An Admonishing Horse

Honey and me, Circa 1995.

The semester before I graduated college I completed an internship with a big accounting firm. We were given two weeks of spring vacation before reporting back to school. I spent the break soaking up every free moment with my horse Honey at my family’s farm.

One morning I went out to the stables to get Honey ready to haul to a friend’s place for a ride. Nobody was there but the horses and me. I pulled up to the barn and saw Honey had been turned out into the round pen. She was laying down and looking at her stomach with discomfort. I’d seen this many times before with other horses. It looked like colic, a dangerous and often deadly condition for horses.

Panicking, I ran to the pen and tried to get her to stand up. She wasn’t thrashing around but looked like she might at any moment. When a horse shows signs of colic, the last thing you want them to do is to start rolling around. It can cause irreversible internal issues. I grabbed her halter and placed it on her head. She looked too uncomfortable to stand up, so I just crouched next to her and rubbed her ears in her favorite place. I could see in her eyes she felt miserable. As I started to walk away to call the veterinarian, I saw her begin to move into a roll. I have been around horses since before I was two years old, so I knew never to do what I did next…try to get between a horse and the ground.

In this instance, however, all logic flew out the window as panic took over. Honey’s back was to me, and she didn’t know I was coming up behind her. The weight of her body knocked me back on to the ground as she began to roll, and time appeared to be in slow motion as I saw all four of her hooves in the air just above my head as she threw her full weight into rolling entirely over. I thought I was a goner. Her entire body was about to land on me. The wind had been knocked out of me so I couldn’t yell to tell her I was there, nor was there any time. Just before she completely rolled over, she caught sight of me in the corner of her eye. I could see the whites of her eyes as she froze for a moment. I heard her grunt with surprise as mid-roll, with all four legs flailing in the air, she managed to reverse her motion and rolled away from me just before landing entirely on top of me. Honey’s next actions were astonishing.

I remained kneeling on the ground, trying to catch my breath. Honey, realizing she was about to roll on top of me, stood up and headed straight for me. I was still out of breath kneeling on the ground.  Using the entire length of her nose and forehead, she lowered her head and drove it into the center of my chest lifting me into a standing position. I felt Honey’s concern and frustration consume me. She then gave me another good push and shook her head vigorously as I heard a loud, almost shouting voice exclaim “Are you okay?!” Immediately followed by “What were you thinking?!”

She snorted and stood glaring straight at me breathing heavily. I was speechless, still breathless, and unable to fathom what I had just heard and felt.

I was still the only person at the barn. Did I hear my horse yell at me? I knew I did, but there was no time to question it. Something was wrong with Honey. I told her I would be right back and raced to call the vet. While on the phone with the doctor the sheer enormity of what almost happened and what did happen washed over me. Through tears, I tried to explain how urgently the vet needed to see her. He agreed to come out immediately.

I hung up the phone and went straight back to the pen. Honey was still glaring at me. I hugged her, and said “I’m so sorry! That was so stupid of me! Thank you for protecting me.” She nickered and hung her head low as I rubbed her ears.

I walked her around the pen until the vet arrived. He looked at us in confusion and said “Geeze, Devon, I thought Honey was on her last breath by the way you sounded on the phone. She doesn’t look too bad.” Little did he know I had almost witnessed my last breath moments earlier.

Sadly, this was the very beginning of a tough two weeks that led to Honey’s passing. But I am so grateful we had such clear communication that day and the weeks that followed. The day my horse admonished me will forever remain a turning point in my awareness of animal communication.