The minutes of waiting were agonizing. All thoughts of calming the pale horse were gone. Bonnie could see every second that went by drove fresh fear into Hogan.
‘Okay, bring him in this stall,’ called the farrier.
Hogan went surprisingly easily into the barn stall, and quickly he was cross-tied. The new white rings around his irises gleamed in the gloomy depths of the barn, but he stood. Part of him, it seemed, remembered this routine. Maybe he would be all right.
‘Please, please,’ Bonnie breathed. The farrier had ropes going to the walls of the stall on either side of Hogan’s pale head. Now he made a noose on the ground, and Bonnie gasped.
‘This is just so he can’t swing up the leg I’m not working on and kick me,’ the man said.
‘Twitch,’ he said then.
Hogan was now tethered two ways – his head was held, and one leg was raised. Now the leather thong, a loop at the end of a stick, was slipped over the horse’s upper lip. Deftly, the farrier twisted the loop until Hogan’s lip was grotesquely stretched. Could it be that Bonnie was asked to hold that wretched stick?
The horse stood, shaking all over, and Bonnie watched in horror as her horse’s sensitive lip – the same lip that gently lifted crackers from her own mouth, the lip that delicately whisked away the chaff and nudged the best bits of his favourite mash – was twisted until she wondered if it would be torn.
She knew it was intended to pain a horse into focusing only on his sensitive nose, to root the horse to the spot in fear of more torment. The farrier managed to trim the first front hoof, but as he finished, the horse lunged forward. The farrier grunted, then with the toe of his boot nudged the noose lying on the floor toward Hogan’s back hoof. He reached to pull the rope tight around Hogan’s leg.
Suddenly, there was an explosion of power and fury. The pale horse rose on his hind legs, tearing away from the twitch and ropes and beating his front hooves against the side of the stall. As the humans leaped back, Hogan stood, pivoted, and spun out of the barn, his long mane, rope and leather lines flying from his neck.
Bonnie’s head fogged. The world plunged into slow motion. Somewhere, a man roared in outrage.
The sight of Hogan rearing up in the stall, his head and white-ringed eyes so white against the dark interior, then spinning out of the barn like a tornado, remains burned in Bonnie’s mind to this day. The terror, ignored. Brutality against an animal in fear of his life. Her own doubt and fear, her complicit submission in the face of cruelty. And the man’s voice, screaming.
Bonnie ran quickly to her horse, who had bolted directly into the middle of the paddock, and strangely, remained there. His chest heaved. The yelling went on and on, and after she got a secure grip on the bridle of her horse, Bonnie began to pick out some of the words.
‘A LOCO horse!’ the man screamed. ‘ANOTHER loco horse!’
Bonnie looked at him through a haze of horror, comprehension and profound regret, shattered as she listened to his next words.
‘He needs to be SHOT!’ the man roared. ‘Stupid girl!’ Was he crying?
‘This is the same kind of horse as the one who almost KILLED one of our favourite riders! She has a METAL PLATE in her head now ! She will NEVER be the SAME! This horse should be shot RIGHT AWAY before you get killed!’
Did Bonnie cry? I don’t know. Bonnie herself doesn’t remember what happened next. She must have spoken on behalf of the horse she knew, the horse who could be brave and calm in a crisis, the horse who loved her little sister Dawn. He was kind to cats, he lifted crackers gently from her lips. She must have tried to explain that the horse had been abused. Someone had loved him before.
She was deeply ashamed. She hadn’t understood the ramification of what the vendor had tried carefully to tell her the day she took the horse.
‘He’s been thrown a few times.’
Clearly, Hogan had been deeply traumatized in another life. Treatment like this would break the spirit of some horses but it didn’t break Hogan. He was small, but he’d been loved, and was also strong and brave. Today, they had tried again to kill him, and today, he’d decided that he would fight.
After the furious, freshly heartbroken owner of the stable left the paddock, Bonnie and the farrier looked at the stall Hogan had escaped from. The thick timber wall Hogan had struck with his hooves had been forced several inches from its original position.
‘Well,’ said the apparently guiltless farrier, darkly impressed.
Bonnie wondered if she would have to pay to fix it, but she seems to have escaped that stable with very little money paid. She has no memory of what the farrier said before she left.
Exhausted, the girl led her small, ragged-hoofed horse away from Burke Mountain Stables, her head ringing.
‘No hooves, no horse.’
‘That horse should be SHOT – NOW!’
She remembers almost nothing of the long, long walk home to Port Moody, but in spite of the whole new world of trouble she was in, she had learned one thing.
Bonnie loved that horse more than ever.