The little mare, folded in woven wire, lay in a heap along the fence-line; her sides heaving with panic. I ceased to breathe and felt my heart pounding in my throat as I took in the scene before me. Her legs contorted in an unnatural state – none of which appeared to be in the right position. My own panic threatened to overcome the ability to assess and ultimately remedy the situation. Dear God – am I really going to have to put my horse down?
I managed to pull myself together struggling to mask the panic in my voice: “Hey baby-girl –you’re ok…easy…easy girl.”
J’Lo raised her blazed head and nickered. I didn’t have to be a horse-whisperer to recognize the desperate plea for help. The look of terror in her soft brown eyes broke my heart.
I backed away slowly, “Don’t worry girl….I’ll be back.” I turned and sprinted toward the house. With fencing pliers and halter in one hand and my cell in the other, I dialed my neighbor: “Can you come down here right away… my horse is caught in the fence.” I didn’t have to wait for a response. He would be there.
By the time I returned, J’Lo had managed to lunge to her feet. The woven wire encircled each leg to just below her belly. Her right-hind was tethered by wads of wire lodged between her hoof and shoe. I talked in as soothing tones as I could muster while slipping the halter over her nose. I stroked her neck, sides and legs all the while cutting wire away a section at a time. It’s a bad situation to be in no matter how you slice it. You are in the middle of a thousand pounds of muscled-panic entwined in 20 feet of wire. A wire capable of slicing horse and human flesh to the bone. One wrong move and you’re caught in the chaos of horse flesh and hell.
Of the dizzying images and thoughts racing through my mind while waiting for help to arrive – one thought stood out above all others: This was no freak accident. I remembered something I read on the definition and probability of “freak accidents.” Do they exist? Perhaps, but they are rare. There is an interesting theory on the subject in regards to catastrophic plane crashes in the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell: “The typical accident involves seven consecutive human errors. One of the pilots does something wrong that by itself is not a problem. Then one of them makes another error on top of that, which combined with the first error still does not amount to catastrophe. But then they make a third error on top of that, and then another and another and another and another, and it is the combination of all those errors that leads to disaster.”
It was this thought process that caused me to ponder the seven steps leading up to J’s avoidable accident. While I don’t consider all of the seven items necessarily error’s – I do believe each step contributed to the accident.
- A broken water pipe: Our seven steps to disaster begin with one of the worst winters in Washington County’s history resulting in a broken water pipe at my home. Due to the unusual accumulation of snow and freezing temperatures – I had to wait until the snow was gone before digging up the yard to look for the leak. Once the snow retreated in late March – I began to dig in the general location of the leak. My neighbor had hired a backhoe to do some work on his place. The backhoe operator offered to dig up the leak on my place. Unfortunately, we hit two sprinkler pipes, the electrical conduit and numerous roots in the process. The decision was made to stop digging with the backhoe and pretend like the leak was all in my head. Unable to convince anyone that the continual running of the pump and seeping water was indeed a leak and not a faulty foot valve – I would have to prove my theory by digging the hole by hand.
- Eye witness to neighbor kid chasing horse: Digging in soggy clay through layers of tangled root system takes time, patience, a strong back and a sense of humor; only the latter of which I possess. I had to turn the pump off before digging so it doesn’t fill up the hole with water. When tired of digging – I turn the pump back on to water the animals, flush the toilets and jump in the shower to wash off the layers of mud covering from head to toe. I took the afternoon off work to accomplish these tasks and prove my theory that it was indeed a broken pipe and not a figment of my imagination. Like who imagines their pump running and water seeping up to the surface in the exact same spot for 6 months? I will admit to having an active imagination – but it usually involves horses, waterfalls and Sam Elliot. Anyway, because I was at home and working outside – I happen to see the neighbor’s horse running around in a frenzied state; the neighbor boy hot on his heels with is AK 47 airsoft rifle. Feeding off one another as horses often do – J’Lo was also running around like a chicken with her head cut off. Now, I really like the neighbor kid. I’ve known him since he was a little squirt that showed up at my house offering to do my dishes for banana bread. I’ve known him long enough to know that he doesn’t lie – he just avoids the truth at times. I’ve asked him if he shoots at the horses and his response is usually the same: “Did you know the Nazi’s used the same stuff in gopher pills to gas the Jews?”
- The locked gate: I thought it best to lock J’Lo out of the big pasture and keep her close where she was safe from neighbor kids and Nazi’s. I brought her into the pasture beside the house and locked the gate behind her. She wasn’t thrilled being separated from the only other horse within 40 acres so I tossed her a flake of hay to keep her occupied while I went back to work.
- The dreaded awning from hell: If it wasn’t bad enough I had to keep the water shut off to avoid filling up the hole – it continued to rain – soaking the ground and myself. My sister had given me a “Quik Shade” awning as a gift for helping her move. This seemed like the ideal situation to put it to use. Of course – it doesn’t come with instructions. Assembling that thing was like trying to solve some form of sadistic Chinese puzzle. Nothing “quik” about it. J’Lo would walk by and snort as I wrestled with the finger pinching monster to no avail. After watching a YouTube video on how to set it up, I managed to get it placed over the hole. Not nearly as easy or as quick as the Asian guy in the video, I might add.
- The absence of Sir Dee Jack: While J’Lo can be intolerant of other horses – she is rather fond of Jack, her hunky buckskin version of Sam Elliot. Unfortunately for J’Lo, Jack has been at Buckskin Bootcamp trying to discover his inner shooting horse potential. According to his drill Sargent – Jack’s not fond of boot camp, with or without being fired off – but that’s another story. Horses are herd animals. Without Jack here to keep J’Lo safe from AK 47 wielding neighbor kids and horse eating awnings, she’s been pretty skittish. If something spooks her, she has to settle for running to the neighbor horse for comfort and trust me – he’s no Jack… or Sam.
- The forgotten gate: Between awning wrestling, wallowing in the mud and swearing – a lot – I forgot to open the gate I’d shut to isolate J from the neighborhood chaos. My first clue should have been her frenzied fence pacing and longing glances toward the neighbor horse. Instead, I remained focus on the task at hand: Proving to my neighbor that IT nerds were ever-bit as smart as mechanical engineers and that this was not a faulty foot valve – but a break in the pipe.
- The big one: Everything came full circle when the storm hit. My neighbor sent me a text: Take cover girl – here comes the big one! I dropped the shovel and ran for the house. Within seconds, sheets of rain poured from the sky. Tornado like winds picked up the awning and tossed it into the tree. I caught sight of a streak of sorrel buzz the pasture between flashes of lightening. J’Lo was fast approaching mach-1. If I could learn to shoot fast enough to keep up with that I would be a level 6 in no time! It was then I remembered the closed gate. I raced toward the gate seconds too late. I could no longer hear or see J’Lo. The next sight of my beloved little mare would be of her piled in a heap entangled in wire.
It was the execution of these seven events that I believe led to J’Lo’s harrowing encounter with the fence. Had any one of those events been removed from the equation, I think it’s very likely it would not have happened.
If the pipe hadn’t broke, I wouldn’t have been home that day to witness the horses frantically running from the neighbor kid. There would have been no reason to separate my horse from the neighbors pasture. Had Jack been home – J’Lo would not have tried to get back into the pasture near the neighbors horse. Had I not shut the gate – she would have had a clear path to the pasture instead of running through a wire fence. Had I not put up the awning to cover the hole – it would not have blown into the tree scaring her half to death and causing her to bolt into the fence. Quite the tongue twister: If not for the wind that blew the awning that covered the hole that scared the horse that crashed through the fence that…
Kort arrived within minutes of my call. He took over meticulously cutting away wire as I distracted J’Lo. Scared as I knew she was – she barely flinched; a result in no small part to being hobble trained. He slid the last chunk of mesh from under her belly and peeled back the remaining section of fence still attached to the railroad ties. It took several tentative steps to convince J’Lo she was free from the entanglement. I watched every step she made from the pasture to the dry-lot – willing her gait to be sound.
While Kort pried the remaining wire from between hoof and shoe, I examined her for injury. A superficial cut running diagonally across her chest was the only evidence of the ordeal. I cleaned the wound with iodine, sprayed it with Vetericyn and turned her out to pasture. Without a doubt we had dodged a bullet.
As I watched her walk to the end of the pasture I thanked God for always watching over me and my animal family. Without Him – I know the outcome of this, like so many of life’s adventures, could easily have had a more tragic ending.
My little sorrel mare lifts her head from the new spring grass and gazes into the far distance for what seems like a thousand miles. I know what she searches for. Does she know that he’s coming back? I walk with treat in hand to reassure her. She gently nibbles the cookie from my palm as I pat her neck. “Don’t worry baby girl – he’ll be back.”