You never know where love will take you.
As the sun was setting one warm spring weekend, I drove up the on-ramp to Interstate 80, headed home to my parents from the University of California at Davis.
In tow was my first horse, an older Morgan-Quarter-cross mare, Epa, her name allegedly Native-American for “hiccup”, and my young registered Morgan, Triton Emperor, also known as “Imp” for all the knots he untied, all the gates he unlatched, and all the hammers he stole while we were working on fences. I had won Imp as an 18-month-old gelding in an annual essay contest for youth.
To tell you the truth, I was thinking about selling Imp, because lately, he had developed the annoying habit of bucking off my boyfriend.
Doubt about whether Imp could be trusted ran through my mind as I came to the end of the ramp and hit highway speed. Then something moved in my left rear-view mirror.
I looked and saw my horse trailer pass me. No kidding, it actually passed me. The trailer veered left and rolled end over end, tipped sideways, and came to rest on its side in the grass median. I veered left on to the median and slid to a stop behind it in the pickup. The trailer wheels spun, and the horses lay on their sides, trapped inside.
An off-duty sheriff’s deputy witnessed the wreck and pulled over. Together we wrenched off the mangled bubble in the nose of the trailer. Imp lay on top of Epa. I learned the value of a properly-tied safety slipknot when we pulled loose Imp’s lead. He saw daylight, scrabbled to get out, and made it. Poor Epa, she took all his hoof blows. She seemed to know though, that this was also her only way out, and as soon as Imp got loose, she too fought her way to her knees, and crawled out through the debris.
Both horses made it to their feet. Palm-sized swellings formed under many cuts on Epa. She quivered. Imp looked around wild-eyed, but had few cuts.
Our attending angel, the off-duty deputy, radioed for help from the volunteer sheriff’s possee, which had its own horse trailer. We had forgotten that this was a holiday weekend. No one responded.
The stable where I boarded was a couple of miles away. The deputy suggested leading the horses on foot, but I didn’t think I could hang on to their leads if something spooked them worse than they already were. I have always felt safer on horseback than on foot. Cuts, scrapes and swellings littered Epa’s back, and she could not be ridden. That left Imp, the young Morgan gelding who enjoyed bucking off certain people.
By now it was dark. The deputy called for highway patrol escort cars. I bridled Imp, hopped on bareback, and led Epa alongside.
We moved along the interstate shoulder at a walk. Cars whizzed by in the dark at 60 or 70 miles per hour, headlights flashed, horns honked, and the two highway patrol escort cars’ red, white, and blue lights flashed in front of, and behind us.
Under me, Imp felt like a coiled spring. Epa moved stiffly, but I think her soreness kept Imp slow and under control. Epa always had a calming effect on Imp, and he adored his “stepmother”. Once, just to be with her, Imp jumped out of a four-and-a-half-foot pen, escaped the barn, and ran down the road to catch up to the two of us on a nearby trail.
I, the two horses, the sheriff’s deputy, and the two highway patrol cars made it safely to the boarding stable. I returned my shaken-up friends to their pens and called the U.C. Davis vet hospital emergency line. They advised me to give Epa four grams of bute right away. I remember this because four grams is a lot of phenylbutazone.
Neither of the horses sustained life-threatening injuries, or even needed stitches. I went back to my house in Davis, threw open the door, and prevailed upon my housemate and his girlfriend for a shot of Jack Daniels.
I’ve always wondered how that trailer came loose. The approach to the interstate off-ramp was very bumpy, and the only thing I can think of is that the clamshell hitch popped free. The safety chains were a joke and snapped. To this day, I prefer a gooseneck hitch.
I fell in love with Imp forever that night. A handsome mahogany bay, he loved horse shows, and judges loved him. Trustworthy? He was my toddler son’s first mount, and continued to win horse show high points into his mid-20’s, mastered lots of other gate latches, and taught several children how to ride at our stable here in Colorado. Many offered to buy him.
The boyfriend? He went bye-bye.
In 2002 at age 28, although properly vaccinated, Imp came down with the West Nile Virus after a booster. Weeks and many intravenous treatments later, he recovered.
Then one night a few days later, Imp got cast in his stall. "Cast" is when a horse rolls up so close to the stall wall that it cannot straighten its legs to stand. Many horses panic in this situation. Imp must have struggled all night; he was discovered the next morning, on his side, dripping in cold sweat. We rolled him over to free his legs. I tugged on the lead line many times, and he tried so hard. We called our vet at the time, but in spite of her valiant care, he could never make it past getting to his knees. Imp had strained that brave old heart.
Our veterinarian cried with me as she put Imp to sleep.
I still cry.
And I am thankful for that trailer wreck.