Since childhood, I’ve been imbued with this inexorable urge to help those in distress or danger. The crazy lady stopping traffic in both directions to carry an angry snapping turtle across the road?
Emergency triage on a broken-legged feral guinea hen? Sure. Right on my kitchen counter.
That seagull with an injured wing? I Chased it, threw a towel over it, and kept it safe in my laundry basket until the Wildlife Rehab folks picked it up.
The latter earned me a nice little scar. I just HAD to pick up the towel to check on that damned bird. Apparently, gulls display gratitude by snapping at your face with their sharp yellow beak. That one must have been extra thankful...
Don’t mention it, little guy. Anytime.
Though there have been too many similar situations to recall them all, one particular instance stands apart in my mind.
At the time, I was live-in manager of a small horse farm up in the Catskill Mountains. Late fall brought notoriously changeable weather to upstate New York. Sun to snow, back to sun, followed by the promise of a frigid, often blustery night.
Early one morning, wearing fuzzy pajamas and rubber boots, I began my regular routine of checking on and feeding horses.
The snow crunched noisily underfoot as I approached the pasture. Squinting through the brilliance of early sunlight, a large, dark lump caught my eye. Instinctively, I knew something was awry. Snowy slush slowed my gait, but halfway to that mysterious mass, I broke into an awkward run. My heart sank.
It was Amir.
Amir had spent most of his life as the farm’s prized stud. A strong, regal, impeccably bred Arabian stallion. Black Beauty in the flesh. His glory days as a sought after sire were years behind him by the time our paths crossed. By then, he’d reached his early 30’s…ripe old age for a horse. His arthritic legs eventually betrayed him, but he never lost his dignified air.
Upon reaching his eerily still body, I knelt down, fearing the worst. Cupping my hand gently over his velveteen muzzle, I was relieved to feel wisps of breath. Weak, fading fast, and in shock...but- he was alive.
During the night prior, Amir must have slipped and fallen on the frozen mud; thrashing himself into a state of frothy exhaustion while trying to regain his legs.
The early sunlight began to thaw the frozen dirt, causing the horse’s body to slowly sink itself into the slurry.
Unresponsive to my initial efforts to rouse him, it became woefully apparent that I was going to need more hands.
Departing from him with a soothing word and caress, I rushed up to the house. Gathering a towel, the blanket off of my bed, a bottle filled with hot water, and a turkey baster, I hurriedly called the property manager- no answer. Called the vet, no answer. I left messages describing the emergency, and bade them, please come quickly. I cursed my cell phone, as it was useless outside the house’s Wi-Fi range.
Hands heavy with provisions, I practically flew back to Amir.
Covering his chilled body first, then gingerly positioning his monarchal head to lay atop the towel, I availed him as much comfort as possible in that moment.
I’ve never been a quitter, even when my goal seemed unattainable. I was determined to fight for the survival of this old man, until either life, or death, claimed victory.
Amir’s eyes, once so deep and clear, were half-lidded and unfocused. I knew I had to separate his body from the icy ground, if he was going to have any chance at all. Painstakingly, I burrowed my boots underneath his back, wriggling between him and the unforgiving, frosted ground. Now I half-sat, half-laid, submerged to my hips in icy mud.
I never felt the cold. Nor did the horse feel too heavy a weight for me to bear, though of course, he was. Thank you, adrenaline.
Knowing he must be dehydrated from his unseen exertions, I twisted my body, propping his head. With kid gloves, I dripped warm water onto his pallid tongue, hopeful it would help.
The sky occluded itself with pregnant snow clouds. The sun, simultaneously saving and sinking us, had now abandoned us altogether. The flurries began to fall.
A preternatural hush pressed weightily against us. Glimmering white fractals, unique as those they fell upon, contrasted the blackness of Amir’s soft coat.
Skirting the precipice of reason, we sat there together for what seemed an eternity.
A loud voice shook me out of my hypothermic haze. It was early afternoon. The property manager, groundskeeper in tow, rushed to our corporeal clump.
My teeth chattered as I spat instructions into the snow. They must’ve been somewhat understandable, as the two men ran back the way they came, and quickly returned to me with what I’d asked them to retrieve.
Two winch cables from my truck.
I told my 2 samaritans where to slide the cables, equidistant, underneath Amir.
They heaved. The horse let out a ragged breath, but did not budge.
On the count of 3, they gave another mighty pull.
To my shock and delight, Amir raised his own head.
Miraculous and seemingly impossible, they rolled the old horse up onto his belly. He wavered there for a moment, getting his bearings.
It must’ve taken all the strength left in him to re-equilibrate on 4 legs. But he did it. He actually did it.
My coworkers managed to lead him into a warmly bedded stall, just as the vet arrived on scene.
I barely remember being plucked from the icy ground and brought inside. Consciousness brought about by tea and a warm fire unfroze my panic, and I achingly rushed back outside to check on Amir.
Upon seeing me, the veterinarian shook her head and smiled. Jovially she told me I was an idiot for putting myself in harm’s way. Then she solemnly posited my actions had likely been the difference between life and death that day for that old horse. Further warming me, she called me his hero, albeit a reckless one.
Amir lived on through the frozen months, and peacefully passed away on a warm night the following spring.
Being the reason he lived a short while longer might seem trivial. The ability to remember him trotting proudly through the snow, leading his beloved mares beyond that last winter, made my efforts feel more than worth the struggle.
The trauma I’ve experienced has only bolstered my dedication to help animals in need. As long as I am present, I will protect and preserve. Because that’s who I am, and that’s what I do.
About the author
Queer, neurodivergent poetess (occasional author of short fiction)...creating magical works from her home office (kitchen table) in upstate New York. Certified riding Instructor, horse and dog lover...Thriving despite mental illness.