Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Guilt. Horror. Responsibility?

So I got some disturbing news yesterday. Today I got more of the details.

On the one hand, this is another “Everybody in life makes choices” kind of post. On the other hand, well, you hate to be the person who made the first bad choice that led to the next bad choice that finally led to the worst bad choice.

The bad news comes from Laurie, back in Walla Walla. 

On Sunday night she posted to Facebook that her daughter L was in the hospital because a horse had rolled on her.  I immediately felt that horrible plunge in my belly—Oh God, Otto—followed by logic. OF COURSE it wasn’t Otto. L is just a kid, she has other kid-appropriate horses that she rides. It was probably the trusty old horse, Nugget. He probably slipped and fell in the mud and broke her leg. Bad luck. Better send Laurie a note.

Yesterday, an update: L’s pelvis is broken. She is in too much pain to sleep, even at the hospital, even with drugs. She needs full-time care. Laurie, who was already in a bad place financially, is facing down massive hospital bills and is looking for home medical supplies for after L is discharged. She will be bedridden for weeks, potentially.

I felt so terrible for Laurie. All the things she has gone through. Her own health problems and life challenges. Her difficult ex. Her problems with her neighbors and the county. She is such a survivor, and yet these things keep happening to her. It’s like she can’t catch a break.

Of course, when you spend a lot of time with horses, you take the chance of getting hurt. I think most horse people have accepted that the odds of never being in a horse-related accident are slim to none. If it wasn't this horse, this day, it would be another horse on another day. Sooner or later, your number is up.


But. Today, I got the news that I had been dreading. I really had shut the possibility out of my mind, because it was just too awful to contemplate:

“People who know us and our horses have been tentatively asking "which horse was it?" NO, it was not any of [L's] most dearly beloveds, Nugget, Jerry, and Scout. It was not any of my lesson horses. It was Otto, my high-spirited endurance horse.”

“She got him out, groomed him....he fell asleep at the hitching post...saddled him, donned the mandatory helmet (good girl!)...and had just been trotting him happily around the yard when "it" happened. Neither of us really knows what "it" was. She had gone by with a big smile saying what fun and how "noodly" he is (he IS noodly, at first....in his oh-so-Arab way he looks around at everything and goes through this little series of back-and-forth sideways spooks before he gets his focus. The first two miles of any endurance race are like that with him, then he goes to work and it's all business. Well....she was passing me for maybe the third time....went right by me...touching distance....when he suddenly seemed to plant and scramble backwards like something had startled him, losing his balance and going up at the same time.”

“She fell off backwards when he hit the vertical, still holding the reins. There was a sick moment where I saw her clearly, on the ground, her legs spread, on her back, still holding the right rein, and him teetering on his hind legs. I remember praying for him to fall away from her. Then his right hind seemed to shoot forward out from under him. It had rained earlier, and the grass and wood chips were slick. So there he teetered, then down he came with a sickening crack. I hoped the crack was the saddle, but it wasn't. He had to roll back and forth to get momentum to get back up, and that roll was back and forth across [L’s] torso and legs.”

Of course I feel guilty. But it is more than that. Emotions are funny things. My decision to give Otto up has been validated yet again. He was always unpredictable and unstable. He certainly did buck and rear when he was upset. Everything was a potential trigger. This "accident" was classic Otto behavior taken to its inevitable conclusion.

Foremost in my mind: It could have been me. If I hadn’t given Otto up, it could have been me in that hospital bed. Me in that pain. Me with the financial burden. Me with the nightmares. 

Second-foremost: I sold Laurie this horse. Yes, she knew what he was like and why I was selling him, but I still feel sick to think that Laurie wrote me a check a few years ago… only to take on this burden.

I feel like I sold her a loaded gun. Yes, she was aware that it was a gun and that it was loaded, but I don't feel like her foreknowledge really absolves me. The safest choice—the most ethical choice, the most socially responsible, love-thy-neighbor, no-man-is-an-island choice—would have been to keep the weapon locked away... or to destroy it.

Because the alternative is to trade it for lucre and live with the consequences.


  1. Ruth your post is heart wrenching. I feel very bad for you and your friend with this turn of events.
    You make a strong point about horses being unpredictable animals. Each of us takes that risk every time we ride or work around them.

    You also made the point that your friend was well aware of Otto's behaviors and you are flogging yourself where she would never even think to.
    I sensed the horror that you must feel in all of this even though you are not directly responsible for any of it.

    Hopefully you can help her in her recovery in some way...encouraging words and care-or helping to set up a fund to help her monetarily through this. Maybe even helping to set up something that helps with cleaning her house and providing meals.

    There are no answers in this...only more awareness about LIFE.

    Blessings and prayers for you and your friend

  2. (((Hugs)))

    They are unpredictable, and it could happen on any horse. I assume that Otto had been behaving himself pretty well for your friend to allow her daughter to ride him; some things just can't be forseen.
    People have been seriously injured on the most docile horses out there, please don't blame yourself.

  3. It COULD happen on any horse...but it's more likely to happen on some horses than on other horses.

    I didn't understand that so well until I gave the Toad back to his owner (after riding him for 2,000+ competitive mile) and started riding my nasty-ass green Dragon who was sane and predictable and actually SAFER for the rider than the Toad ever was.

    I didn't know that before. I know it now. But I can't learn it for somebody else, and neither can you.

    We are holding the child in our warmest thoughts. Please send updates!

  4. Of course I know Laurie doesn't blame me. I don't even know that she really blames Otto. He is unpredictable and she knew that. She was actually giving me lessons on him before I sold him to her — she had seen all his tricks! And L is a little spitfire and a daredevil. Nobody forced her onto Otto. She's a tough little rider.

    You can see from the pictures that when he was good he was quite good. The problem was that the bad Otto would come out (as he did this time) completely without warning.

    I just feel like... I dunno. I guess what really bothers me most about the situation is that I know Laurie has enough other strife going on in her life, I wish I wasn't responsible (even indirectly) for adding to the drama.

  5. After thinking about this overnight, I had a thought about your "loaded gun" analogy.

    I think when you sold Otto, he wasn't so much a loaded gun as much as a "really shiny car with bad brakes."

    Had you sold the "really shiny car with bad brakes" to a brand new "driver," you would have been irresponsible.

    But you didn't do that.

    You sold Otto to the horse equivalent of a "master mechanic" who, at least theoretically, has the ability to "fix the brakes" before lending the "car" to a brand-new driver.

    You did your best with what you got, and sold him to a responsible adult with skills.

    That's my take on it.

    How's the kid doing now? Update?

  6. I can feel your heartache through your words. The second-guessing and wondering "what if" you had done something else. But you didn't. You did the right thing. Like Aarene said, you sold a ferrari to a master mechanic, and when all hell broke loose years later you have no blame in that. But sadness, yes. In his photos he is such a lovely horse. Healing thoughts to your friends, and you.

  7. I could see SInwaan's ears in one of your pictures up there...he was one that used to flip out on a regular basis and succeeded in totally realigning my right side (and that wasn't a good thing)
    Then what I did I do? gave him to my niece who not long after got stepped on by him at a show and broke her knee...ugh!

    I have always worried about her getting hurt too.
    It is kind of like a mother with a child...no matter how old they are we still feel responsible and worry over them.

  8. Oh, Ruth, I'm so sorry. What a scary tragedy! I like Aarene's analogy, though.

  9. Yes, falconfeathers, Sinwaan was involved with many of those photos. And for some reason those two boys were more likely to be naughty together, than with other equine riding companions.

    I like and agree with Aarene's analogy too. You were responsible about it. But I understand feeling somewhat at fault due to the circumstances. The hay could not have come at a better time, so that was indeed most helpful to her and I was happy to be able to play a small part in delivering it!

    L is now doing really well. too. Kids must bounce back faster...