This is a little story about a BIG horse: “Chase Me,” a Clydesdale/Thoroughbred cross who, at the time of this story, lived with his mom — my friend, Shelley. Through a series of serendipitous circumstances, Chase came to live with me only a few weeks after this event occurred (at the time I had no idea that this would happen, no idea – yet – of the love and generosity of Shelley’s heart.) I was “farm-sitting” for Shelley and her husband, taking care of their two dogs, Bailey and Anky, and three horses – Chase, Caly (short for Calypso), and Resolut (known as “Rez” or “Rezzy.”) One night, after finishing evening barn chores, things went, well…sort of WRONG. This is the journal entry I made that night…unedited (gulp).
September 15, 2011 – 10:30 pm
Really not the best day. Chase got out because I stupidly left the side gate to the front paddock unlatched. WTF is wrong with me?!?! In general, I do a pretty good job, but boy, when I screw up it’s a whopper, a royal mess! What if the horse had run onto the main road?! It was dark, well after sunset — I could hardly see. I started to panic, then stopped myself.
At first, both Chase and Caly were loose. I’d turned them out for the evening, not realizing I’d left that small side gate unlatched. As I was exiting the barn for — what I thought! — was the night, I suddenly saw Chase and Caly milling around in the backyard, between the barn and the house! As soon as I looked at them, they took off at a canter across the yard, toward the line of mature pines that divides the property from the neighbors’. Great, I thought, quickly realizing that the horses’ escape was due to my negligence. Gee, I am so brilliant.
How to get them back? The fog of the initial shock began to lift and I ran into the barn, grabbed a bucket of feed and a carrot and ran back out to the yard. I called to the horses — “Chase! Caly!” — and shook the bucket full of grain. Waves of relief washed over me when I saw them emerge from the darkness, both of them heading straight toward me. Thank God this is over as quickly as it began, I thought. Caly came straight to me and I gave her half the carrot. I opened the gate to the barn and she walked right in. I assumed — stupidly, surprise surprise! — that Chase would follow her. But no, he decided to turn and run off back into the darkness! Caly turned and started to follow him but I grabbed her by the halter and led her into her stall. Just get Caly IN right now — better to get at least ONE horse back than have both running loose through the neighborhood, I muttered to myself.
Once Caly was locked securely in her stall I could see that she was jumpy about Chase’s absence. Rez was a bit worked up, too, watching the mayhem from his stall, which is his nightly abode.
Certain that at least Rez and Caly were safely in their stalls in the barn, I headed back out with the bucket of grain and started calling for Chase. I saw nothing, heard nothing. I walked farther into the backyard, away from the barn, furiously shaking the bucket of grain. I suddenly remembered that Chase was halterless — earlier in the day I’d discovered a halter rub on the side of his cheek, so I had turned him out without it, after applying some ointment to the rub. Wonderful! OF COURSE I had to do that RIGHT before the horse runs away! How the hell was I going to get him back with no way to control him?!
I turned around and ran back into the barn again to find Chase’s halter and a lead rope. Noting the alarm on the faces of both Rez and Caly, I decided to slow down and quit acting like I was in the tizzy that I was. I slowly took the halter and lead rope, picked up the bucket of grain again and headed back out into the dark yard. I called out for Chase again and again. I saw nothing, heard no hoof beats, no whinnies. I began walking toward the house, thinking that I was going to have to get in my car to try to find him. Just then I saw the tail lights of a car heading north on the main road. I suddenly realized that this large, dark bay Clydesdale/TB cross could be hit by a car if he’d gone out there….the main road was a stone’s throw away.
I tried to stop myself from thinking of all the potential catastrophes that could befall a loose horse in the pitch black night — no moon, no stars. Worst of all, the loose horse was Shelley’s baby, her heart — a horse she had raised and made into a winning dressage horse and superb foxhunter. Chase was her whole heart, and look what I’d gone and done!! I felt sick. All because of my inattentiveness, I’d allowed her beloved horse to escape and run off to God knows where. Was I going to have to call the police? Does one call 911 over a missing, loose horse? I pictured a full neighborhood search, flashing police lights, chaos, tragedy…
Snap! I reminded myself once again not to panic. I didn’t see or hear Chase anywhere, even though I was calling for him and shaking that feed bucket to no avail. Then I glimpsed a flash of white along the driveway. It was Chase — his broad, white blaze glowing like neon in the blackness. I shook the bucket again and began walking slowly toward him. He turned and walked away! At least he didn’t GALLOP off, like before! I could see his white stockings striding toward the end of the driveway. In seconds I couldn’t see him at all. I walked to the end of the driveway. No Chase. I looked up the street, down the street, across to the neighbors’ vast expanse of lawn…nothing. Where could he have disappeared to so quickly without running?! I hadn’t heard any hoof beats that would indicate he’d trotted or cantered off.
With a growing sense of hopelessness and dread, I realized I had better get in my car and start driving around looking for him. God only knows how far away he could have gotten already. It also began to dawn on me that, wherever I found him, I’d have to park the car and just leave it there so I could hand walk him back to the barn. At that moment it didn’t matter to me if I’d have to walk 10 miles both ways — I would just do it. Getting the horse back safely was way more important than how far I’d have to walk or how tired I might get.
As I backed out and got ready to turn and head out the driveway, I saw white flickers in front of my headlights, and there he was — just standing alongside the paved drive. Had he never left?! Had he simply faded into the shadows? How was that possible?!
I jumped out of the car, having thrown the halter and lead rope over my left shoulder (for once I thought ahead! Wow. I see an invitation to MENSA in the near future.) The grain bucket was in my other hand. Chase moved off again, but at least this time it was in the direction of the barn. I followed him, and he stopped in front of the gate across the barn aisle. He just stood there watching me as I approached.
At this point I started to cry. I’d had enough! I was tired of being terrified and I also didn’t want my reputation ruined by a smart-ass horse who wanted to remain on the lam just for the sake of taunting me. Or just to be on the other side of the fence. Chase knew he was out and he had made the most of it! In that sense, he reminded me of my own beloved horse, Legend, who I’d just put down a week earlier. Legend loved to do this kind of stuff.
It didn’t matter to Chase (or Legend) that what was outside the fence was exactly the same as what was inside the fence. It was simply the novelty of the experience, and the fun of teasing me (more like torturing me) in Horse-Speak, as a child might: “Ha ha, you can’t catch me!!”
I stood next to Chase’s nose and he reached for the carrot in the bucket. “No way,” I said to him. “You’re not getting rewarded for running away!” I jerked the bucket away from him while I threw a lead rope over his neck (twenty stories above me.) I unlatched the gate and led him inside. He was a perfect gentleman. Of course. Of course. Hmmph.
That’s when I started to get mad, like the way you get when your kid runs off while you’re in the grocery store. You’re panicked and terrified, running up and down the aisles, screaming the kid’s name until you finally find him. Then you’re flooded with relief and an overwhelming sense of love. And as soon as you realize that he is safe and unharmed, the anger rolls in. “How dare you do that?!?! Don’t you ever run off like that again!! What is wrong with you?!” In this case, I was yelling at a “kid” who was 18 hands in height and weighed nearly 2,000 lbs! Chase stared back at me with innocent eyes. What had he done so wrong, after all?
I put him in his stall and proceeded to take a tour of all the paddock gates once more, assuring that those that were supposed to be open were, and those that were supposed to be closed and latched were just that. One more time, I went back into the barn to start closing things down — turning Chase and Caly back out in an enclosed paddock, but where they would still be able to visit Rez, who was on partial stall rest recovering from an injury.
After I turned out the lights in the barn and headed back up to the house, feeling limp and ragged, I saw Chase trot over to the little side gate through which he’d earlier escaped. I stopped and glanced at the gate again to be sure I hadn’t repeated my earlier mistake. I had not (whew.) “Sorry, Chase,” I told him, as he looked at me quizzically and with not a little bit of disappointment. As well as amusement — I swear his eyes twinkled with mischief. “Good night everybody,” I said. Big sigh.
I walked back to the house thinking about how much Chase would have loved to run right out again — just like Legend would have.
Rest in Peace, Legend: 1990 – September 7, 2011. My first horse. Ever. I love you, my boy.
Love you, too, Chase. You big, wonderful, kindhearted OAF!! 🙂
And to Shelley: There are no words. NO WORDS. Bubble of joy under my rib cage. Tears in my eyes. Heart overflowing with love and gratitude. The greatest gift of all was (is!) a friendship born of a horse.