Recently, during a bout of insomnia, my mind wandered back to a time years ago, when Moe, my Appendix Quarter Horse gelding, was severely lame, and the veterinarian said he needed complete stall rest, two different medicines and daily soaking and poulticing.
So I moved Moe to a large dairy barn in the middle of the rolling hills and pastures of northwestern Pennsylvania. I went there twice a day to feed and medicate him, fill his water buckets, soak and wrap both front hooves and muck his stall.
He was housed in the belly of this old barn---a gigantic open space with wooden hay mangers built into both sides of the long walls and rows of tiny windows way up high. I suppose this was where the farmer used to keep his cows. We used a couple of big, old gates to enclose Moe in an area that was probably 20 by 20 feet, and we bedded him in deep straw.
For about four weeks, I juggled a full-time job, mothering my toddler and taking care of my lame horse. I was completely exhausted but terrified that if I missed a single visit my horse would suffer or be permanently damaged from my negligence. Four weeks may not sound like a long time unless you are living it.
Moe spent the first two weeks in-side his giant stall, and for the first 10 days or so, he seemed content. Then he started getting restless. I took this as a good sign---he was starting to feel better---but it also added a layer of stress, since I started to constantly worry that he would do something stupid in that big old barn all by himself where no one would hear, see or know he needed help.
By the third week, Moe was cleared to begin daily hand-walking in the larger area of the old cow barn. His restlessness grew, and we began to argue when his 15 minutes of limited freedom was over and it was time to head back into his stall. It was a labor of love.
Finally, the veterinarian told me Moe could be hand-walked outside and even have a few minutes of turnout in a small area. However, there were no small paddocks; only a big white barn on a hill, with pastures and farm fields as far as I could see. I decided to make the best of it and be thankful for walking outdoors.
It was late afternoon when I took Moe for his first walk outside. He snorted and squinted and walked like a gentleman beside me out of the barn. All was well … until he exploded. He reared straight up, and I swear he levitated for an instant. Then he let out a giant buck with a hearty fart for good measure. I was holding onto a kite! A happy, athletic, opinionated, drunk-with-freedom kite who was literally leaping with all four hooves off the ground beside me in an awe-inspiring display.
Suddenly, though, I was lying on the ground, watching his backside getting smaller as he galloped gleefully away. There is no way to describe the helpless terror, guilt and anger swirling through my mind in that instant. I jumped up and ran after him desperately calling, crying and praying all at once. I caught just a glimpse of him barreling along at the bottom of the hill and turning right into a cluster of trees. More desperate praying, calling, cursing, self-loathing and running. I lost him.
I was out of breath and wondering what to do when I saw the vision I will remember for the rest of my life: This gorgeous creature emerged from the trees right in front of me. The sun was setting, so golden beams of sunlight bathed him with a fiery glow that made my heart skip a beat. With infinite grace he glided toward me with a long-strided, Olympics-worthy trot, his neck arched beautifully. He came straight to me and circled around behind before stopping.
Obviously, Moe had fully recovered from his lameness, which in turn relieved my worries that I had caused a huge setback by allowing him to get away from me.
Moe and I were together for 16 years. For much of that time, I struggled with guilt because I felt that he was capable of grander things. I worried that I was squandering his talents. Yet, over those years, he taught me so much. We spent hours and hours just hanging out or riding around the barn, and even more hours trail riding with friends. He was used by a girl in 4-H for a couple of years. He eventually taught my daughter to ride English.
In July 2012, I made the difficult decision to let Moe, now 20 years old, go live with an acquaintance, Nora. Moe was in danger of becoming a pasture ornament with me, and she was looking for an elderly “gentleman” to love and a partner to learn horseback riding after she became widowed. They were a perfect match. I stayed in touch, and Nora and I have since grown to be close friends, sharing a love for our dear, sweet Moe.
Months later, during another sleepless night, I was thinking back to that golden sunlit trot, and it hit me that Moe is truly where he needs to be right now. I thought about how kind, gentle and caring Nora is, and how Moe mirrors her spirit. They need each other. Most important, I know they love and trust each other.
It was then that I realized that Moe has indeed reached his greatest potential after all. During those 16 years, I was training him, caring for him and preparing him for Nora. Now, on those nights when I can’t find sleep, I count these blessings many, many times.
This article first appeared in the May 2017 issue (EQUUS 477) of EQUUS magazine