Copyright© 2021 by Mark Elias
As Dad and I were heading out the door, Mom handed me a breakfast wrap and a sports bottle of water. Not exactly the type of breakfast that I was hoping to have, but the fact that I was showered and out the door in less than 15 minutes was a miracle.
“Do we know if any of the horses are hurt or where they’ve gone?” I asked trying to get a handle on the situation before we got there. It was just a few minutes’ drive from one end of the ranch, where we lived, to the other end of the ranch where the majority of the stables were.
“I don’t know too much. Peter couldn’t talk long. A few of the horses, mostly ones who were used to being in stalls most of the time, tended to stay around the barn itself. They were easy to catch. The ones that were mostly pastured all ran.”
“What about Applejack?” That horse had already been through one trauma. He didn’t need another one.
“Peter didn’t mention him, but I didn’t ask about him, specifically. I’m sorry, Son.”
My dad was still rolling to a stop when I flung the door open and headed straight for Lou who was finishing up getting a horse ready.
“Lou! What’s going on?”
“Alex!” There was some relief in his voice that someone was here to help. “Peter said you were on your way. Peter and Allison are getting a couple more horses saddled up inside the barn. Go see if you can help. Everyone needs to grab a few lead ropes just in case.”
“What about Applejack?”
“He’s fine. He’s back in his stall already. Didn’t look like he got spooked. Hurry, Mijo!”
Inside Allison was just finishing up putting the saddle on Gypsy Rose. “Alex! Dad’s got Whiskey saddled up for you. You, me and Lou are gonna ride out to the far field and work our way back towards the barn collecting as many as we can. Dad’s going to stay close to the barn. He and Martin can shore up a temporary fence for now. Any loose stragglers that come back to the barn, Dad can wrangle up himself. Mom or Martin can help if necessary. Your dad will be here to help make sure they are all okay.”
“Sam or Hector going to be here?”
“Sam ain’t cleared to do anything yet. She goes tomorrow to get cleared. We haven’t seen or heard from Hector since yesterday.”
“Shit. Great time to disappear.”
I turned to go get the last few things I thought we’d need. “Lou said to grab a few lead ropes just in case.”
I grabbed four lead ropes and secured them to the saddle. I also grabbed a long machete and an extra rope that I had seen Lou use as a lasso. I had no idea how to rope, but I knew Lou did. I also had no idea where these horses would be or what they would have gotten into I needed to be prepared for anything
Ten minutes after my dad and I got to the barn Lou, Allison and myself were heading towards the far end of the pasturage. The plan was to run along the northern side of the property and circle around that way. The northern edge of the property is the one that runs along one the major highways. We had fencing up along most of it, but it wasn’t the sturdy wooden fencing. It was just barbed wire fencing and there were more than a few areas that were in disrepair. Until the last week or so we had never made it a priority to get those areas fixed. Our horses hardly ever made their way up there much less to the road. This made twice in a matter of a week that we were running into the danger of horses making their way to the highway. Our worst fear was that a horse would suddenly jump out into the road and get hit by a car.
By starting up towards the woods we could eliminate the trouble spots first. The three of us spread out, much like Lou and I had done when looking for Applejack. We were riding at a good pace, but not pushing our horses as hard as they could go. We wouldn’t know until much later in the afternoon if we managed to round up all the horses.
Shortly after we took off to begin our ride along the woods Lou’s phone rang. Peter was calling to say that the four mares we had who had just recently given birth all came back on their own, each of them with their foals. That was one less thing we had to worry about. The sun wasn’t fully in the morning sky before we ran into our first issue. We had four mustangs that Peter had rescued several months back. They had never been saddled, since from all that we knew of them they were less than two years old when he got them. We had planned to try and break them soon. The four mustangs, who we called Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan after the Three Musketeers, were not being broken yet. They were used to running free in the wild and were running and playing like little kids on a playground, though it seemed they had stopped to graze a bit.
“Alex, you go around and cut them off. Turn them back towards the barn. Allison you go the opposite way and keep them from circling back into the woods. I’ll get them moving.”
This was Lou’s show so we just nodded and with a gentle nudge the barrel chested roan gelding beneath me was running full speed. The mustangs were quick, and didn’t have the added weight of a rider, so I was going to have to be fast to get around them to head them off. Lou held off just a few moments so that I could get into position before he nudged his horse into a run. The mustangs had been paying us attention, but now that Lou was running at them, they took off. Their first instinct was to run towards me, but Whiskey was quick enough to head them off. Allison had closed up a bit closer to them while they were distracted which left them only one place they could run, and thankfully that was the exact direction we needed them to go.
It wouldn’t take us long to drive the four of them back to the barn. Hopefully Martin would have some sort of temporary stall set up. If nothing else we could put them in the round pen that we used for training since it was made of wood. Along the way we spotted three more horses that had stopped to graze. Chances are they would have wandered back to the barn on their own at some point since that was the place they knew to go for food, but that was a chance we couldn’t take. At some point we were able to slow them down so that they weren’t running full speed, which also gave our horses a bit of a rest. When Peter saw us coming up, he was already on his horse and coming towards us.
“Let’s put the mustangs in the round pen for now. I don’t want to take the chance of them breaking through the temporary fence. The others should be fine until we can get one of the paddocks fixed. Allie, you take those three to the pen. Martin will help you get them in. I’ll help Lou and Alex move the mustangs.”
We all nodded and split off where we needed to go. Thankfully at this point we were running into areas that the horses were familiar with, and areas we had permanent wooden fencing up. We closed in on the mustangs until they were in a long narrow pathway we called “The Chute”. That would lead them directly into the round pen where Debbie Moon was waiting to close the fence behind them.
“How many are we still missing?”
Peter looked around. “If my count is right there should be eight more somewhere.”
Allison rode over and her mom gave us all three a bottle of Gatorade. “Mr. Jackson is looking over the ones in the holding area right now. So far nothing seems to be wrong.”
“He checked the foals already,” Peter sighed, and I could swear I saw him age about ten years right before my eyes. “They were all okay. I don’t think they went very far so it was more like an adventure for them than any sort of traumatic event. Truth is, I’m probably more worried about these horses than they are about themselves.”
“Don’t worry, Dad. We’ll head back out in a minute and get the rest,” Allison said.
We let the horses rest for another ten minutes before we were back in the saddle heading back out. It was just before lunch at this point and we would need to ride out to the far pasture. The whole process took us another 3 hours, but eventually we were heading back with seven of the remaining eight horses. Lou and Allison each had a couple tied to their saddle, mostly younger horses who hadn’t quite got the hang of following along to a lead horse. They were the ones who tended to stray to the side. The last remaining horse was worrying us a bit. At this point we had searched just about the entire property almost. There were very few places he could have been.
We were leading the horses back to the barn, passing close by the pond when I heard the sound of another horse. It was off in the distance a little bit, but the unmistakable sound of a whinny.
“Lou, did you hear that?”
“Aye, Mijo. Sounds like it’s coming from the pond.”
“I’ll head down and get him and meet you guys back at the pen.”
Most of the problem horses had been found so I wasn’t too worried about being able to catch him and lead him back. When I reached the pond I saw the horse and heard him crying again. I jumped down from Whiskey and grabbed one of the remaining lead ropes I had tied to his saddle. I wasn’t concerned too much until I noticed the horse was limping and his mannerisms were telling me he was scared.
“Hey there, buddy. You need some help?” I was trying to remember what Lou had coached me on with Applejack. I was watching the horse for signs of being frightened or ready to run. I could tell the horse was scared but he was favoring his right front leg so I doubted he wanted to bolt. The horse saw me, and his ears turned to listen to me. Remain calm but try to be in command. Those words reminded me of my father so I did my best to talk to the horse like my dad would to me.
“It’s all right, boy.” My steps were slow, though not as slow as the day I was helping Applejack. With the horse limping I felt a bit more urgency, and the body language of the horse gave me more of a sign that he was asking for help rather than trying to get away. When I reached the horse and ran a hand along his muzzle and forehead, showing him the lead rope I had in my hand. I even ran the rope down his neck. This was important so that the horse wouldn’t get scared of the rope suddenly being there. Horses were typically fight or flight creatures and this one was already spooked. I didn’t need him to run.
Once the lead rope was clipped in place I gently tugged on the rope to pull the horse’s head down. This was something I learned on some YouTube videos. I didn’t think I was an expert but I needed the horse to yield to me. A panicked horse can injury himself or the rider, or in my case, the person trying to help him. I ran my hands down his legs, not really sure what I was feeling for. The only thing I could really do was compare his left and right leg and see if I felt a difference. There didn’t seem to be anything with the legs or muscles that I could tell. I looped the lead rope around his neck to give myself a bit more control over him and then reached for his foot. Immediately he tried to lift his head, but thankfully I held onto the rope and he didn’t move.
“Easy, boy.” I tried to keep my voice calm as I reached once for his hoof, this time being a bit more careful as I lifted it up. Right away I could see what the issue was. There was a big shard of glass that had punctured the sole of his foot. I trapped the hoof between my knees and reached around for my phone, immediately calling my dad.
“Hey, Alex,” He picked up on the first ring. “Are you on your way back?”
“Not yet. I found the last horse, but he’s hurt, and I’m not sure what to do.”
“Okay. I’ve got you on speaker-phone. Lou is getting the Polaris and we are coming to you. Where are you?”
“I’m by the pond. You won’t be able to miss me.”
“Alright. Now tell me what’s wrong with him.”
“Somehow a piece of glass went up into the sole of his hoof. I’ve got his hoof between my knees, but I’m not sure if I should take out the glass or what.”
“Listen to me carefully, but don’t do anything until you hang up, okay? Do you have the horse secured?”
“Yeah. I’ve got the lead rope on him and it’s looped around his neck.”
“Good. Keep a firm hold on that rope. Does it look like you can pull out the glass?”
“I think so. I think I can get a good grip on it.”
“Make sure you’ve got good control of him and then pull it out. As soon as you do, let the hoof go and let him put his foot down. Then just stay there and I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
I hung up and placed the phone back in my pocket. Making sure that I had a firm hold on the rope, and that I was trying to keep the horse’s head turned towards me, I pulled the piece of glass. It came free relatively easily, and like my dad suggested I gave him back his foot right away but kept a hold on the rope. Thankfully, my hold on the rope kept the horse from getting away. I kept a tight hold on the rope though the strength of the horse did pull me a bit.
“Whoa, boy. Take it easy, buddy. You’re gonna be alright, now. We just had to get that glass out of the way.” I kept running my hands down his neck and his muzzle, all the while talking in a soft voice to reassure him.
I’ve never had a piece of glass stuck in my foot, but I could imagine it would hurt like hell. So it was no wonder that once the glass was removed the horse calmed down considerably. By the time I heard Lou coming up on the Polaris with my dad the horse had relaxed enough that, had he not had a hurt foot, I could have walked him back to the barn.
“He’ll be okay,” My dad said as he finished wrapping the hoof in some protective bandages. “I put a poultice on it to draw out any sort of infection that may have tried to get in. I’ll look at him in a day or two, but I don’t think it’ll be anything to worry about.”
Lou volunteered to walk the horse back while my dad drove the Polaris and I rode Whiskey. By dinner time no one had the energy to do anything much less make a meal. We barely had the energy walk back to the Moon’s house where my mom had come through like a champ. While we were collecting horses, fixing fences, and making sure everything was okay, my mom had gone into Hahira to The Slice Pizza, and ordered five different pizzas. At some point during the meal Richard Smith had shown up to talk to us about what had happened.
“What I’m not sure about is how they got onto the barn property. The driveway splits into two different directions. One going to the main house and the other to the barn. I made SURE that I locked the gate at the end of the driveway, especially after Mack called me yesterday and told me about the ‘warning’ that Marcy had received. I didn’t think about this at first because I was more concerned with the horses, but that gate was unlocked when I got up this morning. And the lock wasn’t cut. The same goes for the barn. There is a padlock on it. The lock wasn’t cut. It was just open.”
Peter was talking to Richard who was steadily writing things down. I was sitting on the couch with Allison laying with her head in my lap. I was trying my best to keep my eyes opened, but it had been a long day. This was the drawback of an actual adrenaline high. The let down that came after it was all over. I was listening to the conversation for a little while. The next thing I knew I was asleep. An hour later my mom shook me awake and smiled down to Allison as she too startled awake.
“Come on, Alex. It’s time to get going.”
Peter met us at the door, “Great job again today, Alex. You’re really great with the horses.”
“Thank you. Just glad we got them all.”
“I wish I could give you the day off again tomorrow, but I’m really going to need ‘all hands on deck.’ We are all going to have to work a long day tomorrow to get the fences put back up.”
I nodded, “I’ll be here at my usual time.”
“No need getting here that early. Martin is going to have to go into town to get the wire we will need. Sleep in a little bit at least. We won’t need you until about 9:00.”
“I’ll be here.”
It took us the next two days to get the majority of the fences repaired. There were still a few places that we would need to put back up, but we had enough fences that the horses could return to normal. I helped as much as I could on Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday I wasn’t able to help. Wednesday I had a date with destiny. Years of confrontations had led up to this one moment. Wednesday morning, starting at 9:30AM I would finally sit face to face with Mark Green and watch him face the justice he had coming.
Wednesday morning I was up long before my family was. I was nervous and it showed. Before we left for the courthouse my mom handed me a small glass bottle.
“I called Dr. Markov the other day, after we told you about the trial this week. I explained to her that I was worried you’d start getting anxious. She said that if it got too bad you could take some chamomile extract. That’s what that is. They are all natural. You’ll put a few drops into half a glass of water and drink it. You can do it up to three times a day. It should help you get through the trial.”