The Shoeless Horse, Episode 20: The afternoon she wished she could Un-see

The three of them, concentrating grimly, moved as close to the horse as they could. Each was ready at any moment to leap, either away from a flying hoof or out from the path of a tumble.

The vet had slipped the tube into Hogan’s neck, and the anesthetic was trickling into the horse’s bloodstream.

Hogan was now angry and frightened, realizing that the three people around him were working to hurt him somehow. It took long, terrible minutes for the anesthetic to affect him. He began to stumble, and made a herculean effort to keep his balance. Bonnie’s heart felt as though it was being pulled apart in her chest.

Hogan worked to stay up off the ground, to stand and face his enemies. He stood, swaying, his head hanging, and watched the two men with increasingly unfocused eyes.

‘Okay, watch it, watch it –’ Pete’s voice gritted, ‘get ready- he’s going to go down soon.’

Pete had one line, Bonnie the other, each ready to turn the horse’s head in the direction of his impending fall once they could see which way it would go.

The horse collapsed to the right, sinking part way to the ground, then made another desperate effort to pull himself back up.

In the kitchen of one of the houses on Portview Place that overlooked the field, a woman was standing in front of the window, her eyes riveted to the scene below. Tears were streaming down her cheeks when her daughter came home from school.

‘Mum!’ said Bonnie’s friend Marion, ‘ What’s wrong?’

Her mother was shattered by what she was seeing in the field below. The little horse had meandered through Sylvia’s back garden during one of his escapes. He’d munched on their roses.  Today she watched as the horse was being tortured in what looked like a deadly tug- of- war.

Down in the pasture, Bonnie was dizzy with horror.

Hogan fell to the other side, rolling almost to the earth, then lunged over his forelegs and thrashed in a semi-circle, his back legs useless. Pete pulled Hogan’s head toward himself, trying to roll the horse down to the safety of the grass.

At last, the fight drained out of him, the pale horse lay motionless on the damp earth.

For the girl there was more fear and guilt. There was no tarp. No bedding. Hogan’s white form was a stark contrast to the dangerously cool ground. The two men quickly worked over the downed animal. The vet examined his teeth.

‘You were told this horse was eight years old?’ the veterinarian asked. ‘Looks to me like he’s closer to twelve.’

Barker clipped and filed the hooves.

‘He’s going to be dopey when he gets up,’ the vet told Bonnie.

‘He’ll have a hard time with his balance. He might fall. You’ll have to help him, and stay with him for a while. Walk with him so he can work out the anesthetic.’

Mercifully, it wasn’t long before Hogan began to stir.

‘Okay,’ Pete Barker said, ‘Bonnie, get ready to help him get up.’

Hogan rolled over and propped himself up as the three humans watched carefully.  Lying on the ground but with his head up now, the horse tried to gather his wits. He struggled to rise, and couldn’t get over his legs. He rested, then suddenly rose, staggering straight for Bonnie.

Was he going to attack her? Fall on her? She was frightened for Hogan and for herself, but she found herself beside his head, holding his halter, talking to him.

When Hogan laid his heavy, heavy head over her shoulder, leaning on her, she was overwhelmed. He trusted, needed her.

Stumbling under the weight of her horse’s head and her new burdens, she walked with the wobbling horse along the path through the soft grass, warmed by the sun.

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