When I saw her back out of the trailer, I knew it was bad. I mean... really bad. Dad had lots of rescue animals come in during my fourteen years of life, but I’d never seen a horse so severely neglected. She stood quietly, head hung low, legs braced wide as if she could barely stay standing. I took the lead rope so Dad could move the truck and trailer. It took some coaxing, but she staggered into the quarantine barn where a stall awaited her.
I gently washed the crusted dirt and manure off her knees and hocks as the vet discussed her future with my dad. It wasn’t good. Infected sores covered her skin, her feet were seriously overgrown and deep cracks went nearly all the way to the coronet band. Her raggedy hide was stretched taut over her bones and she was gaunt from starvation. I felt nauseated whenever I stepped back to look at her.
When I’d cleaned her up the best I could, the vet took over and treated her. Antibiotics, wormer, eye drops, and I didn’t know what else. Once was comfortable in her stall with hay and a refilled water bucket, the three of us walked toward the door together. I glanced back just before Dad flicked the light switch off. She had lifted her head for the first time since I’d seen her and was watching me. I whispered goodnight as the light went out.
That’s when it happened. A deep, guttural whinny. Then another, more insistent. I switched the light back on. Her head was up, her expression alert, and worried. “Ok, girl. You sleep with the lights on tonight.”
I stepped out and shut the door behind me. The barn erupted with frantic whinnies. I flung open the door and raced inside. Dad and the vet were right behind me. The mare paced the front of the stall, eyes wide. Terrified. I spoke quietly to her. She stood still but trembled as I approached. It didn’t take long for her to calm down but something had happened that I wasn’t going to let un-happen. I stroked her damp neck and continued to talk in the same soothing tone. “You’re going to be okay. I’ll help you get through this.”
The silence behind me made my guts clench. They didn’t get it. Yet.
“I know what you’ve decided. I know she’s in bad shape. But she isn’t ready to go yet. I’ll sleep out here. I’ll doctor her. I’ll do it all. She’s going to be ok. I just know it. “
I turned to them both and put everything that was welling up in my heart into my voice and words. “She wants to live. She wants us. She deserves the chance. Please.”
My dad smiled at me “Don’t cry, Angie.”
Now I was confused. And a bit irritated. I prided myself on not being a tomboy. No screaming or bawling for me. Dad reached out a hand and brushed my cheek. It came away wet. I touched my face and realized I’d been crying. A lot. That was it. I nestled into Dad’s arms and sobbed all over his flannel shirt.
“Shh. Shh. Quiet, little girl. That mare made the decision for us tonight. You’re right. She’s not ready to go. Her time isn’t up. She’s determined to have a lot more years in her. Calm down, Angie girl.”
I did what I said I would. I slept in the barn many nights… until she knew I was here to stay. We built a trust and understanding between us that got us through the tough vet visits and doctoring hassles.
It took months before she looked like a real horse, but the following year was amazing. Her new hair grew in sleek and soft… a deep copper with a flaxen mane and tail. Her palomino coloring caught everyone’s attention. Her gentle ways and quick obedience made her a joy to ride. Her athleticism and confidence won us many ribbons in the show ring. It always made my heart swell when they announced our names. “And first place goes to Angie Winters riding No Expiry Date.”
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