You know that moment just between waking and sleeping? The one where your head is heavy on your pillow and you’re tucked under a pile of blankets that have just become the perfect amount of warm? Out at the ranch, that moment is usually accompanied by perfect silence. No city noises. No cars. Maybe the occasional owl.
A few days ago, that moment came to me in all its glory around 12:40pm. We had gone to bed later than usual already, and so when that moment was spoiled by the cats beating their furious little paws against the bedroom door, I was more than a little irritated. I got up and walked towards the hallway. Opening the door, I expected one or more cats to be standing on the other side looking guilty. I found nothing. Perfect silence. Perfect stillness.
So I went back to bed, but, upon laying back down I heard it again, a rhythmic sound I couldn’t quite place. Maybe the hedgehogs in their wheel? No. That wasn’t it. But the sound was something familiar and out of context. I sat up in bed, trying to isolate the noise. Trying to place it.
Outside the window, a horse screamed in the distance, a panicked whinny that cut through the cold air like a knife.
I froze. Maybe I heard wrong?
But then I heard the whinny again only a moment later.
And suddenly, it clicked. Hoof beats.
Jeremiah sat up in bed.
“Hoof beats. The horses are screaming.”
And with that, he climbed out of bed and pulled on his barn clothes as quick as a whip. I watched him grab his Glock–God forbid he need it, but you never can tell on a farm–before heading outside to check things out.
For a very brief moment, I considered staying inside. Most of the time, when something is awry, he checks it out on his own, proclaims an all clear, and crawls back under the covers. He usually didn’t need me.
And a horse screamed again. This wasn’t most of the time.
I threw off the covers and, faster than I would have thought possible, I pulled on a sweatshirt and jeans. Boots came on on the way out the door.
Worst case scenarios flashed through my mind rapid fire. Barn fires. Predators. Oh my God, what if the Mountain Lion we saw earlier this year was back? What if one of the horses was caught in a fence or had broken a limb?
I wanted to run out the door and towards the back barn–the alpacas weren’t alarming, so I knew the problem, whatever it was, was likely isolated to the horses—but our snow had melted that day and refroze with the sunset. The driveway and lane were solid sheets of ice, as smooth as glass in many places. I would be no good sprawled out on the ice with a concussion, so I opened the breezeway door and resigned myself to walking…quickly.
As I rounded the garden beside the house, I heard yet another unexpected sound. A nicker.
Glancing left, I saw the a most glorious sight. Horses.
Three of our horses starred back at me. They looked surprised, but uninjured. A year ago, I might have tried to walk over to them, but I have learned. The last thing I wanted was for them to spook and run off again, this time down the road. I would come back with food. Halters. Besides, I could only account for three of the four full-sized horses on property. Anything could have happened to their companion.
I started walking down the lane, feeling less panicked than before but still uneasy. It was hard to walk with out slipping, but I made it to the horse barn in one piece.
Jeremiah was inside gathering a bucket of corn and a halter.
“Where’s Candi?” I asked.
“In the field being distracted with food.”
“Is she ok?”
“She’s fine. She was standing at the edge of the field screaming. Apparently everyone else jumped the pile of wood at the edge of the barn to take off, and she was afraid to follow.”
I let out a breath that I didn’t realize I had been holding.
“We are so lucky.” I responded.
Jeremiah stopped mid-stride and looked at me, perplexed.
“No. We’re really not. We’re missing all the others.”
It was my turn to be confused.
“They’re all in the front yard…”
“You didn’t think to lead with that?”
“There’s nearly four thousand pounds of horse standing in the front yard. I didn’t think you could have missed them.”
Apparently, he had been about to call the cops and alert them that three horses were loose within a half a mile of a major highway. (Guys, this could have been so bad.) Still, our crisis wasn’t completely over. We still needed to get them back in their field without spooking them and without anyone, human or equine, injuring themselves on the ice.
We walked down the slick lane towards the llama barn. Jeremiah opened the doors and turned on the lights. Then he and I stood in the lane, and he shook his bucket of corn.
Apparently, this was what they had been waiting for.
Hoof beats like thunder roared out of the front yard. Jeremiah, content that they would come, walked into the open barn and began pouring piles of grain onto the floor.
I stood in the lane, thinking that I would make sure they went where they were supposed to. I watched three horses, with a combined weight of around 3500 lbs and one of them a retired racing thoroughbred, careen down an ice covered driveway with all the unbridled power of tornado. I swear to you, in that moment time slowed down.
I watched, standing in the lane, initially worried that one of them would fall and hurt themselves. I considered my powerlessness, and they picked up more speed.
Then I realized that I had three half-spooked horses coming directly towards me. I was standing on an ice slick. They were running on an ice slick. They weren’t slowing down.
I stepped to the side of the lane. No good. I was still right in their path. I really didn’t want to end this adventure by being body-slammed by my warmblood, but I had no where to go but down a hill to my left. If I leapt sideways down that hill, which I considered, I would tumble directly into a hedge of thorn bushes. I would be briar rabbit; that would hurt, but probably not as much as being trampled.
For about one millisecond, I debated crossing the lane. The barn side of the lane was clearer. I could get out of the way of the horses without being bramble fodder. I almost ran across. Almost. Suddenly I understood how a squirrel feels in their last moments.
Fortunately, as my thundering herd ran past, I found I was just far enough out of the way to avoid the crashing hooves.
I continued to watch as all three horses turned and ran into the barn. I shut the doors behind them, nearly walking in before remembering that we were two halters short. I turned walked down to the horse barn to fetched halters for my geldings.
Here’s what happened when I left:
Vinny and Cinco immediately noticed the large bale of alfalfa and the piles of corn.
Morana, a former bottle-fed foal with an oral fixation, noticed something else.
Jeremiah turned toward the horses, ready to halter Morana and lead her back to her barn.
She was where he had left her, only now his Glock, which he had placed on the hay bale, was held in her mouth, gansta style and pointed right at him.
In those moments, he was apparently thinking that being shot by his own horse with his own gun would be an exceptionally stupid way to die, but that he would more or less be ok with an end that epic. Also, he wondered if Morana had noticed the limp he was sporting after a particularly nasty horse kick, more pronounced since he fell on the ice on his way out, and planned to put him down. (”It’s been a good run buddy, but you’ve been too lame for too long.”)
And my husband, cool in the face of every crisis he has ever faced, including, apparently, being held at gunpoint by his mare, simply shook the bucket of corn again.
She dropped the gun on the bale and nosed into the bucket. Calmly, he haltered her and led her out of the barn. She placidly followed, content with her corn and completely forgetting her recent homicidal episode.
For my part, I watched him walk out of the barn with Morana, and I haltered Cinco. When he came back, he grabbed Vinny, and we walked down to the horse barn with our last two escapees.
We released them into their field, secured the gate, and shuffled down the icy lane back to the house.
I spoke first as we walked back.
“I’m so glad everyone is ok. We are so lucky.”
“Yeah.” He paused, almost unsure of what to say next…
”That could have been so much worse.” Another pause. “Also, Morana just tried to shoot me with my own gun.”
So…what was your strangest wake-up call?