Let me try to tell you all a story. It’s uncomfortable to share what I’m going to share, but why bother writing if you’re not honest? Maybe someone can relate, and hopefully be encouraged.
Wednesday night was bad for me. It started Wednesday morning, when Margeaux – the gal who feeds our horses – told me that Miranda’s horse Hal had a fair amount of bloody saliva in his feed bucket and more was smeared on his stall walls. He seemed relatively okay otherwise, so we guessed that it might be a sinus or tooth issue. He didn’t have a fever, but as the day went on, he became less interested in eating and he began drooling. We gave him some anti-inflammatories and shortly afterwards he started grazing, which supported the idea that his mouth was painful. So probably not the end of world, but something to watch in case the vet needed to come sedate him for an exam and x-rays.
That evening the clouds rolled in and the rain began. Miranda had gone to youth group with a friend and needed to be picked up at 9, and Cosmo didn’t want to eat his nighttime meal until 11:30, and then he was awake and adorable and snuggly for another hour. By the time I finally laid down around 1, I was exhausted but wound up, and I couldn’t get to sleep. Even though Hal had looked okay when we fed dinner, I was still worried about him. So I was wide awake when the awful wind came rushing down the hill and battering our bedroom window. It’s so powerful and so eerie. It seems like the house cringes under its assault. It’s sort of embarrassing to admit, but every time we get that wind, it fills me with dread and I feel like something terrible is going to happen. It’s so loud that you can’t hear anything else over it, but when it stops for a few minutes, it’s far too quiet – like a movie trick to build suspense – and I strain my ears listening for sounds of distress at the barn.
I know that my worry goes back a couple of years ago to when my stallion Regalo was sick. He was in and out of the vet hospital, and when they finally sent him home to fully recover, I knew he wasn’t right. They assured me he just needed time, and if we followed the protocol of various medications at the proper intervals 24-hours a day, he would be fine. Every time I had to go down to the barn to feed or medicate him, my stomach would tie up in knots and I’d break out into a cold sweat, not knowing what I would find. Would he be hungry and cheerful? Would he be down again, and thrashing? Would I be able to get him up? What if his pain got out of control and I couldn’t get ahold of Steven and the vet was hours away? Nights were the worst, since it was the longest interval he could go without meds (6 hours), but all I could do for those hours was worry and listen for him to start banging on the barn walls if he got painful again. It felt like all night I would lay in bed vibrating with anxiety, with my hearing at a superhuman sensitivity level, totally strung out, ready to leap up and sprint to the barn any second. It went on for several weeks like that until we could no longer keep him comfortable and he had to be put down.
Not long after we lost Regalo, we had a night of weather exactly like Wednesday night’s. That next morning Margeaux called as soon as she arrived to tell us that one of the horses, Ganelon, was down in his stall and wouldn’t get up. We hadn’t heard him banging because the wind and rain were too loud. He’d only been with us a few months – he had just been retired from a therapy program where he was an absolute super star and helped so many mentally and physically challenged people. After a rough transition, he had settled in, bonded with the other horses, and Evelyn was starting to ride him. But on this particular morning, he was clearly in pain. We got him up and stabilized, and the vet got here as quickly as she could. After assessing him and doing a few tests, she determined there was nothing she could do for him. Ganelon had skin cancer (common for gray horses who have lived in Florida), and it had likely spread internally and wrapped around his bowels, but we’ll never know for sure. So at 2:15 that day, we put him down. And I know it’s not rational, but I still wonder if we had heard him in distress overnight and tried to help him sooner, could it have made a difference?
Between those 2 incidents, I went from having a fairly normal level of concern about my horses’ health, to having ridiculous anxiety over it – and particularly about things going wrong overnight.
So Wednesday night, I worried over Hal all and was totally, irrationally, spooked by the weather. I barely slept, jolting awake every time the wind started howling and every time it stopped, as well as every time Cosmo made a peep. Or when he snored his little baby snores, or when he stopped snoring. Or when Steven shifted positions. I tried all my tricks: deep breathing, putting on an old recorded message from my pastor, praying, reciting Scripture, arguing with myself, giving myself pep talks, turning on Cosmo’s toy otter that plays classical music, more praying. I prayed for every person the Lord brought to mind, but mostly my family. Every time I heard a noise that could possibly be coming from the barn, my adrenaline would shoot through the roof, but it would turn out to be the dogs shifting in their beds, or the wind banging the rickety door on our back porch.
As I prayed, I kept wondering what it was accomplishing. It wasn’t changing anything. I absolutely could not get ahold of myself. And how many nights had this happened now? The same song and dance. Wrestling with fear all night, knowing that the Bible tells us to cast our cares on Him and wanting to do that with every fiber of my being, but still being totally unable to change anything.
When Cosmo woke up to eat around 7, I wanted so badly to ask Steven to go check on Hal, but I knew he hadn’t slept well either, so I didn’t. I didn’t want to face it myself, so I stayed hidden under the covers. Margeaux texted me when she left her house to come here, and I calculated when she would arrive. I lay there with my stomach churning, waiting for her to get to the barn and tell us there was a problem.
But that never happened.
About 20 minutes after she had presumably gotten here and not contacted us, I fell dead asleep, and didn’t wake up until after 10. Steven came in to check on me and we talked a little about what the night had been like. He told me all the things I should do to fix the problem, which were of course all the things I always do all night long every time this happens. I told him that I have seriously considered whether we should get out of horses, because I know it’s not healthy for me to go through this. But we said simultaneously, “If it’s not the horses, it will just be something else.” And then he said the thing that mattered: “Remember how much joy you get from them.” And that is the truth.
Anything that brings us joy has the potential to bring sadness, and in this life that will always happen sometime. Still, the joy outweighs all the rest of it.
It was too muddy to turn the horses out in the big pasture that morning, so Margeaux left Hal, a young mare named CeCe, and our other retired therapy horse Thunder out in the yard to graze. I glanced at Hal periodically and was delighted to see him nibbling on hay, shoving CeCe and Thunder out of his way, and generally looking like his normal sassy self.
Mid-afternoon, the FedEx driver came up to drop a package. He left and a moment later Miranda was looking out the window and said, “Oh, no. Hal!” Of course I panicked, but then she said, “He’s standing in the driveway right in front of the FedEx truck and he won’t move. I think he’s actually licking the hood.” I looked out the window and sure enough, he was like a big barge right there in the middle of everything. The driver didn’t have 4-wheel drive, and couldn’t get through the mud on either side of the driveway to go around, and it apparently did not occur to him to get out and shoo Hal away. He was just sitting there helpless. I ran to he front door and grabbed the only shoes I could slip on, which were Steven’s wool clog slippers. I dashed down the driveway, my feet slapping awkwardly as I struggled to keep them from flying off. I got Hal out of the way and the driver began creeping forward, when CeCe bolted directly in front of the truck for no reason and stopped, and was then joined by Thunder, who also stopped there and refused to move. Hal immediately came back and they all three stood there staring me down. And then I thought, “I’m a professional trainer with over 2 decades of experience, and I can’t get these terrorist horses to move off the driveway!”
I continued to shoo them, with limited success since they would each move only a few feet, glance disgustedly at the muddy mess beside the driveway, and stop again. Meanwhile, Evelyn’s piano teacher Jennifer (a former horse person) drove through the front gate right on time for their lesson. Thankfully she has a Jeep, so she pulled over to the side and watched all of this transpire, laughing. Finally I got the horses moving again and they all went – you guessed it – single file down the driveway towards the gate. The more I shooed, the faster they went – down the exact middle of the driveway. I turned around to the driver who at this point was also laughing. “Are you filming this?” I asked. “Because it’s really ridiculous.”
“No,” he said, “but I did take some pictures.”
I think the horses finally took pity on me. I admit I preyed in Thunder, who is the oldest and weakest. I managed to shove him off the asphalt into the mud, and young impressionable CeCe followed. I then forcibly drug Hal by his face off to the other side of the driveway and pressed myself against his backside to keep him there. The driver finally got smart and briskly zoomed by us all. I then jogged down to the gate (with my slipper shoes slapping away) to spare him having to get in and out again after all the delay. As he passed me, he hollered out the window, “This was the best thing that happened to me all day!” He was grinning from ear to ear.
After he got on the road, Jennifer pulled back onto the driveway. As she went by, I could see her still laughing so hard that she was wiping the tears off her cheeks.
So the moral of this story is that these delinquent horses not only bring me joy, but they also bring joy to hapless FedEx drivers and piano teachers.
Oh, and also that I finally realized what my all-night prayers had accomplished: they had changed things. I had gotten ahold of myself. I was, in fact, smiling. The sun had even come out. It all just took longer than I wanted. And I realized that my all-night prayers actually work every time. It always becomes morning, the wind always stops raging, the rain always ends, and the sun does come out again. Eventually I breathe at a normal rate, my stomach settles, and the cold sweat stops. I still function; I am not defeated.
And after all the antics, I was scrolling through Facebook and came across a post from an artist named Deborah Herbert. Along with a beautiful painting of a horse that looked a lot like my precious Regalo, she shared this Scripture: “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,” Psalm 73:23-26.