This week has been difficult on so many levels. I asked my daughter Butterfly to type her 'lessons learned' from her accident prone horse, and this is what she came up with. I think you will enjoy the read even if horses aren't your thing:
Dedicated to my Opa, because Popaway is his as much as she is mine. Love you, Opa! I also love Popaway. I just don't love her clumsiness.
Popaway was aptly named. One thousand pounds of muscle, a slick chestnut mare, she won three of her races before retiring to play polo.
I fell in love at first sight. Who wouldn't? When I met her she had just come from a ride, and she was sweating, breathing hard. She let me stroke her face. I thought to myself- she's the one. I might have been a little quick to the decision, and remembering past mistakes, I cautioned myself. Don't jump in before you spend more time with her! I thought to myself.
Emma rode her first, just down a dusty road and back. Then Popaway was brought to a large round pen for Mom and I to give her a go.
Dad, after hearing the price, said to Mom, "Do you really want to pay that much for a horse? What if she breaks a leg? Then all that money goes down the drain."
We bought Popaway.
Allow me to introduce our friend Mrs. Mungatana, a neighbor of ours. Just before we bought the Shire, then known as 'The Land,' Mrs. Mungatana purchased a plot of her own just down the road. She had built a few greenhouses and was beginning to produce her own vegetables. She even had a pony of her own, and I had worked for her in the past, teaching her daughters how to ride and her employees how to handle horses.
On occasion, when the notion struck her busy mind, Mrs. Mungatana would pass by our farm with a great big sack of vegetables from her greenhouses. Over time, we had become quite familiar with each other. It was to the point that she would just open our gate, let herself in, and drop off her vegetables as a gift.
We had lodged Popaway for a week now. She behaved differently on our farm than she had at her previous home, more eccentric, alien to our inexperienced hands. She needed more than we knew how to give.
The move from one home to another is always difficult on horses, and Popaway took it especially hard. She wanted her old friends back. We only housed one other horse at the time, an old thoroughbred by the name of Roheryn, and although Popaway bonded to him with ease, she still wanted to return to her home.
Here's a fun fact about Kenyan culture- usually, you don't call ahead to let people know you're dropping in, especially if you don't plan to stay long. When Mrs. Mungatana decided it was about time to come along and deliver the most recent batch of tomatoes, she just drove up and opened the gate to let herself in.
The open gate was the opportunity of a lifetime to Popaway's homesick eyes. She bolted out onto the dirt road and paused for a fleeting moment, waiting for Roheryn to catch up and realize that they were making an escape, and then took off.
The next few hours were spent in a manic attempt to catch her and bring her back to the Shire. If not for Roheryn's old age and subsequent arthritis, I doubt Popaway would have ever stopped. She might have run twice around the world before she decided to take a breather.
Mrs. Mungatana was all apologies, and Mom wasn't too upset. Popaway was back on the Shire. She seemed fine, and so all was forgiven. We graciously accepted the tomatoes.
The next day, Popaway was limping, and there was swelling in her back leg, presumably from knocking it on something during her wild dash for freedom. Mom was seeing red. She called Mrs. Mungatana and spent a good thirty minutes 'explaining' to her that opening gates and leaving them open where livestock abide is not a good idea.
Needless to say, while we remain friends and neighbors, Mrs. Mungatana doesn't come over anymore.
I wasn't too upset about it at the time. It was just a small knock; it would heal, and I would have my time in the saddle again.
It did heal. It healed over a period of six months, slowly, frustratingly, every day spent trying to figure out how to handle an idle, injured, hot horse. We learned a lot about Popaway in those six months. When we first bought her, the words 'racehorse' and 'polo pony' didn't mean much to us. We had seen racehorses and polo ponies, and Popaway's gentle eyes and pleasant disposition set her aside from the wild, frantic horses that we knew. We thought we understood her.
Popaway showed a different side when she was kept to a stall and round pen. She raged that we dare keep her confined! She was fresh off the polo field, fit, hot, ready for action! In her previous home she worked intensely two hours a day with ease. Now, due to the first injury she'd experienced in her life, she couldn't do a thing.
When kept in a stall, she kicked. When we put her out in the round pen, she raised her voice to let us know how displeased she was. I learned to dodge her teeth when I brushed her. If you walked too close by her stall, she would bite at your shoulder to let you know just how annoyed she felt.
I didn't love her any less for these things. They seemed but small faults to me, hidden within her dazzling beauty. When she started to heal, both Mom and I worked cautiously to build up her strength. We rode her for short periods of time at first, until she was back to the old routine.
We were glad to be back at it. We even got two new ponies, Abby and Jazzy, and hired a stable hand to help with the extra workload. His name was Solomon.
Solomon accepted the responsibilities that Mom and I found the most tedious. Since the grass in the paddocks had been worn down by the sun and the constant trampling of horses, we had to hand graze the horses in the garden, where the grass grew tall and lush. This job was despised by all who did it. It was hot and boring. It was also mostly what we had hired Solomon to do.
Unfortunately, it seemed that even though it was his only job, Solomon would somehow manage to mess it up. He tied Popaway's lead rope to a tree, with most of it lying slack on the ground, and left to go get some water and food, even though Mom had explicitly told him not to do exactly that. She said, "put the horse in before you go get lunch. Huwezi kumfunga farasi kama ng'ombe!" You can't tie a horse up like a cow. (In case you didn't know, cows are typically tied by the leg to a tree during grazing in Kenya.)
Popaway managed to entangle herself in the rope, and began to panic when it constricted her movements. With no one around, it was a while before the situation was noticed, and she was freed. The rope had cut into her back leg from her struggles, a deep gash just above her hoof.
Mom was beyond angry with Solomon. She spent a good thirty minutes yelling at him. And then, she fired him. To this day, simply mentioning the man's name will inspire a rant.
Alas, our spirits were crushed. This wound was different from the last. We didn't know what to do, so Mom called a few of her friends and asked for advice. We learned how to clean and bandage wounds, and Popaway seen as 'mine' after the last incident, those responsibilities were passed on to me.
Once again, Popaway's movement was limited. Once again, she hated me for it.
This time, I hated her back. I silently fumed, a fire I didn't know I could have was lit in my gut, an anger that rested constantly on my chest. I don't get angry like my mother get's angry. I don't explode, or yell, or cry. I don't know what to do when I'm angry, so I let it sit in my heart and eat away at my insides. I didn't even know who I was angry at, or why I was, just that the anger was there and bubbling.
The love I felt for Popaway in the earlier days was not gone, just changed, twisted into something that I didn't (don't) understand. That change brought me closer to Popaway in a way that I might never have gotten if she hadn't been injured. We both held each other in contempt- and with that understanding came something like respect.
I stopped letting Popaway push me around. When she bit as I passed her stall, I would grab her by the face and push her back, away from the door. The method might have been unconventional, but she came to stop biting people, even though that wasn't my original intention when I started the habit of backing her up. Eventually, I could hold her head in my hands without fear.
Popaway stopped trying to push my limits, and I started to spend more time providing her comfort. I hand-grazed her (and never left her alone, not even for a moment) because she wasn't allowed to roam the paddocks free. I went out by her stall and read books aloud, feeling guilty that she was standing bored and alone in a box.
Eventually, Popaway healed. She is calmer, the long period of inactivity teaching her something almost like patience. I started to ride her again.
Riding took a different kind of understanding from the one we had developed. But we were working on it. We were growing and learning- together!
Then... somehow, unfathomably, Popaway injured herself again.
It took a long time for my spirit to recover from those blows. I learned how to keep Popaway from hurting herself through trial and error. We didn't let her out in the rain or mud, and when we let her out, we put brush boots on her front legs to keep her from knocking them. I found the hidden nooks of her personality (don't give her carrots- she'll bite your fingers off for more). I rode her off and on, depending on her soundness.
It wasn't until a few months ago that Popaway became sound, and stayed sound. I started to rebuild the old love I had for her, the love that was dazzled by her beauty. We even went to our first event together! We attended a riding clinic, and just after, a part of a show known as le trec, which consisted of a trail ride and a display of obedience. We won a third place ribbon! I couldn't have been happier.
Popaway and I could go anywhere, do anything.
More recently I was sitting in the lounge, reading a book and enjoying life. The lounge has the only glass windows in our house, which look out at the stables and the garden, and I often use the lounge to relax after a long day.
And boy, it had been a long day! Mom, Dad and I had gone into town to pick Edith up from school. She was sick and had to stay at home for a few days to recover. On the way home, just before our gate, a tire went flat. Dad and I worked to change it and make it home before it was time to feed the horses their five o'clock meal.
Looking back, I should have expected it. The day had been full of misfortune. Still, sitting in the lounge, reading my book, I thought the day was over.
A small commotion outside drew my attention. It was the usual sounds of the horses messing around, but I had become paranoid after the many injuries, so I looked out the windows, prepared to settle back down again without incident.
As I watched, the front of Moonshadow's stall seemed to just collapse with a great crash. A flash of coppery chestnut in the destruction had me on my feet before I could even think, my mind flashing with alarm bells. Popaway!
I didn't even realize I'd said her name out loud. I just darted outside, fear and adrenaline welling in my throat. Colic was my first thought. Popaway was lying in the midst of the rubble, struggling to get to her feet, and for a brief moment I thought she wouldn't be able to.
Abby leapt out of the stall, eyes wide in surprise, nostrils flaring, and Popaway finally surged upright. I was still only half-way there. My relief at her ability to walk away was immense. She darted into her stall, her safe place, and stayed there, breathing hard as she waited for me to approach.
Mom was coming out of the house asking what happened. I'm not sure if I answered her. My heart was pounding, my hands shaking, my feet planted squarely on the ground.
I was livid.
I shut Popaway's stall and went to get my boots. I needed to check her for injury. There was no doubt in my mind that she had hurt herself.
I knew then what had happened, the pieces falling together in my mind like a puzzle. Abby and Popaway had both been in the stall, and, as horses are liable to do, they squabbled. Popaway tripped and fell against the wall, huge and clumsy as she is.
When I went back outside the rest of my family was clustered about, staring at the destruction. I looked at the post that had snapped before moving on to Popaway's stall. Termites had hollowed out the wood.
I was right- Popaway had a number of puncture wounds from the nails that had been holding the wall together. I breathed carefully to contain my sudden wash of emotions and got her halter, ready to take her out and get to work cleaning her wounds.
The fright of the situation and the sudden pain had made Popaway more mellow than usual. She put her head in my arms and snorted quietly. "Moron," I told her, because there was no one else to be angry with. "Moron, moron, moron."
Mom spoke to me about what I was to do. I already knew the drill. I went to get the antiseptic and cotton swabs and antibacterial cream.
I've never been one to cry, so I didn't.
~Written by Butterfly Brooks