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  • Writer's pictureDavid Jefferson

Horse Friends

I wonder if you have ever begun a “stranger with horses” friendship like I have a number of times. For me, typically it goes like this. I am traveling by air and find myself next to a stranger, and we will be sitting very close for the next 3 hours. Perhaps a bit awkwardly at first, I begin a conversation.

“Is your destination Chicago, or are you going on from there?”

I probe a little deeper, looking for a common interest. After some small talk I ask what my seat mate does for a hobby. It turns out that there is a horse in the family. Bingo! At that moment the conversation becomes relaxed and fun as we share horse stories. It’s the start of a horse friendship. Before the flight is over, we are sharing contact information. It doesn’t matter that one of us is a liberal Democrat and the other a conservative Republican. We might not agree on evolution or global warming, but we do share a love of horses, and that trumps everything else. I work for some clients whose views on child rearing, spirituality, and life in general are totally different from mine. It doesn’t matter, because when I am on their farm we are talking about the health of their animals, and with that as our base we are “horse friends.”

That stranger with horses that you meet on a plane or at a party is a casual friendship that may or may not blossom in time. In my career as an equine vet I often see how very deep the long established horse friendships can be. A recent example is an emergency call that I went on last month. Sue had been dealing with her colicky gelding, Max, through the afternoon, and was seeing no progress despite Gas X, Banamine, and hours of walking. About 8 PM she realized that it had been several hours since Max had made manure, and even longer since she had heard gut sounds. She called the emergency number. An hour later I was at her farm.

As I walked into the barn I heard Sue shout, “We’re down here, last stall.” Sue was standing in Max’s stall with him and a woman who she introduced as her good friend Terry. Sue had called Terry because Max was crashing, and she wanted support. Terry and I exchanged “hellos”, but not much beyond that as I was already focused on Max. His head was down, and he did not look happy. After a thorough assessment and an internal exam, I told Sue and Terry that Max had a loop of bowel out of place. It was trapped and to save his life meant surgery. I told them that if they could get him to the hospital within 3 hours he had a good chance of making it. Without hesitating, Terry said, “OK, let’s load him up and get there in 2!” After a phone call to New England Equine we loaded Max, and off they went with Sue driving and Terry riding shotgun. I told them that they probably wouldn’t be back until 6 AM if they stayed for the surgery. Terry said, “No problem.” What a blessing to have a friend like Terry!

Through the years and many such calls I have found that when it hits the fan, I see friends like Terry come quickly and stay until things are resolved. That’s one of the things that make being a large animal vet so satisfying. When the rest of the world seems self-centered, there are rare, true friends who are ready to stand by you. Max did have surgery that night and is alive and well today. Sue has since said, “I’m not sure I could have gotten through that night without Terry.” I had a client review this article before I submitted it, and her comment was, “Tell them it should be someone beside your spouse.” I think I’ll not comment on that.

My personal favorite friendship story is how Darcie saved the day for me 20 years ago. Her Dad, Charlie, had a stable of racing standardbreds. He owned a business so wasn’t at the barn very much. He relied on Darcie to take care of things in the barn. She was in her 20’s and a competent trainer. I had been working for the family for a couple of years, and Darcie seemed to appreciate my services.

I had just looked at a Standardbred mare for Darcie at the Cumberland Race Track. When I was done, I jumped into my vehicle and went tearing out of the fairgrounds, already late for my next appointment 15 miles away. I drove at 50, right past the very visible 40 mph speed limit sign, and was crowding 55 when I saw the blue lights in my mirror. I had three immediate thoughts.

1. Where was he hiding?

2. Now I’m really going to be late!

3. This is going to cost me at least $150!

I pulled over, and one of Cumberland’s finest pulled in behind me. I reached toward the glove box for the registration, muttering under my breath. I had just grabbed the paper work when I heard a horn blaring and looked over my shoulder to see Darcie’s truck go roaring past the cop and pull up in front of me, skidding on the dirt shoulder as she hit the brakes. Darcie jumped out with her truck motor still running and driver door left wide open. The cop was walking up to my vehicle from behind me, and Darcie was running back to it. Both arrived at my window at the same time. The officer was confused, but not as confused as I was. Before he had a chance to open his mouth, Darcie shouted,

“Doc, ya gotta get back to the track! That mare you were working on went down, and now she’s acting real crazy like she’s having a fit or something! “

The officer said to me, “Are you a vet?”

“I am. I just left the racetrack, and it looks like I better get back. Can we put off our business a bit until I see what’s going on there? “

“Of course,” he said, “Let’s do a 180. I’ll give you an escort back to the track.” Back we went, him leading the pack with his lights still on, and now his siren wailing. I followed him, matching his 60 mph speed. Darcie followed.

When we got to the entrance to the track, the cop pulled over, and rolled his window down. I stopped next to him and rolled my window down too. He hollered out, “You go ahead and help her out. Forget that I stopped you. I hope the horse makes it. Have a good day!”

Darcie swung around both of our vehicles and headed to the barn. I followed her, wondering what could have made that mare go down. All I had done 10 minutes before was check her legs and declared her fit to race the next day. No medication had been given. We both pulled up to the barn, and Darcie got out with a huge grin plastered on her face.

“OK, Doc, guess you owe me one.”

“You mean your mare is OK, and you just…..”

“Yeah. I left the barn right after you and watched you take off in a dust cloud. As soon as I hit the town road, I saw the cop pull out from the other side of the store with his blues on. I figured you could use some help, so I made up the story about my horse going down to maybe save you a ticket.”

My client Darcie suddenly had become my good friend Darcie. I gave her a big hug, and we laughed about it for years until the family moved down south. Whenever I left the barn she would grin and say, “You be sure and drive slow now.” It’s an incident that comes to mind whenever I think about friendships within our horse community. I’ve wondered since whether the cop came from a horse background.

We all have acquaintances that come from the fact that we hang with horses. Equines have always managed to get in trouble and always will. Value those friends that are willing to stand by you in when it happens. Be ready to stand by your friends when it’s their horse, even when it’s inconvenient for you. It’s one of those things that make our horse world special.

A wonderful way to keep the horse tradition alive in your area is to make friends with the kids near you that have that same burn for horses that you did. I have been working for Dana and Brenda Lary of Bowdoin for about 40 years. I was at their place yesterday and asked Brenda when it was that she knew she wanted a horse. She said, “I was about 6 or 7 and I wanted a horse so bad my teeth ached!” Was that the way you felt? Do you have kids like that in your neighborhood? Invite them in, be a friend, pass on some of your knowledge, and you will always be remembered.

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