Weather animals and ‘The Horse Boy’

Generally speaking, I think most animals know more than humans do.  And certainly, in my experience, many animals are smarter than many humans.

So I startled myself a bit yesterday during a discussion with my neighbor Patti about our dismal October weather. She said her horse Sterling had put on quite the coat, causing her to wonder if winter was going to be really bad.

I flipped back something to the effect that if horses were smart enough to predict a winter’s worth of weather they would not be living in pens and subservient to humans.

So do I really believe this? I don’t know if I do or don’t. Is it possible that a horse can intuit things like El Niño, the tracking of the jet stream, polar air masses? And then grow a coat accordingly? Or is this cosmic weather station just hardwired into a horse’s central nervous system?

And what about the horses that didn’t grow a long coat for winter? Are they just not “in the know,” or do they merely like it cold?

Regardless of Sterling’s heavy coat, when I drove my son to school this morning the temperature on the Subaru thermometer was 2 degrees.  Last week we had 2 feet of snow. Even this human knows that’s way too wintry for October.

And speaking of the mystical world of animals, I just finished a book by Rupert Isaacson called “The Horse Boy.” This is the story of a father’s quest to heal his son who has autism. I found the book compelling on many levels. For starters, the story is an epic real-life adventure told in a very raw form.

Most familiar to me was Isaacson’s description of his son’s speech habits, peculiarities of behavior, and tantrums. Most valuable was the manner in which this father openly discusses his very personal feelings about his son’s condition, and the impact it has had on every part of his life, including his own physical and mental well-being and his marriage.

I also found the story intriguing in light of my use of saddle donkeys as therapy for my son Harrison.

Without spoiling the story, Isaacson discovered his son Rowan to have connections to the world of shamanism and also to horses. So he decided to take him to a place where shamans and horses are still an integral way of life — Mongolia. The resulting story is one of courage and triumph. I recommend it not only for people who are close to someone with autism, but also for anyone who likes a good adventure tale.

If I have any small criticism it is the appearance that Isaacson foresaw the marketability of this story well enough to bring a video crew along for the adventure. The film is due out this fall at special screenings all over the country.  Still, I think the richness of the story, along with the fact that the film will give millions of people an honest glimpse of autism, offsets this minor quibble. Plus, Isaacson has donated part of the proceeds to helping children, and I can’t blame a writer for wanting to make a buck off his work.

Just another evening of ranching

TonyHorses can do some crazy things. I care for 10 horses over at Ross and Jan Wilkins’ Bear Bones Ranch where I am the ranch manager. One recent evening I was bringing them in off the pasture when one horse named Tony forgot about the fence. Luckily it was only smooth wire. He hit it like a runner through a finish-line tape, slammed into the hillside behind the fence with a resounding thud, then bounced back on his feet, shook it off and galloped on up to the barn. I walked over to the point of impact and found about 15 feet of fence destroyed, wires snapped and steel fence posts bent to low angles.

I followed Tony on up the hill, where I found he was bleeding from the mouth, had superficial cuts all over his body, and had literally peeled the skin from below his left knee down the front of the cannon bone in what could be described as a long triangular shape. Obviously my night was just beginning, and I went home to call Dr. Kit Ryff, our veterinarian from Salida, which is about 65 miles away.

Kit was just sitting down to dinner with his wife at the Corkscrew restaurant there when I caught him on his cell phone. I told him that I didn’t think Tony would die if he ate dinner first, but I thought the wound definitely needed stitches as soon as possible. He said he’d call when he was close and I could meet him at the ranch.

So about 10:45 I drove over in the dark and by the light of pickup headlights through the dust Kit surmised that I was right and decided to lay the horse down with drugs in order to sew up the wound. It took a while for the drugs to take effect, but Tony finally went down in the corral. Kit went to work with his curved needle and sewed up one side of the leg. Then we rolled Tony over — he weighs about 1,100 pounds. Kit had just started on the other side of the wound when the drugs started to wear off.

There’s really no describing a half-ton of half-doped, half-crazed horse flopping around in the dust inside a steel corral backlighted by headlights. Several times he came down with his ass bashing the panels, bending one fairly severely. He landed on his water bucket, crushing it and sending a shower in all directions. Then, the worst possible thing happened. Tony flopped over and came down on the corral, somehow managing to hang a hind foot between two of the panels.

So now we had the wounded horse hanging upside down in the headlights with Kit holding his head to keep him from struggling. I tried to push the foot up and out, but there was too much pressure on it. I tried unhinging the panels, but between the bent metal and the weight of the horse bearing down I couldn’t get the pin out.

Kit suggested that I take over the head, and he thought he might be able to get the foot loose. So we swapped places.

The second Kit knocked that foot loose, I felt the sting of rope burning my hand. Tony was up, sort of, stumbling this way and that, and I couldn’t see anything in the headlights. I dropped the rope and ran across the corral. Kit, meanwhile, with his back to the headlights, could see what was going on and rushed in to grab Tony by the lead.

We got the horse calmed down and Kit finished stitching the cut with Tony standing up. He bandaged the wound, gave him an IV pain medication and penicillin, and we were done.

We drove off a little before midnight. Everyone lived.