Ann was about to say something. About how none of what Dee said had anything to do with the crazy bitch who just peeled out of the driveway when the distinct banging of a horse cast in a stall rang out of the barn.
“Oh shit, it’s probably Metta. C’mon!” said Dee and Ann chased her into the barn, grabbing a long cotton lead rope along the way.
They arrived in the barn to see the stall door rocking and the cries of a panicked horse.
“She’s up against the door, we’ll have to climb in over the wall. Easy as you can, she’s pretty skitzo.” said Dee.
Ann was already scaling the wall from the tack room over into Metta’s stall, the long rope across her shoulders. Dee was taking the horse out of the stall on the other side so that she could crawl over the other wall. By the time Dee and Ann were both in the stall with the downed and stuck horse, the mare was gasping for breath and desperately trying to right herself. Usually, horse becomes stuck from laying down in a stall and then rolling over against a wall. From there, if they are too close to the wall or fence, they can’t get their legs underneath themselves to get upright again and they panic. Any prey animal has a fundamental fear of being down on the ground in an enclosed space and can’t get up. A horse down long enough can colic from the panic or from the position or injure themselves scrambling against the door. Righting a frenzied animal weighing 1100 thrashing pounds wedged against a solid wall is tricky and dangerous business.
Ann knelt behind the animal’s head and tried her best to soothe the mare. Her sides heaved and her eyes rolled. When she lifted her head Ann saw that she had already thrashed hard enough so that her eye closest to the ground was swollen almost shut. “Easy girl. Easy.” Dee stroked her head while creating a loop in the rope. Ann stroked the mare’s flanks and gently eased her hand towards the tail. She took a good hold of the tail and pulled a strong steady tug while looking at Dee and the mare.
“If we pull her around by the tail, we might make it worse, we’re going to have to get her by the legs and flip her over.”
“Okay baby, we’re here to help.” Dee ran her hands over the mare’s shoulder and started to push the loop of the rope towards the hooves of her bent and scarred front legs. Once she got the loop around both front ankles, she ran the rest of the rope over to Dee to fish around the hind legs. From there, the plan was to steady her head and to pull the rope ends and flip the mare back over to her other side where she would be able to stand up on her own. Expertly, Dee fashioned a large loop and steadied herself across the mare’s flanks and made a gentle toss towards the mare’s hind legs. In the meantime, Ann held enough tension not to lose the loop on the front legs, but she also gently covered the mare’s eyes so that she wouldn’t kick out at the rope. Once both ends of the horse were looped, the women played out the rope so that both would have an even amount of slack with which to pull the mare over. Ann placed her foot gently but firmly on the mare’s neck, just below the ears so that the motion would not twist her neck, but rather flip her completely over.
Dee said “On three. One. Two. THREE”
Both women heaved on the rope, watching each other so as to apply even pressure.
Upon feeling the rope tighten around her legs, memories of running and tumbling with a sharp nylon rope wrapped around her legs flooded Metta’s brain and she fought with every reserve in her body. The violence of her fight pulled Dee off her feet and onto Metta’s flanks. When Dee let go of the rope, Ann’s pulling momentum released and she flew backwards into the wall with a loud BANG. The mare, on hearing the bang behind her head and feeling the force of Dee’s body thrown upon her exposed flanks screamed and kicked so hard that the stall door hinges gave way and shot into the barn center aisle. Flailing madly, the wall no longer there, the mare scrambled to her feet while Dee fell headfirst under the horse’s hooves. Ann watched in horror as she saw Dee stomped on by the frenzied animal. She stepped forward toward Metta and the scared animal bolted out the hole that used to be the stall door.
Dee took a few moments to move. Ann stood frozen listening for Dee to breathe. Finally, Dee looked up from her supine position on the stall floor, found Ann’s eyes and said “Is the mare okay?”
“Fuck if I know, how are you?” Ann knelt by her friend.
Dee pushed herself up slowly and settled onto the stall floor cross-legged and bent over coughing and spitting. It took a moment for Ann to realize she was crying.
“How am I supposed to keep doing this? What if you weren’t here? How was I supposed to do this myself? What if you would have gotten hurt? Who was going to tell Mr. Hollywood that his secret weapon, Ms. Ann Garrison was going to be laid up? Jeezus, what if it would have been Mary and Colette helping me?”
“I can’t answer any of that, I’m going to go get that horse. Where do you want me to put her?” asked Ann.
“In the arena I guess – and put Joey in there with her, she doesn’t do well alone. He’s the one I tied up in front of the barn. Give me a minute, I’ll get up, I’m fine.” Dee was still sniffling and wiping the grime from the stall off her face and chest.
“You take your time, I think I can handle this.”
Metta was standing in front of the barn, nuzzling Joey nervously. She shied when she saw Ann. Ann stopped and went back in the tack room for a carrot. Approaching the mare again, she held out the carrot while the mare eyed her suspiciously. Joey, who was tied, nickered for the treat and pawed the ground greedily. The mare took a deep breath, sighed heavily, lowered her head and allowed Ann to approach. Ann fed Metta most of the carrot, breaking the very end off for Joey. While the mare munched, Ann slipped a halter on her and started to look her over. The scars on her legs had begun bleeding from the cotton rope, but not badly. Her eye was swollen, but there were no obvious wounds. The mare was stiff from the encounter, but otherwise okay. She led both the horses together to the arena and they followed meekly. She turned them both loose in the arena and started to fill a tub with water for them. She smiled to watch both horses drop and roll in the course sand of the arena. They both grunted with pleasure as they scratched their backs in the sand. Dee limped over with the dogs in tow.
“Well?” asked Ann.
“My knee is pretty sore. I’m going to go inside and ice it. Then I’ll figure out what to do about that stall door.”
“Want help?” asked Ann.
“I think I’ll be okay. But if you don’t mind getting some stalls mucked?” asked Dee.
It’s a gallop girl’s oldest game – never admit when you are hurt. Not to anyone least of all yourself. From the first time your uncle or the neighbor or your brother put you on a horse and you fell off, at your first first sign of weakness, one injury and your parents or your boss or your trainer might decide for you that you aren’t going to ride anymore. It’s part of a gallop girl’s make up, it’s in the dirt under her fingernails and the arthritis in her neck, the set of her jaw. Buck up, dust yourself off and never let them see you weaken. It is an unspoken code of horsewomen.
Ann let Dee limp to the house without watching. She listened as Dee pulled herself up the three steps to the porch with difficulty. She know that Dee knew where the ice and the aspirin were and that she would need some time to assess her injuries. Ann found the pitchfork and the wheelbarrow and began to muck the stalls in the barn.
Three hours later, the stalls were clean and Ann had re-hung the stall door. The job was less than contractor grade work, but the door would hold. She put Joey and Metta back in their stalls, gave Metta some anti-inflammatory medicine mixed in some grain and was headed for the house only to see Mary riding into the barn on her bike. It was barely past lunch time. She parked the bike on the barn wall and strode purposefully toward Ann.
“Aren’t you supposed to be at school?” Ann asked irritated that now she had kids to supervise on top of everything else.
“I had some library time.” Mary was even more serious than her usual self. She threw her backpack on a tack trunk and clawed around inside. Drawing out a library book, Mary held it out at Ann like a weapon.
“I get it now.”
“Get what?” Ann knew that she is was in no mood to play word games with a dramatic ‘tween. She was about to turn away when she noticed the title of the book.
“Timshel Farm. I get why she named it Timshel Farm.”
Ann tried not to roll her eyes. “Sweets” she exhaled “What is an 8th grade teacher doing letting you read East of Eden?”
“Are you kidding? There’s noting in this book that you don’t see a while lot worse when it comes to sex and stuff on any cable channel any time of day.”
“It’s not about that little one. It’s just that there is no way that someone your age can understand what that book is about.”
Mary nodded and Ann thought she’d set the record straight when Mary wouldn’t meet her gaze. Mary took a giant breath and exploded in a surprising show of temper. “Oh I see – so because I’m young I don’t know what it’s like to know someone who I think is all good and someone else that I think is all bad and get proven wrong about both? Or maybe I’m too young to worry that a parent, for no reason you can see loves one kid and not the other? Or that a parent can keep secrets from a kid that cause more trouble than the truth ever would?” Tears were brimming in Mary’s eyes and her fists were clenched.
Ann’s mind flashed on the ugly scene with Mary’s mom and realized that there was every hint that Mary’s life at home was no picnic. She felt foolish and stupid and her appreciation of the young lady in front of her bloomed. She took the book from Mary’s hand. “Well, let’s go sit in the sunshine and discuss great Western American literature.”
They sat at the tattered picnic table, the one she and an old boyfriend stole from a State Park so may years ago. They had found it on a drunken camping trip. Dee had loved reading all the engraved notes on it’s top and benches. Ann had talked the boyfriend into helping her steal it from the park one night. They surprised Dee with it the following morning, the day of Dee’s 29th birthday. Ann’s finger traced the badly engraved “We were hear.”
“Timshel. Timshel Farms. Thou Mayest. Cain and Ahab. Good and Evil. I get it. That’s why she named the farm – after the book. I totally get it.”
“Cain and Abel Mary, not Ahab. And no, you don’t. Not really anyway. Timshel was a horse. Meanest SOB you ever met. We tried everything and he would bite and strike and he meant to hurt you as much as he could. He loved to pin grooms in the corner of his stall and he hospitalized a shoer.”
“Why didn’t you just geld him?” Mary was horseman enough to know that this type of behavior is somewhat typical of stallions.
“Honey, this was AFTER we had him castrated. He got worse as a gelding. He went after other horses and even killed a stupid border collie that walked by his stall. Just picked the poor dog up with his teeth and shook it to death.”
“What happened?” Mary was aghast.
“Dee ended up putting him down. The vet was curious and so he cut him open after he put him down. Said his belly was so full of ulcers it was amazing the poor animal could eat at all. No reason that horse continued to eat and survive – he was in terrible pain all the time.”
“But Dee doesn’t have any photos of him and she’s never talked about him. Why would she name the ranch after some horse she obviously wants to forget?
“Correct, now go back to your story. What does Timshel translate to?”
“Well, it means ‘thou mayest.’ Meaning that God gave Cain the choice to choose to be good or evil. I still don’t get it.”
“Did Timshel the horse have that choice?”
“To be mean or to be kind.”
“Well, it sounds like he hurt all the time, he was just acting out of pain.”
“You’re right. He was hurt and he was trying to tell us in any way he could and we forgot to listen. Timshel’s legacy is to remind us to listen. If a person, or a horse or a dog is acting badly we can almost know that it’s out of some kind of pain and we need to learn and re-learn to listen. All horse people know we have the choice to be good stewards of the horses or bad ones. They don’t have a choice who ends up with them, what they eat, where they stay. Which ones get good care and which ones die. We can try to figure out what they need, but in the end we have a lot more choices than they do, and we need to live with that all the time.”
“Wow, that’s a lot to think about.” Mary’s mind was spinning.
“Yup, it sure is and if there’s one thing old Dee is good for, it’s thinking about stuff.” Ann looked into the barn satisfied to see Metta chomping hay peacefully.
“Hey, where is Dee anyway?” Asked Mary.
“Well, that’s another story. C’mon let’s go check on her.”
They found Dee inside washing up the breakfast dishes. All three dogs were licking pans on the floor.
“Gross” said Ann “Do you have to let them lick the plates?”
“Unless you want to take over the washing, I’ll do it my way, thanks” said Dee without turning around. Ann noticed that Dee was bearing almost equal weight on both legs and let out a silent sigh of relief. She was ornery as ever and probably okay.
“The skinny mare is back in the barn. I fixed the door and gave her some bute. She’s going to be okay I guess. Here, let me do those dishes and you go take a load off for the afternoon.”
“No dice, I have a lesson to teach.” Dee continued to scrub dishes.
“But the kids are in school. Well, they’re supposed to be in school.” She shot Mary a look but Mary was busy clearing the table.
“Teaching adults pays the bills, but it sometimes sucks the life out of you. But this lady is pretty cool. I like teaching her.”
“If you tell me which horse to use, I can teach the lesson for you.”
“No you can’t.”
“What do you mean?” Ann was offended. “How hard can it be?”