Houdini Horse: A story about dealing with the unexpected

In Stories

Zip.  Safe and sound.
Zip. Safe and sound.

It was the last thing I expected to see at 2:30 in the morning.

The master bedroom of our apartment at Rock Creek Farms overlooks the inside of the barn. It also has light switches so that Elisa can illuminate and inspect the horses below in case something out of the ordinary should happen. I usually sleep soundly, in the knowledge that Elisa is there to filter out normal barn sounds and to wisely discern the times when action is required. When Elisa is traveling, however, I find myself on high alert. I know full well that I am the only one who can hear what’s happening in the barn at night. I am also slightly paranoid. I don’t have the years of experience around horses that Elisa has. I can’t easily distinguish good noises from bad noises, and so I find myself in a state of constant vigilance.

I awoke suddenly to a BANG! followed by a wave of neighing in the barn below.

I leaped from bed and turned on the lights in the barn. Still groggy, I couldn’t immediately see anything unusual. I stumbled past the dogs on my way to the barn below. I’m pretty sure I was wearing pants.

As I entered the barn aisle, I turned left…nothing. Then I turned right…

There he was. Zip. The black and white paint pony had somehow escaped and was being enthusiastically attentive to Elisa’s little gray mustang Hwin.

In the words of Gemal Awad, “horses scare the living s#%! out of me”. But, of course, something had to be done. So I grabbed the nearest halter and slowly approached the little escape artist. Zip lurched toward me, then faked right.

I feared that it would be a long night. The last time I had to wrangle a horse, it was a barely broke mustang named Fianto, and I remembered spending hours of sneaking around, coaxing, and bribing before getting him into a stall. Fortunately, Zip stood still for me and let me put on his halter.

The halter was clearly not on correctly. It was probably upside down. Whatever I did, it worked well enough to guide Zip into the nearest vacant stall. Relieved, I closed the stall door, hung up the halter, and returned to bed.

Our chihuahua Pocket threw her body against mine, and we went back to sleep.

* * *

Pocket kicks in her sleep. She had arranged her 2 1/2 lb body so that it was perpendicular to mine and she was obviously ‘chasing rabbits.’ My mind immediately began to whir. Where had Zip escaped from? In the late-night stupor of interrupted REM, it occurred to me that the last time I saw Zip, he was living in one of the back pastures with several other horses, including mustangs Fledge and Rune. If Zip had escaped, where were the other horses? Where were the mustangs?!

The night was pitch black. A late night inspection of the property would have been futile. And, if the boys had escaped as well, I was sure that they would eventually find their way up to the barn. Both Fledge and Rune love their stalls (aka their ‘hotel rooms’). I braced myself for more visitors as I slept lightly, attuned to every rustle and bump that took place in the barn below. Pocket was soon back to dreaming she was Jean-Claude Van Dam.

* * *

My alarm blared at 5:00 AM. It was time to start getting ready for the day. Was the escapade from the night before a dream? I checked my phone. No. I had sent text messages (plus photo) alerting everyone to what had happened (its always better to err on the side of over-communication). I called Elisa and told her the story, and about my concern for the mustangs. She laughed. He didn’t live in the pasture any more. In fact, he hadn’t been there for a long time. Instead, Zip lives in a paddock adjoining the barn. He hadn’t run off. He simply wanted a late-night visit with friends and so lifted the gate latch (amazing!), walked several feet, and started saying hi.

I hadn’t prevented an escape attempt. I had rudely interrupted a social event.

* * *

What did I learn from this little incident (horse people will laugh at how trivial it was)? In the first place, in spite of my lack of confidence, I can do what needs to be done when the moment calls for it. It might not be pretty, but I can make things work. In the second place, I am so grateful to have such competent and supportive ‘barn family’ in the owner of Rock Creek Farms, Rosemarie Spillane, and our amazing working student Aly Rattazzi. With thanks to them, the barn keeps on going even when Elisa is away; and thanks to them, I have the confidence I need to step up to the plate when I need to.

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