Every Fourth of July I worry about the horses being startled by fireworks. We live over the hill from town so we can’t see the city fireworks but we can hear them. The sound always startles me, seems to start too early, while there is still light in the sky. Tonight was no different.
I went out to do the usual evening rounds, and made a point of checking each horse in the pasture. On my way out to check the mares, I glanced at the “mash unit,” a half-acre paddock where I’m keeping Dolly and the oldest rescued mare. They need mash twice a day this time of year. I didn’t look closely at those two because I would be coming back to feed them anyway.
As usual, none of the mares in the main herd were remotely concerned about the fireworks. We have been here for 20 years now and many of them grew up here. So they’ve heard the fireworks every year of their lives. Every one was fine.
I returned to finish the feeding, treated an eye, filled some water buckets and finally took the mash to the old mares. By now it was fully dark. As soon as I entered the pen I realized there was only one mare hovering around looking for mash. Dolly was missing. I went ahead and put the mash in the mangers, banging the buckets loudly and calling Dolly’s name.
Dolly is 30 this year. When they get to that age they can go quickly. You know their time is coming, and even if it isn’t a shock, losing them is still upsetting. As I called her name, my heart was pounding. I put the buckets down outside the pen and went to get a halter from the barn. My mind was starting to race, my hands to shake, I cursed myself for not keeping my cell phone with me at all times. Should I go get it? I didn’t want to, I wanted to go find the mare wherever she was, stuck in a fence or rolling in pain or just unable to rise from some catastrophic condition.
I had to walk a little slowly, I was using a headlamp with a dying battery and I didn’t want to twist an ankle in the dark. I had a little trouble getting the latch open on the gate, managed to close it behind me. I turned around to go searching and was just in time to step aside as Dolly came galloping by on her last legs, which appeared to be working just fine. She made a little circle before stopping, breathing slightly as after a run. Her eyes were wide and her tail was flagged. She was ready for her mash now.
It had not occurred to me that she might just be tearing around the paddock because of the fireworks. Because, after all, she is 30 years old.
I guess we all have our own way of celebrating the 4th of July.