Wednesday, April 17, 2024

You’ve got to be kidding me…a horse stuck in a tree?


There is something unique about the relationship between a human being and a horse. Like all emotionally satisfying connections, the relationship between man and horse is based on trust, communication, and acceptance. Over time the horse learns to speak “human” and the man learns to speak “horse”.

Almost 30 years ago, I was in the horse business and owned a significant number of equines. There were several stallions as well as broodmares and performance show horses. I loved it when the mares would foal out and I could witness the innocence of their babies. Watching them stand for the first time or learning to walk and run was so interesting and amusing.

Once foals were placed out in the pasture to graze and exercise, I was reminded of watching human children going to kindergarten. The foals would run, play, annoy and aggravate the other foals and their mothers. They would learn from the other animals as they experienced their new surroundings. It was always interesting to watch a foal ease over and try to nurse off a mare other than their mother and see the mare turn and gently bite or “cow kick” the intruder to teach it to stay with its own mom. A lesson learned.

It was spring, the grass had just turned green, and I had let three, two-year-old fillies out into a small pasture of about 10 acres. The field had a board fence around the perimeter so there was no fear of the young horses getting caught up in a wire fence or barbed wire. There was a pond for the horses to drink from, and the grass had to be tantalizing to the youngsters who had been eating nothing but hay or grain all winter. The pasture even had a little stand of tightly bunched trees which would provide some shade if the spring sun became too warm.

I led the horses from the barn, through the pasture gate, removed their halters and turned them loose. Immediately they took off running as a group, kicking up their heels, bucking, nickering, and in general, celebrating life. It was spring and it was obvious they felt good about being out in the sunshine with plenty of grass to eat. It only took a short time before all three horses had their heads down, content with their surroundings and the fresh grass they were consuming.

I went about my chores, only occasionally glancing at the three. After completing a few additional tasks, I went to the house to grab a morning cup of coffee, only to be interrupted by one of the farmhands. All he could say was, “You are not going to believe this!”.

As I quickly followed the farmhand towards the pasture, my mind raced. Had one of the horses stepped in a hole and broken a leg? Did a dog or a coyote run them through the fence? My heart was pounding!

As I got closer, I could see two of the horses facing and staring at the third. She was also standing in the middle of the little clump of trees. From a distance the situation looked innocent enough. What was the farm hand talking about?

As I got to the trees, it was clear what had happened. Years ago, two of the trees had sprouted only a few feet apart. Over time they had grown to nearly 20 feet high, but their trunks at the base were only 30- or so inches apart. The young animal had been grazing and thus had its head down as it walked along and ate. It grazed between the two trees and kept grazing and moving forward. The problem was that once the horse moved forward, the trunck of the two trees touched the horse’s sides. A horse’s natural reaction when startled is to run. When this mare felt something touch its sides, it became startled and ran forward. Unfortunately, the space between the two trees was so small the horse could not pass. This made matters worse, because when the horse felt like it was stuck, instinct told it to run forward to get free, and it became even more stuck. Now the horse was wedged so tightly between the two trees that it could not move at all!

I will never be able to replicate the glance my young horse gave me when I arrived. Her look was a mixture of embarrassment, fear, and being ashamed for having gotten themselves in such a position. While I was concerned for my mare’s health and welfare, it was also hard not to laugh at the predicament. A horse stuck in a tree?

After assessing the situation, I tried to push the horse back through the opening to no avail. The mare was simply wedged too tightly. I tried dishwashing soap, but even its slippery nature was not enough to free the imprisoned equine. It finally came down to either cutting down one of the trees or getting the tractor and placing a rope around the horse to pull the horse backwards towards freedom.

Turns out the tractor did a pretty good job of freeing the animal. The horse had a few scrapes on its side but was otherwise uninjured. For me, I learned that horses can somehow find a way to get themselves in trouble seemingly no matter what precautions you take. They are just as curious as us humans and just as apt to get in trouble.

From that time on the young mare and I had a bond. It is like she understood I had rescued her and perhaps she was hoping I would not tell the other horses of her embarrassing situation. I never told this story to an outsider until the horse had passed. Friends don’t tell on their friends…do they?

Thought for the day: Do something good and no one sees it. Do something embarrassing and it feels like it is going to be on the national news.

Until next time…I will keep ridin’ the storm out.