like it’s bothering her, call the clinic.”
Mandy was fine with me putting the antibiotic in her eye, which I did several times during the first day. I didn’t even have to hold her halter. She just stood there for me. It was late on the second day when things changed. Mandy’s eye was milky white, and she wouldn’t let me near it. I turned Vander and Ellie out and called over to Jack and Claudia’s house. Claudia came right over. As a vet tech and a life-long horse owner, her expertise is always a great help.
“Yeah,” Claudia said, looking into Mandy’s eye. “You definitely need to call the vet.”
With the on-call vet on her way, I had just enough time to become nauseated looking at Mandy’s cloudy eye and worrying about her and the foal. The on-call vet, Dr. Shelly, arrived just after midnight. Aware that Mandy was pregnant, Dr. Shelly administered only a mild sedative and began checking the eye. Dr. Shelly’s boyfriend, Matt, was visiting from northern Virginia, where Kimberly and I had spent some time at a few horse shows and vineyards. It’s a beautiful place. Matt and I had plenty to talk about while Dr. Shelly conducted her exam. I had a couple of good laughs recounting some of Kimberly and my Virginia adventures. It was nice to get my mind off worrying about the eye for a few minutes. Those few minutes, however, were the only reprieve I got.
“You’re going to need to take her to State,” said Dr. Shelly, “tonight.”
North Carolina State University has a fantastic large animal veterinary teaching hospital, and Dr. Shelly said they were well-equipped to take care of Mandy’s ulcerated eye. Dr. Shelly and Matt stayed with Mandy while I changed into some less-filthy clothing, let Kit out to pee and called Kimberly. I would have skipped calling her if I thought I could get away with it. Kimberly felt horrible and responsible for Mandy’s predicament. I felt bad for waking Kimberly up only to make her cry with the disheartening news.
We’ve all heard our friends’ stories of the pets they’ve run over and the thousands of dollars spent at the animal hospital. We’ve shaken our heads in disbelief as others related the misadventures caused by their escape-artist or accident-prone horses. And we’ve witnessed the devastating consequences of good horses contracting the rarest, most mysterious and unfair diseases. None of it prepares you for when it happens to your own family. And nothing at all was making Kimberly or I feel any less unsettled or guilty.
To be continued…
Jeremy Law and his wife, Kimberly, live on a small farm in North Carolina.