Sunday, April 11, 2010

Not a Good Day

I just experienced the most frightening, traumatic event of my life.

I always expect Murray to find a way to do something stupid. But never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be Maggie who would send me running with weak knees to phone the vet...or anyone, anyone who might be able to help.

It wouldn't have been so bad if she'd headed for the wooden fence rails, but I have no idea what compelled my sweet, sensible Maggie to try and jump the five foot high metal gate to her paddock. No idea at all.

Sunday, April 11, 6:30 pm
I don't normally bring the horses in until between 7 and 7:30pm, but despite the bright sunshine beaming down on our hilltop stable, there's a sharp cold wind that chills to the bone, so I decide to tuck the horses in a bit early.

On my way to the barn, I see the horses standing contentedly in the pasture, leisurely tugging at fresh stalks of green grass.

Before I bring them in, I head to Maggie's stall to sweep up her bedding, and toss in a flake of hay. A movement outside her stall window catches my eye. I look out. I see Maggie galloping across the paddock, and Murray dancing sideways in his nervous, spooky way. The rest still seems surreal. Maggie is flying flat-out, toward the gate. She has, in the past, galloped to the gate and come to a sliding stop, but this time, she's not slowing down, she's speeding up. She launches herself awkwardly over the gate.

Maggie's over-weight, un-athletic body can't keep up with her enthusiastic spirit. Her front legs mostly clear the gate, but she doesn't have enough power to lift her hind-end up and over. There's a heart-stopping crash, then the sound of splintering wood as the fence rails beside the gate shatter like glass. Unfortunately, the gate itself, while slightly askew, holds fast. I run. I swear at the top of my lungs and I run.

It seems like ages, but I know it's only seconds until I make it to her side at the paddock. I'm horrified by what I see. Maggie is like a teeter totter balancing on the metal gate. Her head is down, nostrils flared, gasping for air. Her front toes just, and only just, touch the ground. Her entire hind end is suspended in the air, held in place by the metal gate which has wedged itself firmly at the back of her belly, in front of her stifles. One hind leg is dangling loose, the other is caught in the fence boards that meet the gate at a 90 degree angle.

I try and unhook the chain on the gate, but Maggie is directly on top of it. All her weight is pressing down on the gate, making it difficult for her to breathe, and making it impossible for me to loosen the chain. To make things worse, she starts thrashing around whenever I try and reach for it. I put my hand on her side, try telling her to whoa, to stay still, but she turns her head and punches me violently in my side with her muzzle. She does this again and again, trying to prod me into action, but I'm helpless. I'm home alone. I have no close neighbours, and there's nothing, nothing I can do.

I always think of myself as someone who stays calm under pressure, the kind of person who can take over in an emergency. I've held tourniquets against horses' blood-spurting arteries while waiting for the vet. I've stroked horses necks as they were given their final lethal injections. But these were never my horses, and I was never in a situation like this.

I try to lift the gate off its hinges, but it's bent, and with Maggie's 1250 lbs on top of it, I know it's impossible anyway. I kick at the fence post, but it's firmly planted in the ground. Helpless, I leave her. I turn my back on her and I run away. I look in Dave's workshop for something heavy, something I can use to bash at the post until the whole thing tumbles down. All I can find is a metal shovel and a pick-axe. I know they're not going to work. Not in time.

I remember that our one neighbour, the dairy farming family living 400 metres down the road gave me their phone number the other day. I run inside my house, I desperately dial their number, hoping that the men will have some kind of equipment, or at least enough brute strength to knock down the gate. Their phone rings. There's no answer, and I remember that they were going to a church supper tonight. I glance out the window. Maggie's still hanging, struggling, gasping. I'm truly panicking now. My legs are weak, my arms are shaking. The tears are rolling down my cheeks. I'm convinced I'm going to watch my sweet girl slowly die a painful death.

Dave is an hour away, about to pilot a plane into the air with his instructor in toe. I call him anyway, even though I know there's nothing he can do. I get his voicemail. Desperate, I grab the pick-axe and the shovel and run, trembling and still swearing back to where Maggie is dangling. I try the gate again, it's no use. I try shaking and pushing the post. It won't budge. Maggie starts flailing frantically. Her right hind leg splinters what's left of the wooden rail running perpendicular to the fence. Somehow in her desperation (perhaps it's that last kick at the fence rail), she manages to get a bit of leverage. Her front feet are fully on the ground now, and using her own brute strength, she kicks, wiggles, flails and heaves her body until she's up, over and off the gate.

I'm overcome with relief; but I'm still incredibly worried. Maggie sways and wobbles her way into the open gate of the neighbouring pasture. The one that leads to her stall door (which is closed). Her eyes are glassy, her head is down, her breathing laboured. She's clearly in shock. I run and grab her halter. I put it over her head, but I can't take her inside.

Murray is still in the paddock. Poor Murray-- who turns 22 today-- has been dancing, spinning, nickering, and fretting this whole time. His eyes are wide, his tail is up, and he's clearly frightened. The further away Maggie wanders, the more stressed he becomes. He wants to be out of the paddock. He wants to be close to Maggie, but he's too spooked to let me near him. I can't leave him. The fence is broken, the gate is twisted and bent. In his adrenalin-hyped state, he's likely to do exactly what Maggie did. He's far more likely to succeed, but I'm not about to take that chance.

I plead with him, "please, please let me catch you. I need to help Maggie". But it does no good. I try to calm myself and talk with him casually, but he can sense my panic too, and he dodges me and tries to shove his way through the slightly open gate. I yell at him and he backs off. I need to get to Maggie, so I take a chance. I wrestle the mangled gate open wide enough to allow him to go through, and I run to grab Maggie. Murray blasts through the gate and heads to the front of the barn. He prances nervously until I bring Maggie through the door, then he follows us in, and runs to his stall. Thank you Murray. I'm not sure what I would have done if he'd decided to head for the road or the woods instead.

I give Maggie a quick look-over--there is no spurting blood, no severed arteries, many scrapes and cuts though, and they're already starting to swell. I cover her with a cooler to help control her shock, and I call the vet. The trouble with this is that I haven't yet found a vet. Several names have been suggested to me though, so I scroll through the phone book (still in a panic), and call the first name I come to that I actually recognize.

The vet on-call is in Truro. I tell him what happened, I tell him I'm most worried about possible internal damage. He kindly tells me that if she's ruptured her spleen or kidney or bowel, there's nothing that can be done for her, so there's not much point in him coming out to check on her. He suggests I give her bute (anti-inflammatory), hose and ice her legs, keep a very good eye on her, and get a tetanus shot and some antibiotics for her in the morning. I would have liked to have a vet look at her, just to make me feel better, but he's right, I can handle the external damage to her legs, and the internal, well, we just have to hope there isn't any.

11:57 pm
I've hosed Maggie's stifles twice. I've iced her lower legs twice. There's so much heat and swelling that the ice melts, and the packs turn warm within minutes. Happily though, Maggie hasn't lost her appetite. She's not too keen on the bran mash (which is laced with bute), but she's eating her hay with her usual gusto. Now I just wish she'd drink some water.


  1. Oh Melissa! I could barely read this. How absolutely awful...just terrifying! You did a wonderful job of handling this crisis. I wish I could blink and be there to help you. I will say many prayers tonight for dear Maggie...and you and Murray too. She'll be okay...just hang in there kiddo. Keep us updated when you can, okay?

  2. Melissa!! WOW!! Hard for anyone to stay calm in that situation. So glad all appears to have turned out well. Keep us up to date.

  3. I don't know what to write except that I hope she and you are OK. We'll be thinking of you.

  4. Just read this story now Melissa. What a scary experience that was... would like to hear how Maggie is faring today...and you too! Sounds like your experience woking with horses has come in handy..and your cool and quick thinking enabled you to handle things.Did something spook them? Wonder why they reacted that way...glad you and she are o.k. Judy

  5. Melissa so sorry about Maggie, hopefully she will get better soon, a terrible experience for you and Maggie, wish we could have been there to help you getting her off that gate. Hope to hear good news of her recovery soon.

  6. Sh_t.
    I'm just getting caught up. My heart was racing as I was reading. Traumatic.