Monday, November 17, 2008


There's no doubt in my mind that Murphy was a horse owner. His mantra--Anything That Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong--could only be inspired from one source. The horse.

Perhaps the most accident prone animal on earth, horses are natural cowards prone to panic. They are also suprisingly fragile for their size. Not a good combination. A horse's propensity to panic under stress met Murphy last week on my small farm.

It was a special day. Chance--once neglected and unwanted--was the star of a photo shoot for Guideposts Magazine (look for his story in the March and PLEASE notice how white he is). Blissfully unaware of Murphy, I ignored the little voice inside (the smarter me) that said, "Never tie a horse below wither height to an unstable object." I tied Chance to a low section of fence board so the photographer could get a different body angle. Then the photographers dog began nipping at Chance's heels...

It took exactly five seconds for all hell to break loose. Before I could get to him, Chance wrenched the board free of its posts and took off down my driveway. It was a spectacular wreck in the making. All present (including a man across the street) gaped at the sight of a little pinto running, dog in tow, a 12 foot 2x6 swinging from his head. I did not gape. Heart pounding, I raced after Chance praying my voice would somehow snap him out of his terror. Thankfully, after a few minutes, he turned toward me confused and ready to bolt again.

"Eeeeaaaaasy son, eeeeaaaassssy..." I kept my voice low and, I hoped, soothing as I approached. The weight of the board had pulled his halter down and was now partially hooked behind his back teeth. I could see the whites of his eyes as he snorted.

The dog corraled, I approached cautiously--I'm generally not keen on placing myself next to a thousand pounds of panic.

"Let me help you; eeeaasy." Carefully, and quickly, I untied the quick release knot (see, I'm not a complete idiot) and guided the board to the ground. I stroked Chance for a minute or two and let him catch his breath. A few minutes later, we were back shooting pictures.

I like to think Chance allowed me to rescue him from a potentially horrifying wreck (think country road, cars, fences, hellacious law suit....) because of the relationship of trust I have worked hard to build with this horse. In his moment of extreme panic, he had just enough faith to turn to me for help.

One of the hardest training issues for this horse was trailer loading. I am a firm believer in actually training a horse to load calmly into a horse trailer, regardless of how naturally compliant they might seem. Trailer loading is innitially a scary, unnatural act for a horse. "Training" does not mean you put them in their favorite position every time, with their buddy, in their trailer of choice, when they are comfortable. This is because the day will come when you need to load that horse under stressful circumstances (such as at 10 o'clock in the evening, on the street outside a busy fairgrounds, while a demolition derby is in progress). You'll be glad you actually trained your horse to load, trust me.

Before Chance, I had only read about "scramblers" in horse training books. He not only pulled back in the trailer, he scrambled--throwing himself against the walls and striking. Oh, also (my personal favorite) while whinnying hysterically. To put it mildly, he was a little stressed in the trailer.

It took a few months to correct his insecurity, advancing by increments from leading him into the middle of the trailer and standing at his head, to tying him in the middle and standing just outside the trailer, to finally putting him in the more confined front. I began by trailering him with a friend before advancing to solo outings. The little horse that used to sound like a herd of wild horses and arrive at his destination dripping sweat, can now be trailered all by himself in an older two horse straight load. I am very proud of him.

It always tugged at my heart to leave him in the trailer during training. He was honestly afraid and kept his eyes glued to me. The moment I left his line of sight, he'd start moving restlessly and whinnying. I did things like clean the barn not far away so I could monitor him. Frequently I'd call to him, "No worries, Pal. I'm right here," just so he could hear my voice. You'd think I was talking to an imaginary friend.

See, I know what a thousand pounds of panic feels like. Following a generational pattern in my family, panic attacks are written in my genes. It's funny, too, because in my family the people who have suffered from them are not high strung. We're the calm, cool, thoughtful types who enjoy watching paint dry. Go figure.

A panic attack is a seriously debilitating condition. I'm sure the reasons they are brought on are as individual as the sufferer but for me, a woman of strong faith, they were cause for shame and embarrassment. Nothing worse for an introvert than to lose control of their emotions.

After a couple very frightening panic attacks, I sought a spiritual solution. Probing the depths of my fears resulted in some surprising conclusions. An attack always seemed to instantly divorce me from God. I'd go my way, a 12 foot 2x6 flailing around in my brain, sure death (or something worse) was imminent. It took some time with my Father, some feeding on scripture and testing of His faithfulness to reach a point where my trust was built up. When a time of testing came (March of '08 to be exact) I knew Who to run to. Since then, Murphy or no Murphy, the panic attacks have gone away.

"No worries Pal, I'm right here."


Marchel said...

"Tragedy turned to Triumph" is what comes to mind after reading your experience with Chance. Trust is a beautiful thing. Obviously, you have earned it with Chance and it is no wonder he felt safe to return to you. I've had this same, but different, experience with my horses over the years and they are living proof that even animals respond to Love. The kind of Love that God shows us humans so beautifully and freely. Oh, but if only we would run to safety of His arms in every situation. Thanks for sharing your experience and for displaying the preciousness of just one of God's attributes knowns as "trust". Marchel

Renee said...

Hey cousin--Loved reading your posts just now. Interesting and relevant, even to a regular non-horse person. :) And you are a great writer. So glad you've discovered and mined such a gift!

Catherine said...

Thanks Renee! Love hearing your "voice"; what a nice surprise.:)

Julie Garmon said...

Ohhh, I love this, Cath. I'll share your blog with some horse friends.

Nice going.