Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Blanket Incident (or, Trampling #1)

Many of my hard-learned lessons were, in retrospect, possibly avoidable with the application of a little common sense. However, there were some that came as a complete and shocking surprise. One of these insights that left an indelible impression (literally as well as figuratively) was what I refer to as the “Blanket Incident.”

I have always considered myself to be prudently cautious in handling the half-ton horses with which I share my farm and life. To that end, when turning out, I always put out the submissive horses first and dominant ones last to avoid possible confrontations at the gate – I reverse the order when bringing them into the barn. That system seemed flawless until the introduction of extenuating circumstances – namely, horse clothing. Little did I know that, apparently, horses don’t necessarily recognize each other when they’re decked out in their winter wear.

This does not look like supervillian garb to me.

On the evening of the “Blanket Incident,” I was turning the horses out after their evening meal. At the time, I had three mares that shared a paddock. The most dominant, Figure, is a Thoroughbred mare purchased privately after she went through an auction as a “no sale” – she was very thin, obviously blind in her milky right eye and unattractive to prospective buyers. A friend and I bought Figure and another mare who was similarly unappealing to bidders by virtue of her uncontrollable shaking, soaking wet, lathered body and foaming mouth and took them home, concerned that their next stop would have been a livestock auction where they would probably have been passed up again by all but the meat buyers. Figure put on weight, eventually had her bad eye surgically removed, and turned out to have lovely conformation and movement. The other mare, Sparks, was rehabilitated and eventually given to a lady who wanted a few horses as pets, but she was in the paddock with Figure and another Thoroughbred, Kelley, at the time of the incident.

Figure, the trampler, looking all innocent and motherly.

It was one of the first really cold nights of that winter, dark and muddy from recent rains, and I’d bundled the mares into their weatherproof coats. I was bundled up myself in my undeniably unfashionable winter wear: insulated body suit, multiple layers of socks topped by a layer of plastic grocery bags (for extra moisture protection) and encased in crusty muck boots, topped off with the blaze orange knit cap my students refer to as my “don’t shoot me” hat.

The two more submissive mares went out without incident and I brought Figure out to the gate. No sooner had I walked her through the gate than one of the other mares ran at her, teeth bared, apparently mistaking her boss mare for an interloper. Alas, this attack was to Figure’s blind side, thus she didn’t see her attacker (though it may not have made any difference if she had – she may not have recognized her underling either). The attacking mare turned and started kicking Figure. Frantic to escape, Figure ran directly and literally over me, pushing me down into the mud.

My mud-stained chalk outline - yes, I was wearing my "don't shoot me" knit hat!

It was the first time I had ever been trampled. Fortunately the mares all emerged from their scuffle without a scratch because I was in no condition to do any doctoring that evening. After I extricated myself from the half-frozen mud (I guess I was lucky it was muddy, as I sunk in nicely - if the ground had been completely hard and frozen, I might have fared worse), I struggled through the last of my chores and dragged myself up to the house. I was really sore for a few days and my back bothered me for weeks afterwards but I consider myself very lucky to have escaped an ambulance ride.

I have gone over the events of that evening many times in my mind, searching for other possible reasons the submissive mare may have chosen to attack Figure. After all, I’d used blankets many times without problems. Figure was used to these mares being on her blind side and the other mares feared and respected her on every other occasion. The only change on that evening was the blankets. These three mares were relatively new to the farm and I don’t recall having used blankets on them previous to that evening, though they all accepted them calmly, leading me to believe that they were accustomed to their wear. The lesson left an indelible imprint on the diligence of making sure all horses sniff noses and acknowledge each other over the fence before leading them through the gate into a group, especially when wearing their disguises.


  1. Oh my gosh!! So funny to watch horses prancing and thrashing around in their blankets!! Even better when they bicker and panic because they don't recognize their paddock mates, as long as nobody gets hurt!

    Glad you were in relatively reasonable condition afterward! No fun getting trampled!

  2. Love this! I don't know how I have missed your blog :)

  3. Love the original drawing! And glad you didn't get sent to the hospital!