When I was 12 years old, I rode horses at this farm in Montgomery County. I had to clean like twenty stalls to ride one horse for an hour, but I was 12 and I didn’t care. It was a real, live horse, and I got to ride it.
Since I was a decently competent rider (i.e., I could stay on the horse’s back), I could pretty much do what I wanted, without supervision. This was twenty years ago and it wasn’t a “lesson facility,” so there were no rules like, “Don’t jump when you’re alone,” or, “Don’t go on trail rides by yourself.” Seriously, the woman who owned the place would say, “Oh, just grab that bay from the field and ride him.”
And there would be ten bay horses out there, and I’d just grab one and ride it. Once, it was a hot thoroughbred. Thank god one of the stable hands saw me with him before I could get on.
See, if I could talk to my twelve-year-old self, I would say, “Don’t be an idiot on a horse.”
So one day I tacked up this old chestnut horse, determined to go on a trail ride. I was an Independent Girl. I didn’t need someone to go on a trail ride with me. Forget that this was 1990, and there were no cell phones. Once I climbed the hill at the back of the property, no one would know where I was.
I also wasn’t too smart about my planning: I didn’t even let anyone know I was going.
So there I was, twelve, alone, on a horse I didn’t know too well. The foliage was beautiful, red and brown leaves, and the weather was perfect for a trail ride. Crisp air, the faint smell of smoke somewhere in the distance. It was probably November. The trail ride could have been the setting for a post card.
Then the horse, while trotting through the leaves, got his hooves tangled in some old barbed wire.
Now, if you don’t know anything about horses, let me break down the barrier for you right now: they’re stupid. There are degrees of intelligence, but at their core, they’re stupid animals. If something goes wrong, even a quiet horse is going to have a moment of insanity.
This one did. He flipped out. He threw me, for sure. I don’t remember hitting the ground, but I remember scrambling to get the hell out of his way. He was throwing himself to the ground, he was rearing, he was bucking. The barbed wire seemed to be everywhere — I couldn’t get away from it, and neither could he. It was like a scene from a bad movie, thin wire came ripping up out of the leaves from every direction.
Then he stopped. The leaves settled. He was blowing hard, sweat all over. Not too much blood, not that I would have known what to do if there had been. His bridle was broken and laying on the ground. I cautiously approached him, noting he was standing somewhat awkwardly.
Then I realized that a strand of barbed wire had gotten hooked under the horseshoes of his front legs.
I tried to pick up one hoof, but it was attached to the other by the barbed wire. I had no wire cutters, nothing. I was 12. I was also a mile from the farm, which sat in a valley between two rather large hills. I screamed for help forever, but no one heard me. I had no functional bridle or halter, so no way to tie the animal.
What to do? Leave him there? Walk back for help? That didn’t feel like the right answer. The horse was trapped. Even at 12, I knew he could panic again. It was late afternoon — what if I couldn’t remember how to get where he was? What if animals attacked him?
I yelled for help some more.
I sat down in the leaves and cried.
Finally, I realized I was going to have to help myself. The horse was eating leaves and the sweat was drying on his shoulders. He seemed to be okay with the situation, now that he knew the barbed wire hadn’t killed him. He would have been perfectly content to continue his life, rooted to that spot.
I, however, had other plans. Sheer brute strength and wiggling and cursing got the barbed wire out from under one horse shoe. Then I was able to lift the other.
But the barbed wire wouldn’t come loose, no matter what I did. It was wedged pretty tight.
I didn’t know what to do, so I finally figured I could bend the hell out of the wire, back and forth, back and forth, to see if it would break. I have no idea how long it took, but it seemed like forever. Finally, one side snapped. Once I knew it would work, the other side took less time.
The horse was free. Barbed wire was wedged beneath one shoe, but he was free.
I looped the reins of the broken bridle around his neck and led him home.
The irony? No one had even missed me.
Even later, when I related the story to my mother, she didn’t seem to understand the significance. She seemed more concerned that she’d have to pay to repair the bridle.
But I understood the significance. For the first time in my life, something was completely, irrevocably up to me. I’d gotten myself into one hell of a mess.
And without help, I got myself out.