My mother warned me about arthritis in my foot. When I was 15, I broke my foot in 3 places playing football with a friend. The bones were never set, and instead I limped about in a bulky cast for 6 weeks, only to have an odd lump on the top of my foot afterward. Mom was convinced I would have arthritis before long in that foot. To this day it doesnt bother me.
My arthritis stems from another adventure all together. It comes from a horse farm. Yes, a horse farm.
I was only 19 years old when I went to work at Cadron Creek Arabians. I lied to get the job. I loved horses so much that I just knew this was the perfect job for me. When they asked if I had experience, I told them all about taking care of a sick friends horses which never actually happened. Rather, the friend got so sick that he had to sell his horses. It wasnt long after that his health finally gave out and Jerry passed away peacefully in his sleep, in Clearfield Utah.
So the story goes that I began to work at Cadron Creek Arabians in Quitman Arkansas back in 1999. I loved my job! I got to roam fields just filled with beautiful mares, feeding them, bathing them, brushing them, and during my first month there, assisting in the birth of a new foal. The horses were almost all straight Egyptian Arabians, with bloodlines fully traceable back to the time of Alexander the Great. They were proud horses with tiny ears, huge eyes, graceful necks, and the most beautiful gait Id ever seen.
I got used to my job. I even got to know a few of the mares and was very close to them. There were two in particular that were outcasts because they were not the precious straight Egyptian bloodline. One was a Russian Arabian named War Princess, the other was a Polish Arabian named Sonrisa. They were both lovely and I adored them. But because of their lineage, they had been, I dont want to say mistreated, but perhaps not treated with the same courtesy and kindness the others had been treated with. War Princess was a beautiful Bay with long black stockings and a tiny white streak in her pitch black tail. But this is the story about Sonrisa.
Sonrisa was a beautiful and elegant Gray who had an incurable disease called EPT. The way it was explained to me, this disease made her legs completely numb, which in turn made her rather skittish. This EPT was a fatal disease. She tended to prance a bit since she couldnt feel where she was stepping. I think that would make me nervous, too! Sometimes the other people working on the farm would get frustrated with her and smack her on the butt with the reigns when putting her out to pasture, as though they were in a Wild West movie.
It took me months to get her to where she would allow me near her with reigns of any kind. I worked with her for what felt like ages before she would trust me at all. At first I bribed her with sugar cubes and carrots. Usually I just left the reigns behind and didnt mess with them. Then one rainy day it was time for a vet check and guess who was sent after Sonrisa to put her in the stocks? Im sure you've guessed already. Me.
I tied the reigns around my foot so she wouldnt see them I went out to her as I normally would, one hand extended, palm up. She came to me as she had been doing for the past week, nuzzled my hand, and then reached down to pick at the grass around her hooves. Her beautiful silver mane cascaded around her head, the matching tail swishing at the flies near by.
When I reached out and put my hand on her flank, her dappled gray body quivered. I ran my hand slowly down her legs, getting her used to my movement. I was about to do something with her Id not done before. I wanted her to be prepared for anything. My hands went down to the hoof, and back up again coming up her back against the grain of the hair, lightly scratching as I went. I got to the base of her mane and her head lifted. Her lower lip began to tremble as though she were trying to tell me how good my scratching felt, so I lingered longer. I lifted my hand higher, stroking under that beautiful silvery mane as I went. Finally I reached her head. I ran my hands over her face, her ears, her eyes, her nose, and finally under her head.
I reached behind me and lifted my foot. The reins came with it, silently and unnoticeable - part of the reason I had paid so much attention to her face and eyes. I untied the reigns as I played with her face a little more, and finally was able to manage getting one side around her head. She didnt budge. It was as though she finally trusted me where she wouldn't ever allow anyone else to go. I fastened the bridle on her elegant head and began to walk with her. She came along as obediently as a well trained Golden Retriever.
One of my coworkers, Keely, who had been working at the farm for many years reached out to touch her nose and Sonrisa reared up instantly. I immediately stepped in to calm her. I walked right in front of her, put my hand out with the palm up, and bent my knees slightly, making myself smaller. She lowered herself, nuzzled my hand, and calmed immediately. That was the day I gained the respect of my coworkers.I got her all the way to the vet stocks and marched her right in, with everyone I worked with standing in astonishment at the ease to which I accomplished this task. I clipped the stocks closed behind her and removed the bridle. Her head moved not an inch. She stood as still as a marble masterpiece.
I went to gather some hay into the back of my farm truck to feed to the mares while the Vet was doing his inspections. I wanted to have a nice surprise for Sonrisa when she came back to her stall later. She had earned it. The rain started coming down harder, and the wooden ladder was starting to get slick, so I climbed the bails of hay instead. I was climbing high into the loft to gather a few of my hidden sugar cubes to hide in the bottom of her feed trough when I lost my footing and came down hard. When I saw the bed of the truck looming before me, coming faster by the second, I twisted in midair somehow. By doing this, I caught my foot between a couple of hay bales and my body suddenly was jerked to an excruciatingly painful halt, leaving me dangling from the bales like a rag doll stuck in a tree. I cried out in pain, as anyone would. Somewhere off in the distance a horse whinnied aloud.
My foot finally came free of the hay, my knee feeling like it was being torn in half, and I plummeted the rest of the way down to the bed of the truck where I hit with a thunderous explosion of crunching body parts on a hard metallic surface. Moaning, I wrapped my arms around my knee. It had already begun to swell. My Wranglers were feeling tighter by the second.
I got up, leaving the truck where it was. I limped the 100 yards or more to Sonrisas stall and finally opened my hand. The sugar cubes were slightly crushed, but she'd still have a treat when she made it back. I turned around to go back to the truck, and there stood Keely right behind me.
"Everything ok? Sonrisa started screaming out for no reason a minute ago. The vet told me I was upsetting her, so I thought I'd come up here for a minute. It's funny, though. Nobody was near her when she started screaming."
My mind flashed back to when I hung from the hay, dangling like a loose thread from a hem. I remembered hearing a horse scream. Could that have been my Sonrisa? Did she hear me? Did she love me as much as I loved her?
About a month later, it was decided that I was in need of surgery for some severely torn cartilage in my knee. I was to fly down toFlorida in order to have it done. Little did I know I would never have the surgery, and would instead find myself homeless for the first time in my life. But thats another story.
That leaves me here, now, feeling arthritis from a horse farm. I wouldn't trade that day or that memory for anything in the world.