Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Next Horse Whisperer

"They're like dogs, only bigger." As we pulled up to the ranch, I added, "Just don't get stepped on."

My two boys looked at each other. They knew I'd grown up with horses, cows, and itinerant siblings. They were skeptical about this outing. And, because they were brothers, when one was interested, the other was beyond bored.

Nevertheless, I had to check on a sick horse, and since they were with me, they went. The horse was one of about ten owned by a non-profit organization that helps special-needs kids learn to ride. My sons didn't quite understand why I did this, how helping others helped me, how horses helped my soul. And besides a few pony rides at the county fair and a couple of visits to my parents' farm, my boys had never been near horses before.

We headed for Rafi's stall. He had been colicking for a day or two, but was feeling better and wanted to eat. He sniffed the boys, looking for food.

"His nose is HUGE!" Tommy exclaimed, backpedalling into the corner to escape. Bobby tried to hold his ground, but Rafi was pushing him, searching his pockets for treats.

"Um, Mom, he's attacking me," it was all he could do to keep calm.

"Just pet him, like a dog," I said. Bobby stroked Rafi's nose, enthralled. Tommy did, too, grimacing. Always such opposites! Still, one out of two wasn't bad.

Rafi had been sick the day before - I had spent hours with him, walking him, massaging his back, trying to get him to drink some water. He was the kind of horse that, when he wasn't feeling good, wanted to crawl in your lap like a golden retriever. By Saturday night, after a shot of painkillers, he seemed a bit better. Although he still wanted to crawl in my lap.

The next morning, on my way to church, I decided to stop by the barn first. Sure enough, Rafi was down, thrashing, his body twisted in pain. We got the vet out right away, pumping his stomach, more pain medication, then filling his stomach with mineral oil in the hopes his intestines would unkink. Colic is often deadly in horses, especially older ones like Rafi. After that, all we could do was walk him, watch him, and wait. Later that day I took a break to get something to eat and pick up my boys.

To get Rafi’s system going again, he had to be walked. A lot. I caught Bobby staring at the lead rope I was holding. "Would you like to walk him?" I asked. I didn't have to ask twice. "Just don't get stepped on."

He took the lead rope. Rafi looked at him. Bobby walked forward and Rafi ambled off with him, slowly, putting his head down low so he was eye-level with my son.

There are certain moments in a parent's life that freeze-frame in your mind. Watching Bobby and Rafi walking side by side was one of them. Spending time with horses had, in my youth, given me confidence, and recently eased a difficult time. And now here I was, watching my son discover the healing qualities of a horse. The intensity of the emotion caught me by surprise. I fumbled for the camera on my cell phone, hoping to capture the feeling, but I was too spent, my eyes too glossy and worn to deal with it. I sighed. The sun was setting on a Sunday evening. We would have to get going soon.

Circular healing. Walking with my son, Rafi was feeling better. My son was grinning, stepping out confidently to guide the huge animal like he had done it all his life. In the cool breeze of a California sunset, this was a bit too much of a happy ending for a weary mom. I was pretty sure God didn’t mind me missing a hymn or two that morning. Besides, that night, I think we discovered a few new ones.

1 comment:

wickedwitch said...

Nothing can heal the soul as well as tending and loving animals. Horses, cats, dogs; it doesn't matter. I'm glad that one of your sons has discovered what we already know. Animals are magic and caring for them brings us a spiritual closeness to them and the universe.