When Phoenix Came to Stay

 

“So…There’s this horse…”

I was lying on my bed in the middle of the afternoon-a weekend in early May of 2016-feeling extraordinarily lazy, and watching my ceiling fan spin circles above me.  I held my phone to my ear and listened as Jeremiah began to explain the plight of a unfortunate four-year-old desert bred Arabian gelding who had been injured in a pasture accident.  The injury was deemed “career ending” for the young gelding, once an exceptionally promising and talented performance prospect, and the decision was made to put him down.  He was three-legged lame, currently residing in a stall awaiting his appointment for euthanasia after x-rays revealed that he had torn much of the connective tissue in his lower right front leg.  He only had a few days before the vet would be back out.

Through an unlikely chain of events (involving the horse’s previous owner, an unexpected shoeing appointment, and a brief conversation with the consulting vet), the gelding, named Phoenix, had made his way onto Jeremiah’s radar.  Jeremiah had known Phoenix’s mother and was the farrier for Phoenix’s previous owner.  He was just connected enough to the horse to be interested, and he started making phone calls to get to the bottom of the situation.

His conversation with the vet led to his conversation with me.  He explained that Phoenix had an excellent shot to recover to pasture sound (pain free but unridable), a decent chance of recovering to trail sound (noncompetitively ridable), and a very, very slim chance of recovering to performance sound, but that, in any case, he would require a lot of time and a lot of money.  His owners weren’t willing to make that sort of investment in an almost definitely noncompetitive horse with such an uncertain future.

“What do you think?” Jeremiah asked.  “Should we bring him home?”

If you’ve been following this blog for any time at all, you will know quite well that sad creatures are my kryptonite.  I have barely bought myself a new pair of jeans in the past four years, but my creatures are well-stocked with their own comforts.  However, the fact is, as much as I would like to try, I cannot save them all.  My resources are finite, and every animal requires hay and time and space.  All of those things have their limits, even out here on 100 acres.   I try to be very aware of those limits because at my core, the space in my heart drastically outdistances the space in my pastures or leeway in my pocketbook.  That could get me in trouble really quickly.  Not to mention, as you might guess given my last post on my divorce, Jeremiah and I weren’t on terribly solid footing ourselves just then…

I paused before responding. “It’s probably a terrible idea…and we might just be bringing the poor thing up here to euthanize in a few months if things don’t heal…”

“I know.”  Jeremiah sounded resigned, another horse, especially an injured one, would be a huge responsibility to add to already chaotic and complicated lives.

“It’s good that we’re in agreement on that…” I inhaled deeply. “But I think we should do it anyway.”

I cannot save them all, but, as I’ve said before, sometimes you have to choose between logic and compassion. When pressed, choose compassion.  Also, I believe in fate, and it seemed like this particular sad creature was supposed to cross our path.  I steeled myself for a potential loss–I already knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t be able to save him–and started clearing a space in my barn for another sad animal.

Jeremiah spent the next week getting Phoenix set to travel while I got the barn ready to accommodate a seriously injured horse.  Jeremiah shod his uninjured front hoof in a fancy set of composite shoes for extra support.  We had a vet in Southern Illinois cast his injured leg, and we had radiographs and records sent to our vet up here.  By the time he loaded onto our trailer to travel three hours North, he had already required a significant investment in vet bills and hoof work.

I had been sent a few photos of him, but when I agreed to take him in, it was sight unseen, so when he stepped off the trailer, I was surprised by a few things.  First, Phoenix was stunningly beautiful, and TALL, much taller than I had expected given his Arabian Heritage.  Second, with his lower limb in a cast, he was fairly ambulatory, not nearly as lame as I expected.  (I had been under the impression that we were bringing home a half-dead horse with a slim chance of survival, but he was in far better shape than I had imagined.)  Third, he was taking his trailer ride and new surroundings mostly in stride.  He seemed nervous, but obliging.  All of that was encouraging.

Phoenix early on
If you look closely, you can see his cast peeking up on his front right leg.
I got him settled in to an empty stall on the far edge of the barn and began a routine that we hoped would make him better.  The vet came out regularly to administer Ozone Therapy.   We found someone locally who could administer pulsed magnetic wave therapy.  We tried to limit his movement, control his pain, and give him any sort of edge we could find to give him.  He was underweight when he came, so in addition to hay, he was also fed grain twice daily.

I was basically already running the farm by myself at that point, with Jeremiah away for weeks at a time, so Phoenix and I spent a lot of time together, especially early on.  I cleaned his stall; I fed him; I held him for his treatments; I kept him clean, and fed, and as happy as possible.  I planned to remain somewhat distant with him, not wanting to get overly attached if we were to have to put him down, but he had one of those difficult to resist personalities.  My sister-in-law took to calling him a “puppy horse” due to his tendency to follow us, demand attention, and cuddle.  It wasn’t long before he wiggled his giant self right into my heart.

For several months, things went very well. Better than expected, in fact.  The combination of treatments seemed to be working splendidly.  Phoenix moved into his second cast without a hiccup, continuing his treatments each step of the way.

 

I started planning for his future with us.

Despite offers from a few of Jeremiah’s clients to take him once he was sound, I decided he would stay.  As far as I was concerned, he would always be something of a time bomb for the wrong owner: High spirited and athletic but with potential for a re-injury.  He was built like a jumper, and I was afraid that would be his undoing in the wrong hands.  Also, if I’m being terribly honest, it bugged me a little that plenty of people wanted him sound, but no one else was willing to take the chance on him or spend the required money on him when his fate was uncertain.

And somewhere along the line, between my initial resolution to keep emotional distance from him and the day Jeremiah came home to remove his second cast twelve weeks later, I had unconsciously decided that he would get better.  He had gone from being a anonymous horse we were going to try to save, but would likely have to euthanize, to a member of my herd with a future, his own personality, and a place in my heart.

He stood patiently as Jeremiah removed his cast.  The leg underneath was atrophied from under-use, but we expected that.  Jeremiah asked me to lead him away, and Phoenix followed me obligingly…completely unable to bear weight on his injured leg.  I had so thoroughly convinced myself that Phoenix would be sound out of the cast that those first few steps shocked me to my core.

Jeremiah watched him walk and shook his head, lips pursed, brow furrowed.  I had seen that look so many times, usually as he tried to decide how to tell a client that things didn’t look so good for their horse.

“Did we expect this?” I asked, hoping he knew something I didn’t.

“No,” he said simply.  “But, maybe it will take him a few days to get used to it.”

I put Phoenix back in his stall.  He settled in, refusing to put weight on his hoof but otherwise paying it no mind.  I fed him, just as I had done every day since Jeremiah brought him home, and Jeremiah and I walked back down to the house.

Both of us were despondent, but I think I felt more defeated.  The uncertainty, defeat, fear of loss–those emotions, that vulnerability–are the true cost of what I do out here.  The sacrifice of time or of money is easy by comparison.

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Phoenix waiting in his stall.
The next few days showed little improvement.  Phoenix seemed happy enough, but seldom put any weight at all on his injured leg, hobbling around pathetically on three legs instead.

The vet needed to come out again; this time to x-ray the affected leg and determine where Phoenix was at.  Had the leg been reinjured?  Had the tears healed?  Was he developing rapid early arthritis (a concern from the beginning)?  I needed to know whether or not he was getting better and whether or not I could offer him a good quality of life.

I needed to know whether my baby boy–you know, the one I wouldn’t let myself get attached to–would make it.

The vet wasn’t able to come out for two more weeks.  Jeremiah went off on another month long trip and I stayed, feeding Phoenix twice a day (along with everyone else), cleaning his stall, and studying his every movement, looking for improvement…hope…

When our vet’s farm truck rolled up two weeks later, my stomach was in knots.  It had already been decided that we would only keep going with treatment if it was fair to the horse, and his state at that moment, still not walking on the injured leg with three months of rehab behind him, made me desperately afraid that I would have to schedule his euthanasia before Doc drove away that afternoon.

I brought Phoenix out of his stall, and he stood calmly as the vet went about his business.  He was used to being poked and prodded by then. 

The vet was able to pull the x-rays up on his laptop within minutes.  He viewed them side-by-side with the x-rays of the initial injury.

“Oh, ok.  These look good.  See here?  This is much better.”

That knot in my stomach melted, and tried to pay attention as Doc explained all the intricacies of the x-rays we were looking at, but all I could focus on was that Phoenix was better.  Things would be ok.  I could hardly believe that things would be ok.

I watched him drive away with a sense of relief.  He wouldn’t be coming back to help me give a unrecoverable horse a kind end.  Instead, Doc told me that the muscles had atrophied in the cast, that Phoenix needed time and space.  Those things, I could give him.

I opened up his stall to a small run that day.  I moved him into his own small pasture within about a month.  Then, this Spring, I walked him down the lane and introduced him to the other horses, moving him into the big field where he could run and play to his heart’s content.


I watched the horses munching their hay tonight as the sun set behind us.  Phoenix stood in the field with everyone else, sound and a true-blue member of the herd, and I breathed a sigh of relief, remembering again just how miraculous that was.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Depression and Stitching Things Back Together

I spent the other morning holding the lead line of my largest horse, an off the track thoroughbred named Vinny, while our vet quietly sedated him and stitched a gaping dermal laceration on his neck.   It was ugly, probably four inches long, and bloody, a surprise when I went out to check the horses.  It’s his second emergency vet visit this month; a few weeks ago he tore open his shoulder open just about six inches below his current tear.  That, plus another “stitch” visit (for one of my ponies, Slash) has made our vet such a common sight for us this month that I’m beginning to feel like he lives here.

I’m still not entirely sure how he hurt himself. Sometimes with horses it’s like that. You just have to concentrate on fixing the issues even if you don’t understand why there was an issue in the first place.

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Vinny

I watched the vet stretch the broken skin back over the tissue on Vin’s neck.  Vin, whose sedation had him happily enjoying the sound of the color orange, barely seemed to notice the curved needle slowly, methodically, putting him back together where he had torn himself apart.

There’s been a lot of stitching around the farm lately: literal and metaphoric.  

I’ve not made a secret of the fact that this last year and a half have been among the most difficult of my life.  I haven’t been entirely open about the fact that this year threw me into the sort of depression I haven’t seen since college and had hoped to never see again.

The last eighteen months have been difficult for me for a lot of reasons, many of them stories that aren’t entirely mine to tell.  I’ve lost creatures who were dear to me.  I’ve had relationships that I believed to be as steady and dependable as the hills turn upside down.  I’ve lost people I cared for. And, for a little while, it began to feel like I would lose myself.

Depression is a strange thing, and a lot of people just don’t understand it. It isn’t just “sad.”  We all get sad, and we all feel depressed sometimes.  But honest to goodness depression takes up residence, moving in as a second occupant in your life, one that zaps you of all the joy you would normally feel.  Days that should be good feel indifferent, and days that would normally be difficult feel impossible.  It leaves you nearly numb to the best of life while simultaneously leaving you raw and exposed to the worst of it, like nerves that have been left open to the air.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that I haven’t had a good day for over a year, but all of the good seemed to belong to a sort of fog that wouldn’t entirely lift.  I spent a lot of time crying, a lot of time talking with friends (while crying), and a really healthy chunk of time talking to a therapist (still crying).

But then, last week, the fog lifted.

I want to be careful here, because a lot of people who are depressed are told to just “get over it” or “think positive,” and I don’t want to contribute to the belief that it’s that simple.  Trust me when I tell you that if a depressed person could just “happy thoughts” their way out of depression, they would.  But I will say that the end of my depression seemed to come from a new understanding of my emotions and thoughts. I began to understand how to not be a slave to them, how to take the negative thoughts off of the endless loop that had been created in my head before they could direct my emotions and thereby control my worldview.  I decided not to give those thoughts the time of day-dismissing them, not repressing them-and with them left the fog.

I cannot explain why it worked this time and didn’t the thousand other times I tried to “be more positive.”  I don’t have a formula.  Despite my Midwestern upbringing with it’s emphasis on hard work and bootstrap success, I would not say that I pulled myself out of this by force of will.

I have never had depression flip like a switch before.  In the past, climbing out of it was slow and difficult, a trail you blaze uphill in a Midwestern heat wave.  

I just know that I was depressed for a really long time and now I’m not.  I know because the numbness is gone.  Food tastes better (or, really, just tastes).  I can see the beauty in small things.  And I can feel things fully, all the way down to my soul.

Guys, today I found myself reflecting on just how stunningly beautiful the color green is and just how delicious raspberry jelly tastes.  It seems ridiculous, but when you’ve been deprived of feeling deeply for this long, when you’ve been numb, you appreciate things that most people would overlook a million times.

This last week has been like waking up, shaking off the dust of a sleep that lasted far too long.  

So why am I telling you this?

We live in an age of Instagram and WordPress and Facebook.  And, because of that, we think we see each other, but most of the time we don’t.  We see the lives of everyone else through a filter, and we see our own lives without one, and we start to think that maybe we are the only ones who don’t have our shit together.  And I don’t want this blog, this space, to be one more place to see through that sort of filter.  Yes, I have a thousand pictures of adorable, fluffy animals.  Yes, I adore this place and this opportunity.  Yes, it’s serene and beautiful and lovely…and a complete and total mess.

I’ve tried to write about all of this a dozen times in the last eighteen months, and I think I’ve touched on it here and there, but I couldn’t really find the words.  Maybe because of the numbness, maybe because of fear.  (If I’m being honest, this is a scary thing to hit the publish button on…)  Likely because it came hand-in-hand with a hefty dose of writer’s block.

But here it is: If you feel like your life is in chaos, I can promise you that you aren’t alone.  If you’re depressed, you’re not alone. If every single day feels like walking through quicksand, I’ve been there. If you’re looking at your life in disbelief, wondering how on earth you got here, I understand.

You are not alone, and it gets better.

I remember having lunch with a dear friend a few months ago and learning about some of the struggles she faced in high school.  I was stunned by what she told me.  Flabbergasted by what she had suffered through alone.  She didn’t have to be alone.  I was only a phone call away the whole time, but she didn’t pick up the phone.

Depression is bad enough all by itself.  It can be isolating, and it does a really good job of making you feel unworthy of love and light.  And the more you pull into yourself, the worse it gets.  It’s not a mood.  It’s a disease.  And isolation and loneliness are symptoms.

If I learned nothing else in the last year and a half, I learned this: Reach out. 

Glennon Melton of Momastery.com (one of my Yodas these days) says this:
“Sometimes life’s load gets too heavy and hard for us to carry alone.  I don’t think the hard is a mistake.  I don’t think the hard means we’ve done anything wrong.  I think the hard is purposeful, so that we’ll need our sisters.”

Sisters, brothers, friends…we need our people.  None of us are without struggle.  None of us can do it alone.  We all need each other.  Especially when it feels like the best course of action is to shut down into yourself.

walk to the barn

Vin’s stiches came together beautifully.  Then he came out of the sedation slowly.  Today, my herd check revealed that his neck is healing well; I’m not sure there will even be a scar from this wound.

It’s amazing, the things that can be stitched back together.

 

 

 

Falling

 

“Oh, I’ve never fallen off…”

She thinks she’s bragging, but the little girl, or teen, or grown-ass woman (or perhaps man) who utters those words in the horseback riding world has failed to read the room.  We are not impressed.  In fact, the polite among us are trying not to laugh in her face.  She looks with at the other riders with expectation, all of us with muck on our boots, sweat under our helmets and horsehair on our jeans.  We, she implies, have fallen, and she has not; therefore, obviously, her skills are greater.  We should accept the inevitable conclusion that she is the superior rider.

It’s almost cute, really…

But we know something she doesn’t.  We know there are only two types of horseback riders: Those who have fallen off, and those who will. Continue reading “Falling”

Dear Hoomans of the Hill

My bipedal servants seem to think that I owe you an apology.

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I think they’re wrong…but they do refill the hay nets on demand, and I believe that they have access to grain, even though they don’t give me any of it, so I do what I can to stay in their good graces when it isn’t too inconvenient.

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I, of course, am Slash.  High King of the Hill, Guardian of Camelot, and First Pony of the Alpacalypse.

I assume you’ve heard of me?  (Of course you have.  It was silly of me to even ask, but I do try to stay humble.)

And you, I believe, are referred to by the bipeds a “Neigh Bores.”  (They worry about us making noise, but you have “Neigh” right there in your name.)  I gather that you are other bipeds who are not indentured to any equines, camelids, or chooks.  That’s sad for you, but I won’t rub it in, as I imagine it is a source of despair and humiliation in your little hooman lives.  (Seriously, what do you even do with your time?  If a hooman wakes up in the morning without a horse to feed, does it even exist?)

Oh, right, apology…

(How does one even do this?)

I’m sorry that you were unprepared to behold all of my majesty, standing, as it were, in your front yard.  It must have been quite a shock.  (Next time, avoid looking at me directly, or perhaps wear sunglasses.  I hear that helps when beholding glory.)

Also, that I pooped on your lawn; apparently that was “inappropriate” and “gross.”

In my defense, it was a lovely yard, and someone left corn there.

(*Editors note: regardless of how hard I try to convince him otherwise, Slash still thinks you left the corn there for him, as he believe that feeding the local deer is a waste of perfectly good horse food.)

My servants have informed me that it was naughty of me to climb under the gate and spend the day “running amok” while they were at work.

I think it’s naughty of them to put up gates and fences.  We all have opinions.

The bipeds wish for me to conclude this little literary experiment with a promise to “never be such a little ass again,” but there, they ask too much.  (Also, I’m really not sure how they can mistake me for a donkey, but the one is pretty nearsighted.)

I will grace you with my presence as soon as I can once again escape these foul fence lines.  Leave more corn next time, and try to shoo the deer off as they were in my way.

Ever yours,

(Ha.  Not really)

King Slash

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(*Editors note: The neighbors were actually super nice about the fact that our tiny horse took up temporary residence in their front lawn.)

Dangerous Cold and a Full Barn

 

 

I was talking with my friend in Maine the other night before evening chores.

“I don’t wanna go outside!” I whined.  We whine together a lot.  If we lived closer, we’d wine together a lot…and that would be better.  “I checked, Lauren.  It’s been consistently colder here than at your place.  Which seems completely unfair given that you’re basically Canadian!”

Lauren laughed, but acknowledged that it’s true.  They live far enough north that she could damn near apply for dual citizenship.  I, however, live in the middle ground of the country.  Illinois.  Home of Chicago at one end and cornfields at the other.  Despite the expectations that it’s more temperate here, we get nearly arctic colds and southern warms.  (Temperate my ass…110 heat index in Summers and -20+ windchill in the winter.)  Last week, my little corner of creation went through a cold snap.  It was colder here than in Bangor, ME.  Actually, as a matter of fact, it was colder here than in Nome, AK.

And it was a problem.

Last week, for me, getting dressed in the morning to do chores has been more like assembling a piece of IKEA furniture than anything else.  (“Cover shirt A and B with shirt C.  Insert legs one and two into pants D, then pants E.  Maybe pants F…) Continue reading “Dangerous Cold and a Full Barn”

The Seven Emotional Stages of Hauling Water

For many of us in the Midwest, El Nino has been a kind and benevolent overlord this winter.  Sure, he brought with him some scary-ass storms and some flooding (more towards St. Louis really, but the Illinois River is pretty freaking high for this time of year), but he has also kept the frigid temperatures away…For the bulk of this season, I’ve been reveling in 40-50 degree days.  With the memory of the Polar Vortex  and it’s negative thirty degree windchills of a few years ago still fresh in my mind, that’s basically t-shirt weather.

(Images from the Polar Vortex)

Until this week.

This week kicked off our first round of single digits and negative numbers, and while no one I know likes those sort of numbers, it’s especially vexing for those of us who take care of livestock.  For me, extreme cold means that I spend about twice as much time outside every day.  My aging herd of llamas is locked in to the barn with their heat lamps.  When they’re locked in, they eat more.  They poop more.  They some how dirty their waterers faster.  Plus, I’m pretty sure they get super bored and annoyed with me.  (How dare I shut them in to prevent frostbite and exposure???  I am SO rude!)

All of the creatures, from the 4 lb chickens to the 1200 lb horses, require more care and more clean up when the weather is this wretched.  I feed more.  I clean more.  I go outside more often, and I stay there longer.

Most of the time, I don’t really mind.  It’s part of this gig, and I usually see it as an unfortunate but fair trade for my wonderful spring, summer, and fall days out here.  But there is one event that can turn it from generally unpleasant to downright nasty: Freezing Water Lines.

Continue reading “The Seven Emotional Stages of Hauling Water”

2016 with Blue Skies Ahead

Happy New Year Everyone!

January 1st of 2016 surprised me with a nearly perfect blue sky.  Having spent weeks overwhelmed by my Season of Gray, the blue sky was the perfect antidote to my melancholy, and, in my own humble opinion, barn chores under the blue sky were the perfect was to start the new year.

First thing, I wandered out to one of the back pasture to check on a tree fall that one of my neighbors reported to me.  Their tree; our fence.

It pretty much destroyed that section of fence, but it’s so big that no one is going anywhere over, around, or through it.  I don’t have to worry for a while.  (I told Jeremiah that we should chainsaw it in interesting ways and leave it as fence…easier than hauling it out.)

Continue reading “2016 with Blue Skies Ahead”

Just a quick trip…

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Lauren, Jeremiah, and me, riding at Cavalli.

It was the 29th of July.  Jeremiah and I were sitting down to dinner, and a good friend shot me a message on Facebook.

“Do you guys know when you’ll be able to come out?  I need Jeremiah’s help.”

The message came from my friend Lauren, a teacher and ranch owner in Maine.  We met about six years ago while working at a summer camp.  She ran the horse barn; I ran the llama barn.  We bonded over our willingness to get our hands dirty and get shit done.  (That and the mutual dislike of a few of the other employees who didn’t have that same willingness…)  Since that time, we stayed in touch on Facebook and realized that our lives were moving in creepily similar directions. She became a teacher. I became a teacher. I married a farrier. She married a farrier. She bought and renovated an old house. I bought and renovated an old house. Most recently, we both bought ranches and spend most of our lives keeping them running. We joke that we live the same lives in different states.  It’s uncanny.

Continue reading “Just a quick trip…”

With rumors of Spring…

They tell me spring is on its way.  They say it will start on March 20th.  I’m not sure I believe them.

Jeremiah took off around 5:30 this morning for another shoeing conference.  He will be gone for about a week.  Then I’ll be leaving the morning of the day he gets back for a vacation in Costa Rica with my sister.  Thankfully, one of us will be at the ranch the whole time, so we won’t need to call on too much help, but taken together, these next two weeks will probably account for the most time we’ve spent apart since we first started dating in 2010.

Until I leave, things will be cold.  Really cold.  (Like, -7 degrees tonight.)  Right now, outside looks like this.

The woods are lovely dark and deep
The woods are lovely dark and deep

The woods remind me of a Robert Frost poem as I make my nightly trudge out to the barn, but I have hopes that we will at least be above freezing temperatures by the time I get home.  In the meantime, Spring whispers sweet nothings, small promises that give me just a little hope that its closer than we think.

For example, my chickens have started laying a bit more.  A few days ago, Jeremiah collected 5 eggs, up from the 2, 1, or 0 we have been collecting each day this winter.  Of course, all of the eggs were frozen solid.  But hey, it’s a start, right?

Also, we have a bit more daylight each day.  The sun won’t set until 5:40 today.  I am in love with each extra second of daylight.

Spring cannot get here soon enough for my liking.  Everything we do out here on the ranch takes more time and costs more money in the winter, and I’m kind of over it.  Stalls get dirtier.  Chores have to be done in the dark.  We use more electricity for lights and water heaters. We have to feed more hay and more grain.  Not to mention keeping the house heated.

I’m looking forward to warmer weather.  To daylight into late evening.  I’m looking forward to riding my horses again.  And I’m looking forward to being able to go out to the barn without adding layers and layers of bulky clothes.

I think maybe the critters are looking forward to Spring too.

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Has Spring sprung in your neck of the woods, or are you still shivering with me and all the critters out here at Eagle Ridge?

The Strangest Wake-Up Call.

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.

Oh God.

Jeremiah sat up in bed.

“What’s wrong?”

“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…

I waited.

”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?