Long Night …Into Light (Part 1)

It was Monday night.I was in my weekly ceramics class when the telephone call came. One of our horses was down. “Oh my God, oh my God” became my mantra which seemed to be the glue that held me together as I found my way to the telephone to hear the details. It was Carob. My mind went into clutter as I rushed to put my tools and projects away, grabbed John, my working partner and co-owner of Carob, and made our way quickly to the car.

With our breath held tightly in our chests, we wound our way through the mountains toward home. We talked about Carob, our herd matriarch. She had recently had difficulty getting up due to what we assumed was a sore shoulder. We hoped that was all it was. We worked hard at not being paralyzed by fear, and tried to keep our minds and conversations focused on hopeful images. We could do that for short periods of time, and then our thoughts of the worst come rushing in like a dam that had broken. There were moments when we felt we were drowning in the swirling impressions we had received from the neighbor who thought that one of her legs was broken.

When at last we arrived home after the tense 40 minute drive, the guest at one of our cottages was standing beside the road marking Carob’s approximate location. He had been holding a flashlight vigil until we arrived, comforting and encouraging her from a distance. I was relieved that he was there, and deeply grateful. As I jumped out of the car, I saw her grayish white coat in the eyes of the flashlight. My heart sank like a lump of clay to the pit of my stomach. She was trapped in a narrow ditch and for the first time we were faced with a true crisis with one of our horses, this time not simply the product of a fearful imagination. I quickly scanned her legs for breaks and all seemed in good shape although positioned uphill from her body,—a problem for horses.

While John stayed with Carob, I called the vet describing the situation. His instructions were to dig her out so she could get some leverage with her feet, get her up, assess her, and call him. He mentioned that it was unlikely that she had any broken bones if she wasn’t moaning and groaning. She wasn’t. Encouraging.

We rounded up neighbors, waking some who had already turned out their lights for the night, gathered up ropes, halter, flashlights and shovels, and started digging. We were grateful that the recent rains had left a soft friendly soil in which to dig. As we pulled dirt away from her legs, she struggled hard to get up, a little prematurely but almost made it. The other six horses standing in the shadows, spontaneously whinnied an angelic chorus of supportive cheers that rang out in the darkness as she came close to standing. She whinnied her response as she sank back to the ground, somewhat disheartened, but nevertheless in a position that took her closer to level ground. As the digging continued, she waited another 15 minutes which seemed to be her pattern, and she tried again. The chorus of horses praised her efforts one more time. And she whinnied back her thank you along with her determination. It was a remarkable interaction. As we continued to dig, we all felt their inspiration.

On my way to the barn to get more equipment, I was feeling unsure of what the outcome would be this evening. I walked in a fearful daze up the hill toward the herd. I found them standing as still as statues in formation, their bodies angled in perfect alignment with heads facing down the hill, eyes focused intently on Carob. I knew I was in the presence of an awesome power as the herd stood staunch and united. Tears made gentle pathways down my cheeks. It brought encouragement to my heart as well as memories of the day that Mano died two years before.

Mano was a descendent of Man ‘O War and became our Man ‘O Peace. After some dramatic experiences with him (another story), he finally left his body a few years ago. Minutes after he had been finally tucked into his new bed in the earth, the herd he left behind formed a small circle one body behind another, head to tail, head to tail. They silently and slowly marched around and around as a final salute to their buddy. We stood quietly. Later as the sun came out, a breeze from Mano’s wings as he flew away to his freedom, rippled the grasses up the slope. The herd began to gallop around the perimeter of the pasture with tails gracefully dancing behind them seemingly following an invisible leader. We secretly believed they were seeing Mano taking the lead in his mystical body that was free from discomfort and pain. Now, here, on this evening with their matriarch in trouble, the herd was once again paying a tribute, this time bringing her the strength to triumph.

After a few minutes, two of the horses broke formation and came within a few yards of Carob and the kind neighbors helping her. Some of them were a little uneasy to have the horses so close as they worked. I explained to the two that it would be better if they stepped back. They quietly obliged but didn’t go far. They were a strong presence for Carob as they stood nearby looking almost surreal in the darkness, softly outlined by the reflection of flashlights that focused their gaze toward Carob.

Three hours had gone by and she was still stuck. With frequent attempts to get up, exhaustion had set in for Carob, but we were encouraged that her last effort had brought her to fairly level ground. We knew she needed rest. We slipped a homeopathic remedy in her mouth to support her during this time of trauma and muscle stress. She went to sleep immediately surprising even us at the speed in which it worked. She made the sweetest snoring sounds as she took a much needed nap, storing up energy for her next effort to stand up. She looked like an innocent child sleeping so tenderly in the glow of flashlights set strategically to illuminate the area around her without shining in her eyes.

A little later, one of our mares named Mariah, with large, intense eyes, planted herself near me, and offered me an emotional embrace as she held me in her gaze. Deeply moved, I acknowledged her support. Then, she and two others moved on to Carob as she was resting while we were awaiting a neighbor who was a veterinary assistant. Mariah nuzzled Carob’s face and nibbled lovingly on her ear, while Tal, our black and white paint, nudged her gently on her rear. The third, the herd leader, stood quietly a few feet away. Whether they were holding their hats in front of them and respectfully saying their goodbyes, or bringing her comfort, I couldn’t be sure at the time, but bittersweet though it was, it was a thing of awe-inspiring beauty. For a few moments I felt at peace.

The tide changed with the arrival of the veterinary assistant, Sarah. She and another neighbor had both recently lost their own horses and upon seeing Carob in her restful state were affected adversely by her quietness. Unaware of the positive impact of the remedy that was bringing her rest, they misread her sleepiness as catatonic, and her temporary lack of interest in getting up as a serious problem. Since my first response to their arrival was a sense of relief that neighbors were here who knew more than I did about horses in physical crisis, I relaxed into trusting their every observation, completely forgetting who I was and what I knew to be true about this horse. Waves of fear washed away my memory leaving me dulled and passive. It didn’t occur to me to speak a reassurance to them that Carob was in fact alright and was resting.

During the 5 hours that had already gone by, Carob had been amazingly calm, with her vital signs normal. However, we noticed that Carob started to show some distress when tension developed among the humans. Sarah wanted to give our mare medication to relax her muscles. Knowing that Carob was extremely sensitive to any kind of treatments whether natural or chemical no matter how innocuous, we were hesitant. We had already given her a remedy that relaxed her, and in general, we avoid chemicals in all aspects of our lives where we have some degree of control. Finding our quiet center in a crisis is extremely difficult and we felt like we were on the spot in front of neighbors who so graciously had offered to help but who most likely would not understand our perspective regarding this particular issue. I was not yet ready to mention the homeopathic remedy wanting to avoid, for Carob’s sake, the familiar tensions between traditional and alternative medicine practices. John and I needed time to reconcile our feelings, to make our decision, and present it in a sensitive way. I suggested we take a few minutes to process. Unfortunately Sarah reacted with a couple of sarcastic comments. I felt grieved by the response and its potential impact on Carob.

Sarah began to inform us of the things that could go wrong if our mare did not have the medication. Even though it is wise to inform and to be informed, I received clear inner discernment that this information was, for me, packaged in fear. I’d learned through the years that fear was not, in the majority of cases, valid guidance for me. I bit on it anyway. I caved in. I just wanted to get on with it, especially since Sarah started noting all of the signs of distress Carob was showing, some of them true, and others misinterpreted. Her “sweating” was only on the ground side coming from the moisture of the earth. Her top side was dry. When I touched Carob though, sure enough, she was trembling,….and so was I. Knowing the empathic and sensitive side of horses, I felt that familiar internal nudge again that it was not Carob’s predicament as much as her sensitivity to the human conflict surrounding her that caused a sudden manifestation of distress signals. I mumbled my thoughts to another neighbor but was by then under the influence of my own self doubt that held me like a numbing drug. As a responsible caretaker of this horse, if only I could have found my place of composure and politely excused John and myself to take a few brief minutes to come to a decision. But alas, at that moment, my intuitive messages seemed vague and distant as I heard and felt them through a layer of murkiness caused by social pressure and fear. John, however, stood his ground but he’d lost me as a staunch supporter; he finally gave in because of his own intimidations that were similar to mine.

As the needle carrying the medication pierced Carob’s body, I felt sickened. I knew then that we had violated the spirit of this horse who moved so easily between the worlds and whom we had come to know as our mystical horse, our unicorn.

Sarah, who had just spoken to the vet, recommended we turn Carob by carefully swinging her legs over her body to the opposite side. This would bring relief to her organs that had been under the weight of her body for so many hours. Also there was hope that the movement would provide the momentum for her to get up, and it would bring her to a better position on the ground more level than before. We turned her over, but, alas, she lacked the motivation to get up even though we were shouting our encouragement.

Finally, we tuned in to our own sensing and to the repetitive messages from our neighbors, that Carob was exhausted and needed to rest. This was precisely what the homeopathic remedy had offered her but we humans had continued to interrupt her process. It was 1 o’clock in the morning and we all finally agreed that she should be left to sleep, and the neighbors each filed away for the evening. That left John, myself, the herd, and the stars overhead.

We went to tend to the other horses keeping one eye on Carob as she slept. We kept the other eye on the clock somewhat nervously having been cautioned by the vet that 12 hours down was about the limit and there would be little hope after that. We were approaching the half way mark.

About an hour later, the herd drew our attention to Carob as she was stirring and trying to get up on her own. John and I went to her side where we discovered with exasperation that her movements had positioned her feet and legs uphill once again. We felt that a dark energy was working against us, or perhaps Carob was still trying to teach us something. We were perplexed and frustrated. At that point, John, in an impowering expression of anger, strongly rejected what was looking like a hopeless situation. That snapped me out of my own stupor that was harboring a belief that it was impossible. We just weren’t sure what to do next. So we sat down near Carob and stroked her as we told her how much we loved her.

Almost immediately, a glimmer of hope snatched our attention. We noticed that if we were to flip her over again, she would be positioned perfectly on level ground, even slightly downhill which would be to her advantage. We decided to go for it even though there were only two of us, and even though I was still drenched in fear. In the past, I had learned by watching John that his normal “fearlessness” tended to create a peaceful ambience that never manifested my own “fearful” expectations. I chose to follow his lead this time. We flipped her over and with that momentum, the well-rested Carob tried valiantly to get up. With a little pushing from us, she triumphed! At last she was standing, wobbling—but standing! We cheered and cried in harmony with the whinnies in the background.

We carefully backed away to give her time to stabilize herself. Out of the shadows came a form walking toward her. It was Apolinaire, the royal and wise leader of the herd, who was right on cue, bringing the final hurrah. In spite of our shouts of despairing “no, no, stay back, let her be,” he knew clearly his mission. She had been earthbound for 7 hours, and he came swiftly but gently to her side. He reached out his muzzle and nudged her into much needed forward movement. He then herded her up the hill to the barn where she stopped to shake her body, took care of bodily functions, and started eating. At that moment it seemed as it had only been a terrible nightmare and we had awakened to everything being perfectly normal.

Apolinaire, in an uncharacteristic show of affection and gentleness, remained near her side for the next couple of days. Not only he, but Carob, and the rest of us, had found our way out of the long night…into the light.

Looking Back
As we replayed the whole evening, we couldn’t help but wonder if the ordeal might have been over much sooner if we had listened clearly and acted on our instincts rather than letting fear and intimidation be our masters. Certainly we would have been more confident and at peace inwardly. Instead, from the moment I saw Carob trapped in the ditch, I emotionally bought into the impossibility of the situation. From that point, each intuition, each sign of encouragement came to me through the thick fog of that immobilizing and fearful perspective. I was not able to embrace what later became clear to us, that Carob was truly alright. She showed no signs of pain, and was remarkably calm. (John shares his own experience.)

After 7 hours, Carob had triumphed. It happened in minutes once we broke through the veil of hopelessness. After that revelation, not quite knowing the next step, we offered what we now recognize as a meditation of love under the starlit sky as we sat with Carob and told her we loved her. The next step was revealed, we took action, and the rest happened like a lovely dance. Carob was suddenly standing on all four feet!

Prior to this night, John and I each had been ignoring our intuitions time and time again. Often we would wind our way back through a situation that had gone awry to the moments we could have turned the tide if we had only acted on our inner guidance. Instead we invalidated it, or chose to ignore it out of fear: fear of failure; fear of what others would say; fear of taking a step that might not make sense at the moment and without knowing the next step; fear that a terrible thing would happen for which we would be responsible. We decided that pattern would have to change in our lives. Carob was listening. Seven days later, we had another chance.


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