Raised by Horses

My Mother wrapped her big, bare arms around me and dragged me down the hall to the kitchen as blood poured, warm and sticky from my left arm. I was thirteen years old and my life had changed in an instant. I had fallen through a window and severed everything important at my wrist.

Mamma handed me a small towel. “Wrap it up”, she commanded as she fought her demons of fear and unconsciousness she knew would mean my death. I looked at my arm as I wrapped it, so deeply in shock I wasn’t even aware that I was seeing bones and mangled arteries. Instinctively, I held pressure by squeezing the wrist now wrapped in a dish towel.

That was 40+ years ago. I sit tonight by the window, a hot cup of tea in my right hand. The steam from it makes fog on the glass that gathers and runs down the pane just like the rain outside. We haven’t had any rain for so many months that the high desert was scorched and just ready to ignite. This water is welcomed. This night quenches the red earth, the now green trees and the itchy backs of my horses. They stand outside their shelters to celebrate. The Chaparral breathes the scent of the rain onto the wind. I squiggle my fingers on the glass, remembering, for some unknown reason, the day I fell through that window.

I got my first horse because of it. The accident, that is. After it was pretty certain that I was going to live. After transfusions, vomiting and aspirating during surgery (I had died and was revived) and seeing my tiny, pale, numb fingers sticking out from a cast – my Mother convinced my Father to buy me a horse. They had provided riding lessons all my short life. They had leased horses for me during summers. They had never promised me a horse of my own. So, it seemed that they were hoping this new promise of my own great beastie when I had healed would be the motivation to live and to heal. It was.

We had been living at my Grandfather Hodel’s estate in West Virginia. It was his home’s entry that had a large glass door with a huge glass panel on each side. “Don’t run toward the glass!” my Mother had always said… I ran around the lawns; galloping as if I were a horse, jumping bushes and the concrete edging of the driveway and the swimming pool. And I would jump (like a horse) onto the slate front landing, over the steps and “trot” to the front door; except for that one day.

mink and chili

My thoughts and my dreams were filled with horses. While most young girls found ponies adorable, I was drawn to wild Mustangs, dancing Lippizaners and giant Draft horses. I had a herd of at least 200 plastic horses. I ordered free samples of hoof dressing and fly repellent that I used on my tiny herd members, much to my Mother’s dismay as the oily substances rubbed off on the sofa (a desert mesa) or carpets (pastures). My personal “scent” was “ode de Equus”, it still is.

So, tonight I watch the last glow of sunset die and the dark wetness hug the land. I have fed the horses their fluffed up hay and bran mashes. I treat myself to the tea and some store bought  cookies.  My brother and I are taking care of our Mother. This must be the catalyst for so many memories these days. My Mother had congestive heart failure. She is doing well. It became my turn to help save her life. It became time for me to really understand how she must have felt when I fell through that glass.

I was healing pretty well back then. I remember sitting in the hospital and becoming terrified when my injured fingers started moving on their own. The nurses assured me this was a good thing. It meant that the tendons that had been reattached were trying to work. They also told me that the surgeons had had to retrieve those tendons from way up past by my elbow. This, I did not need to know. At night the hand would “burn”, a strange pain and cramping overtook it. I had no feeling actually in the hand or fingers, but pain was real and deep within them. It is hard to explain. But, the idea of riding again; of riding my own horse was all the motivation I needed to decide to heal and just make that hand work again!

My first horse was a Morgan gelding –  a breed known for its unusual strength and small size. His name was “Mink” and he had come from the Travelers (Gypsies) in Princeton who could heal horses with plants and magic. I had spent the summer after the cast was removed from my arm in the pool doing “therapy” that I hoped would strengthen the shriveled, pale thing that used to be my left hand. As the use of the hand improved, I started riding again. Mink realized I had little strength and almost no feeling in that hand, so he would run away with me, always on a big circle to the right. I would stay on. He didn’t buck or try to throw me. He just ran when he wanted to and I couldn’t shut him down. But, he was my very own horse! I adored him. I persevered.

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