Reluctant Cowgirl


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A Very Stupid Thing I Did, Paid For, and Will Never Repeat

(Alternate Title: SAFETY FIRST FOREVER AND EVER GODDAMNIT)

There is a hole in my lower lip that I can feel with my tongue. It got put there two days ago, when, in the morning hours before heading to town, I got slammed in the face with a hundred-pound cattle panel being pulled by a very alarmed horse. At least this is what I think happened – I myself was at the time also very alarmed.

I am nearing one month of adult horse ownership and at several junctures have been consumed by the raging feeling that I have no idea what I’m doing. “You really should have gotten back into this by taking lessons for one or maybe seven years first,” “Ohmygod why didn’t you just buy a pushbutton quarter horse instead of a mustang that was a wild stallion four months ago,” and “Oops, I wonder if I can sell this thing and be a person that will never own a horse again, again” are all thoughts that have entered into and spent some time residing in my mind. Some time ago, I would have listened to them, and probably followed through on the regret and distrust of/disgust with myself.

But that is not me, now. Now I respond with, “You can do this,” “Fake it til you make it,” and above all “For the love of all that is good and right just don’t fucking hurt anyone.” I added that last one after the face slamming. It’s my new mantra.

If there’s one thing that was drilled into my head as a Child Who Loved Horses it was safety. That above all else should be the underlying premise of everything that is done around a horse. Always wear a helmet. Never open toed shoes. No leaving him tied and unsupervised. Plan for the worst and be prepared. So it is without excuse or reason that I can tell you I got hurt because I did not think clearly, and was not safe. I tried to do something the fast and easy way, with a horse I did not know nearly well enough to trust with our lives. Knowing that he has a tendency to pull (“set back”) when tied, I tied him to an object that was not strong enough to hold his weight. He pulled. It moved. He pulled more. I screamed, “WHOA” wide-eyed and had the actual feeling of life passing before my eyes as hundreds of pounds of metal came flying at me, bending into joints where I could be crushed. I screamed “WHOA” several more times over the sound of moving steel.

This is one of the sanest, smartest horses I’ve met, and I got lucky. The panel hit me and knocked off my glasses and smooshed my face some and then he stopped before we could both be squeezed between the moving panel and the stationary ones behind us. I think it is safe to say we were both in a state of shock, but I untied him and got both of us out of there.

Let me say it again: I got lucky. I was stupid and I screwed up and I. GOT. LUCKY.

You don’t rely on luck with horses. They are thousand-pound animals capable of inflicting damage including death to themselves and others. You rely on smarts and preparedness and combine them into safety and a set of tenets you live by ALWAYS, not just when you have enough time and it’s convenient.

I may have missed many years of lessons while I was a person who will never own a horse again, but I am learning them now.


Start Here

There were 30 elk in the pasture last night.

We stood leaning on an old apple tree, watching to see how they interacted with the new mustang horse. The elk cavorted and nudged each other. An old cow kicked out repeatedly at a spike bull who tried to mount her. The horse, mere yards away, hardly seemed to notice it all. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised; after all, he was wildlife himself not that long ago.

Let me back up. I moved here, to where the elk graze out the window and you can see all the stars, one year, eight months and eighteen days ago. (It’s easy to calculate the elapsed time because I rolled in the very long, very icy driveway on January first.) I spent the first one year, eight months, and six days without a horse. This is not the sort of place a person like me should live without a horse, I determined, after not many of those horseless days elapsing.

Months (perhaps years, if we’re being honest) of daydreaming in the style of women who love horses brought me to a small pile of desired characteristics: versatility, hardiness, small and compact build, and if possible, some sort of rescue. One breed fit. Here I am in the west, and I should own a mustang.

Enter Henry.

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So now I do. He’s about 7, and when I think of the 6 years he spent as a wild stallion on the range somewhere outside Ely, Nevada, I marvel. No one pitched him hay or fed him supplements. There was no lean-to or shaving-lined stall to shelter in when the cold winter wind blew. His mane and tail tangled into burr-filled, hasty dreads. Other stallions bit his neck and flanks as they stood on their hind legs, no humans around to marvel at their primal form.

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I don’t know if he prefers this life I’ve given him; if formerly wild horses would choose irrigated pastures and safe fence lines over a band of their own mares and a long trail to finding enough food. Some would argue he should have stayed wild. But I love that there is one fewer horse trampling habitat for native species in the Nevada high desert. I love that there is one fewer horse being put on a trailer bound for a Canadian slaughterhouse. I love that there is one more horse in my pasture, paying the elk no mind.