Writing and Expression From The Sunshine Coast

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Diana Earth

Diana Earth has 30 articles published.

The Shoeless Horse, Episode 29: The Long Goodbye

Duchess’s breathing was shallow, mechanical. Tiny puffs. Her eyes were glazed.

When the black-and-tan dog was laid on the examination table at Bonnie’s waist level, she suddenly saw with fresh eyes how beautiful her dog was, how impressive in size.

Duchess. Her dog. The dog she had begged for, the dog she’d carried home in her arms when it was a tiny six- week- old puppy. The dog she’d taught so many tricks. The glossy-coated sixty-pound dog who was so athletic and had often made Bonnie burst with pride. The dog who had often caused serious trouble.

Now, Duchess was utterly still except for the rapid, small breaths that convulsively moved her ribs.

The young man was miserable. He was new, he said. An assistant. He’d called, said it was an emergency, but the vet was home with his family eating dinner.  He’d come as soon as he was finished.

Bonnie helped the sorrowful assistant slide a clear plastic tube down her dog’s throat. They waited and waited, praying the vet would finish dinner and come to make the dog alive again.

Time passed. The two young people stood miserably beside the surgical table, out of things to say. The dog was limp. Her small puffs counted off the minutes.

Bonnie seems to remember trying to fill the awful silence with stories. She told the young man about some of the bad things Duchess had done when they lived in Vancouver- knocked over a newspaper boy, bit the pant leg of a police officer, started horrible dogfights. The dog was smart and devoted to their family, but sometimes chased people on bikes.

‘People always called my mother at suppertime,’ said Bonnie, trying for humour,    ‘ with complaints about this dog.’

Always suppertime, she thought to herself, thinking of the absent vet, home at his own dinnertable. She felt sorry for the young assistant. He’d run out of ideas.

Bonnie remembered now how many times people had called about Duchess. She knew it was stress her mother hadn’t needed. The family built a huge expensive fence all around Grandma’s property to keep the dog contained, and rules were made about keeping Duchess on the leash- but still things had happened.

‘I thought about putting the dog down when you were about twelve,’ Bonnie’s mother once confessed. ‘But then it was Open House at the school. When I got to your classroom, there were drawings of yours everywhere, and they were all of Duchess.’ She’d laughed ruefully and said,

‘ I knew then if I put the dog down, I’d have to do you in too.’

Bonnie and the young man waited for what seemed like hours more, and the vet finally arrived. Bonnie doesn’t recall him being sympathetic. Maybe he’d seen too many cases like this one ; people were always letting dogs bolt into traffic.

‘The dog’s neck is broken,’ said the vet flatly. ‘There’s nothing I can do.’

Bonnie felt the world go dark.

She’d felt the presence of death the moment she’d seen the brake lights on the black road. She’d clung desperately to the possibility of a miracle during the rescue, and in the bright lights of the surgery room.

During the minutes that had turned into two hours, Bonnie and the vet’s assistant had been ministering to a dog that was mostly dead. She now confronted the magnitude of what she had done.

Again and again, and to this day, a voice inside told Bonnie it was her fault completely. Her stupid decision to have Duchess run beside the road in the dark had killed the dog she’d loved since she was ten years old. It was her fault, and Duchess was never coming back.

The Shoeless Horse, Episode 27: The Distractions of Christmas

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The Shoeless Horse, Episode 26: The Idyllic Interval

The whole time Hogan the horse was living it up as a pampered pet at the boarding stable, Bonnie did not ride him.

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The Shoeless Horse, Episode 25: The Gathering Storm

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Bonnie and her horse were spending less time together. It made her sad to think of harming him by riding him.  She had to find a solution to the hoof problem, but it was almost unbearable to think about.  She was nearing the age of eighteen now, but she couldn’t face the dilemma she was in.

She talked the situation over with her tired mother. Ava displayed her usual empathy, but didn’t know what should be done.

Ava had enough on her hands with hours of commuting to work, her youngest daughter being harassed on the way home from school, and her eldest son and  husband taking turns getting into trouble. The horse and the continuous angst of her oldest daughter were the least of her worries.

The kitchen Ava had furnished so charmingly was often the scene of horrible dinners gone wrong. The kids’ father sometimes refused to eat. Dean particularly seemed to relish waiting until the beautifully-plated food was on the table, then  pointedly pushing it away.

The four kids were shocked at first when they saw this – they were always hungry and knew they were lucky to have such beautiful food. Most of their friends ate pretty mundane meals and lots of plain white bread; Bonnie’s most affluent friend usually ate from tins.  But Ava was an avid student of nutrition, ahead of the times when it came to serving attractive meals from all the food groups.

The food rejection was just one of their Dad’s interesting stunts.  As soon as Bonnie’s sixteen-year-old brother got his driver’s license, he was involved with his father’s mischief as well as his own. Even as Steve ran his own experiments with intriguing alcohol varieties and dosages, he was called upon now and then to extricate their Dad from his.

Meanwhile, Bonnie came to a decision about her horse. She would put him in a boarding stable, hoping she’d find a solution to her frightening situation  while having Hogan cared for by someone who knew horses well.

She doesn’t remember how she found the beautiful stable and the soft-spoken woman who owned it. She doesn’t remember if she rented a horse trailer or rode the horse there, since it wasn’t too far away. Bonnie doesn’t remember the woman’s name, though she vaguely recalls the lady saying she could not ride horses anymore.  What she will never, ever forget is that woman’s kindness.

A petite woman with light brown hair sprinkled with a little grey, the stable owner told Bonnie she boarded horses because she enjoyed their company.  Her husband, she said, was good enough to do the painting and heavy lifting.

Bonnie was delighted to discover the horses were kept in roomy, clean box stalls during the night, and let out into a green pasture in daytime.  The place was storybook perfection, and Bonnie was happy to pay the boarding fee every month.

The day she committed to leaving her horse at the boarding stable,  Bonnie explained her situation with Hogan . Dry-eyed, she told the stable owner what had happened, and how awful it was to take the horse down . She also told her what the vet had said after the second time.

‘Hmmm,’ the stable owner had said. ‘ We‘ll do our best to keep him happy, after all he’s been through.’

The horse liked the stable owner immediately. Hogan liked that woman so much that he became a pet, following her around as she watered and fed the other horses and sometimes putting his head over her shoulder.

Bonnie was a little jealous about the shoulder thing, but relieved that the horse seemed happy. She was busy working full time, navigating a new romantic relationship, and driving as far from home as possible to visit friends.

Things were often pretty weird at home. One of her brothers was sleeping a lot and often missing school. Her younger brother snarled at her. She was worried about her mother, but did very little to help her other than pay a few bills. She wondered why her smart, resourceful little sister was struggling at school. She missed seeing Hogan when she looked out behind the house to the big pasture.

The clouds were gathering, but Bonnie certainly wasn’t ready for the coming storm.

The Shoeless Horse, Episode 24 : Going To The Ground Again

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After the high school graduation, there was no university as Bonnie had dreamed. The family bills seemed to be piling up, Bonnie’s father seemed to be getting into more trouble, and the newspapers ran frequent articles about university grads who couldn’t find their dream jobs. She didn’t mind settling in to working.

Even though her brother Steve was just sixteen, he was out in the workforce too. Their mother toiled at the busy restaurant in Vancouver, then found a very different job at an elegant Italian import shop that required an even longer commute. Now, four cars crowded the driveway of the house in Port Moody, one for each of the parents, and one for each of the two older kids.

Bonnie’s mother tried to use public transit. For awhile there was public transit for workers in Port Moody – the Barnet Fast-bus.  It was a help for anyone commuting directly into downtown Vancouver, but Ava had to cross a bridge onto the North Shore and make multiple transfers, so she abandoned the buses in favour of a skinny little Toyota wagon.

‘Everyone in the family uses and abuses my station wagon,’ Ava often fumed. It was true – anytime anything awkward had to be moved, including bales of hay and muddy dogs, Ava’s Toyota was borrowed.

Bonnie and her brother ranged around the hills of Port Moody and into other communities to see friends, and they both enjoyed driving. Having a car was a ticket to freedom. For girls, especially cautious girls like Bonnie, a car also provided the ability to get away from a party that had gone sour, even scary.

Bonnie got her license immediately after turning sixteen. Sometimes she had to drive her Dad around, as he’d mysteriously lost his. After some driving experience, she had a new understanding of the craziness of driving up to a horse at high speed and smacking him from behind.  She shuddered every time she thought of the day it had happened. She knew she’d been bloody lucky.

For Hogan the horse, life was peaceful since Bonnie had stopped putting rude and inexperienced riders on his back. Only Bonnie and her friend Leah rode the horse now. Hogan loved young Dawn and her gentle ways, and seemed fond of the cats, who were still hanging out by the trough when he had his sweet mash. He was tough in all seasons, refusing to use his shelter no matter what the weather did.

The rides grew less frequent as the next hoof-tending session drew nearer.  The horse’s hooves were ragged. Bonnie’s heart was pierced with guilt whenever she looked carefully at those hooves.

It took a few months to save up some money. Her earnings at Roy Rogers Restaurant were barely over minimum wage, and she paid her mother some rent along with a couple of other household bills.  Bonnie had been angry at first about the rent, but later she understood.  Her good-looking Dad had a new job, but spent lots of money everywhere he went, and he was getting around. It wasn’t long before Steve was helping with the bills too.

When Bonnie had enough cash put aside, she called Pete Barker.  Grudgingly he agreed again to help. The vet was summoned.

Few sights are more terrible to witness than a creature of flight that is drugged, trapped and pulled to the earth. The second take-down event in the pasture was just as horrifying as the first. Hogan’s grunts and his desperate struggling again seared into Bonnie’s soul. The pale horse fought fiercely to stay on his feet, to stay up and be ready to run.

This time, though, something was different.

“I had to give him so much,” the vet said of the medication that took Hogan to the ground. “Next time it may kill him. I gave him the amount that I normally use for a much bigger animal, because he wouldn’t go down.”

The vet and Pete looked tired and sad. Bonnie was in a state of numb horror. As the men worked over her crazy-brave, lifeless-looking little horse, the vet’s new recommendation banged in her ears.

“He can’t go on with this. You need to think about putting him down.”

The Shoeless Horse, Episode 22: Coping With Educational Experiences

Bonnie was graduating.  Formally, she was about to graduate from high school, and informally, she had just passed another course in the School of Hard Knocks.

After bringing down the horse, not only was she struggling to force herself  to concentrate on her end-of-the- line schoolwork, but she had to work several days a week, argue with her brothers, care for the horse and her dog, and try to catch glimpses of her busy mother and sister. And then, there were the many ups and downs of life with her Dad.

Since her father had become an executive of a brand new company, the happy ‘ups’ were fewer and the exciting stuff was happening more often.

She went to the store before Father’s Day one afternoon, and was struck by the lack of cards that had appropriate greetings for a Dad like hers. Bonnie’s Dad was prone to a wide range of behaviours and comments that didn’t fit the dreamy and warm messages she saw on cards in the store.

The Father’s Day cards in the stores all spoke gratefully of fathers who were always therefor their children, always supportive and inspiring.

There were no verses that offered an ode to a father who was not always there, who yelled and screamed at his kids every second Saturday, and who sometimes tormented their mother with a flood of awful put-downs.

Dad wasn’t always mean and temperamental. He could be really funny, and sometimes very kind and generous. He enjoyed the pets- the whole menagerie – even though he liked to lead his sons in some serious taunting about the horse.

The thing was, Bonnie’s dad was unpredictable. He’d slump into long periods of silence, walled off from his family though all five of them were just steps away. When he was in the miserable periods he wouldn’t speak to anyone, and was downright dangerous to disturb.

Sometimes these moods lasted for weeks. While her dad was in this state, she and her brothers and sister could not risk bringing friends home – not after school, not even on the weekend.  It was a pain, but they lived with it.

For Bonnie’s mum, Ava, the pain was literal.  She’d suffered with migraine headaches since she was twelve years old. She got them so bad, they knocked her right off her feet. Sometimes, Ava lay in the dark for days, the door closed and her voice behind it frighteningly weak.

The pets made everyone laugh. The two young cats the Pinda Brothers had sent home with Bonnie and Dawn raced around the house as they grew, wreaking havoc with the décor and skittering around so comically that sometimes the whole family laughed themselves silly. The dog was difficult when she faced the world outside the house, but affectionate and endearing with her favourite people. The horse was…  well.  You’re listening to this story.

Bonnie’s final year of school brought some distraction from the challenges that had come along with the horse of her dreams. She understood now that even without the hoof issue, she had not accepted how difficult it could be to properly care for a horse.  Sometimes she felt guilty. There was plenty to graze on in the generous-sized pasture, but was that any excuse not to pay attention to Hogan some days?

When the time since the last trimming went by and Hogan’s hooves grew again, the girl understood two things. First, it would soon be time to stop riding him, to protect his hooves from her weight. Second, it was time to get prepared for another ‘humane treatment’ at the hands of the veterinarian and the farrier.

Though her mother had toiled to produce a stunning dress for Bonnie’s graduation, the girl was haunted by those other plans.

She shuddered whenever she thought of it:  her horse, shocked and dazed, struggling bravely against unseen forces to stay on his legs. Her handsome, defiant little Hogan, horribly drunk and pulled down to the ground in a defenseless heap.

She was worried sick now about two unavoidable obligations  – attending Grad with a boy she didn’t even like anymore, and participating in the next awful bringing down of Hogan.

The Shoeless Horse, Episode 21: Coming To Grips With The Reality Of “Humane”

The pale horse staggered along the path in the sunlit field, his head heavy on the girl’s shoulder.  Never in a million years could Bonnie have imagined a day like this.

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