I was awakened by the ringing of my phone. It was still dark out. The clock read 6:30. I rolled over and reached for my phone. It was my trainer. I answered, trying to sound awake. My trainer’s daughter’s voice came hesitantly. “The horses broke the gate during the night. They are gone!”
I sat up, immediately fully awake, trying to take in what she said. She continued. “There are some tracks in the snow, but its too dark to follow them, they go in circles, and are drifted over already. They left the back of the property towards the neighbor’s house, but we can’t follow the tracks beyond that. Come quick!”
I dressed as quickly as I could. Liam and Diamond… both gone! It filled me with dread thinking about it. They could have been gone hours now. They could be in the woods, or on the road, or anywhere by now! What if they’d been hurt? I said a little prayer and called Kim to let her know her horse, Penguin, was out with the band of missing geldings, then I woke my mom and asked her to come help too. My heart ached with worry as I thought about my boys lost, or hurt, or… I couldn’t even bring myself to think it.
It didn’t take us long to meet up at the barn. The sun was starting to rise, which would make the search easier, but it was still bitter cold out. We had let the police and a few friends and neighbors know the horses were missing, and it’s a very horsey area so this sorta thing happens and everyone helps each other out. But the roads were horribly icy and snowy, which is dangerous enough for a horse to try to run on, but could cause a major wreck if a car and horse met at the wrong place on the hilly, winding roads that surround the barn. I tried to force myself not to think of the worst.
Think positive. Stay calm. They are fine, out there somewhere, probably eating or playing quite happily.
We set out on foot, trying to follow the tracks leading from the barn. It was 4 geldings that were out, and thankfully all are barefoot and trail savvy, so hopefully they weren’t into too much trouble. That also meant that they very well could have headed into the woods. The tracks lead up and down and in circles in the neighbor’s massive yard. As we tromped through knee high snow, struggling up hills and falling in drifts, it soon became apparent that we were getting no where fast on foot. If the horses were in the woods, the only way to follow the tracks would be on horseback.
We split up, 2 people went in a car to drive the surrounding streets, check with neighbors, and keep an eye out for any sign of the boys. So far, nothing.
The other four of us ran back in the barn and threw saddles on the most trustworthy mounts remaining, hoping we could catch up with the runaways without further incident. We were armed with halters and leads, and pockets stuffed with treats. Not sure what we’d find, we also packed a small first aid kit with some vetrap, cotton, and ace… just in case.
We refused to think of the worst as we stuffed the treats and vetrap in our pockets, and went outside in the bitter cold to mount up. As I waited in line for the mounting block, my phone rang. I yanked on my glove and fished around in my pocket for my phone, increasingly anxious with each ring. Was it good news or bad news? Please God let it be good news!!
It was a friend of mine who had a barn down the street. Some neighbors had called her and spotted horses loose in another neighbor’s backyard. They weren’t sure how many, just that it was a few. It was across the street and down less than a quarter of a mile.
It had to be our boys! Was it too much to hope that all four were there?
Immediately our plans changed, and poor Antonio got handed 4 horses at once as we all went to jump in the car, then realized at the same time that he could do nothing holding 4 horses in the driveway! Ok, horses back in stalls, reins tied up, jump in the car… go!
We were peering down each long drive, hoping for a glimpse of the horses.
Liam, where are you?
The properties on this street are huge, most have large houses and barns, and it was impossible to see the backyards. Finally we picked one and drove down the partially plowed drive, seeing nothing as we searched between the trees on either side. Wait. There they are! The property next door!
We started to gather up halters and jump for the doors, only to notice a high electric fence between us and the horses. It looked like all 4 boys were there though. Kim threw the car in reverse, as we tried to find a way around to get to the horses. They were so close… and yet just beyond reach. She struggled to see through her snowy back window and navigate the drive. The fence ended and we ran around it into someone’s backyard.
All four horses were there, and all were standing on 4 legs. A lady stood near them with a big bucket, at the moment seeming like something of an angel. She had a halter on Diamond (who no doubt turned himself in), and almost had Eddie, whose head was in the bucket. Penguin stood next to Eddie, waiting for his turn with the bucket, and Liam stood to the side, watching carefully.
I called his name and Liam’s head shot up, his ears pricked and eyes shining. “Mom! You came! Look what we found!!” he seemed to say as he came over to me with a look of relief in his eye. He put his head in his halter when I held it up and followed me over to the others.
We got halters on the others and thanked the lady that had found them. Her two horses watched with great interest from their paddock and she explained to us that she had to have the electic fence put up because one of her’s is an escape artist. It had corralled our boys perfectly.
I bent down to run my hand down Liam’s legs and noticed blood in the snow between his back legs. My heart sank. What happened? Immediately my hand was up and down his legs. No heat, no swelling, nothing major. A scrape halfway up his leg, not even big, but dripping blood still. Far from his heart, I told myself as I tried to calm down. I checked Diamond’s legs and didn’t find a single scratch. Penguin had a small scrape on one leg, but it wasn’t really bleeding. Eddie was without a mark. They’d done well.
We thanked the lady again, and began the walk home, down the icy street, with our parade of rogue geldings. Penguin nuzzled Kim profusely, apologizing and pleading for the carrots not to be taken away. Diamond’s head hung as he guiltily contemplated what he had done. Liam walked smartly, quite proud of his bravery exploring unknown territory, pleased with himself now that it was over with. Eddie threw his head in the air and stomped the ground, he had big plans to show those wimpy boys a thing or two and then these stupid PEOPLE had to come along and had messed it all up. How was he ever going to teach his sheltered pasturemates about the world with all the inconveniences imposed by PEOPLE. But then again, there was that grain bucket. Eddie relaxed.
We walked back to the barn, and Antonio had fixed the gate, so the boys went back out in the field with stern reminders that they were to stay there, and we walked away with a huge sigh of relief. Time to go warm up.