Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Tale of the Disappearing Horse

January 10, 2011
8:20 pm
I'm on my way home from teaching riding lessons outside of Halifax. I call Dave to let him know, and to check and see how the horses and other "kids" are doing.

Me: "How are the horses?"

Dave: "They're fine."

Me: "They didn't give you any trouble coming in?"

Dave: "No. They behaved themselves." pause. "I hope I closed their stall doors".

Me: laughing, "Yeah, me too." My turn to pause. "You did close their doors, right?"

Dave: "Yeah, I'm pretty sure I did. Oh, hey, when I finished in the barn I went out on the tractor to widen the path and move some more snow around."

I notice that Dave has deftly changed the topic of conversation. I wonder about the stall doors, but I don't dwell on it. I'm sure he must have closed the stall doors, and if he thinks there's any chance he didn't, surely he'll go check. Right?

We hang up the phone and I settle-in behind the steering wheel for the rest of the hour-long drive to our rural piece of heaven.

As I finally pull onto our snow-covered road, my mind replays my earlier conversation with Dave. Just in case, I drive slowly and cautiously. I scan the ditches and alder patches for any sign of blanketed, four-legged animals, accidentally liberated by a tired, distracted husband. No such figures are illuminated by my high-beam headlights.

I breathe a sigh of relief as I roll into the driveway. The big barn door is closed, so even if anyone escaped (which I'm sure they didn't because I'm sure Dave would have double checked), they'd at least be corralled by the cinder-block walls.

It's about 20 after 9 now-- time to do night stables. I'm already in barn clothes, so I opt to check on the horses before going into the house. As usual, Zorro hears my boots crunching in the snow and leaps through his cat door to escort me into the feed room. I see Dave's left the light on. I remind myself to lecture him about the cost of electricity later. In the feed room, I take a moment to scratch Zorro's chin and pat his back, before making my way into the barn itself. Then, I flick on the lights and turn toward the horses' stalls.

Maggie, as usual, stretches her head out over her door and nods it in my direction in a plea for more food. Her door is closed and solidly latched. Murray, however, hasn't offered a greeting. I look to his stall to see the door pulled wide-open. His pile of hay is mostly untouched, and at first glance, there's no sign of him at all.

Now, Murray can be difficult, if not impossible to catch; but, he's not a wanderer at heart. He's simply not brave enough to go exploring on his own. As far as I know, the only time he ever "escaped" from his stall in the night was at Equidae stables in Halifax. The caretaker, Karen, lived in an apartment above the barn. At 1am, she woke to hear the clink of metal horse shoes on the cement floor. She wiped the sleep from her eyes, and navigated the dark steps down to the barn. When she got there, she found Murray standing outside his stall, a look of worry and concern on his face. The door to his stall was closed. As Karen opened it, he dashed back inside, clearly relieved to be "home". As far as we can tell, his sly, 22 year old, appaloosa neighbour had reached over and unlatched Murray's door. Murray seized the opportunity and headed toward freedom, but then, as the door slammed closed behind him, had second thoughts. There were no signs that he'd strayed more than a foot or two from his stall.

With that story in mind, I'm surprised that I don't see Murray behind his open door. So, I look down the isle to my left, toward the extra stalls. Still no sign of him, and no signs that anything has been disturbed. Then, I hear movement so I turn and take a few steps toward his open door. That's when I see him. I should have known.

He's standing at the back of his stall, his hindquarters pressed against the exterior wall, with his shoulders and ribs practically leaning on the dividing wall between his stall and Maggie's. He's hiding. It's a trick he mastered years ago, and has managed to replicate at every barn he's been at. He instinctively seems to know which area of his stall is least visible from the outside. He flattens himself against the wall in that area, and takes a nap. This habit of hiding in the shadows has caused many a stable manager to do a panicked double take when confronted with what, on first glance, appears to be an empty stall. It's amazing that a 12 hundred pound animal can manage to hide himself so completely.

I call Murray's name and he steps forward sleepily, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his door has been wide open for the past two hours. He drowsily meanders toward the uneaten mound of hay, and shoves his muzzle amongst the grassy forage.

I shake my head at Dave. I can't believe he left Murray's door open-- wide open. At least there was no harm done--this time. If it had been Maggie, it would be a whole different story. Hay would be spread across the isles, crossties would be pulled from the walls, and the barn in general would like a disaster zone.

No comments:

Post a Comment