When Things Go Wrong

The Rural Life
The New York Times

One afternoon last week, I noticed that one of our mares — a quarter horse named Ida — was stepping slowly as she came into the corral. A horse’s mobility is everything, and I began wondering about a hoof abscess or a muscle strain. But when I walked over to Ida, I saw a gaping wound on her neck. I could look through the muscle wall and into an anatomical cavern. There was blood, but not the disastrous stream there would have been if the wound had been a couple of inches lower. I could barely watch Ida while we waited for the veterinarian. I was afraid I would see her slide to the ground.

I don’t quite understand how we got from that terrible place to where we were half an hour later. A young vet only a few months out of school was standing beside Ida in a stall with me. It had taken a few tries to find the vein, but the sedative was working. Ida’s head sagged into my arms, and I could feel the sedative working on me, too, as surely as if I were the one who had gotten the shot.

The vet slid most of her gloved hand into the wound. She shaved around the opening and flushed the cavity again and again. Then came the antibiotic and the local antiseptic and then two layers of stitches — one to pull the muscle together, the other to gather the skin.

Through all of this, Ida seemed to have surrendered herself. A couple of months ago, I shooed her up the pasture, and she threw a kick at me that barely clipped my chest. She has never lived in a stall. But we stood there for an hour and more under the lights while the vet worked, and Ida never flinched or stirred.

The other horses came by, one at a time, to look into the stall and see what was happening. It was a bitter afternoon, and they were waiting for their hay. We searched the pasture for the place where the injury occurred, and we never found it. A mystery wound, said the vet — all too common.

I could do nothing for Ida. I held her head in my arms, but it made no real difference. My arms trembled the rest of the night from the weight. Somehow she kept her legs under her. I know that what I took as trust was mostly drugs. But it was also trust. If she got even half the comfort from me that I got from her, then she was fine.

And she’s fine now, trotting across this prison-house of ice with the other horses. It was horrifying at first to see that wound. Now that it’s healing, it’s merely disgusting.

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