It was a typical Sunday night. We were winding down, about to settle in for an evening of HBO Now, when I got a text.
“Remington is colicky and no one’s out there at the ranch to check on him,” Inge messaged.
Colic can be deadly for a horse.
“It’ll talk me an hour to get out there. I’m leaving now. Don’t worry.” I replied.
While Inge out of town I was Remington’s surrogate horse mom. I immediately got ready for a late night trip out to the Malibu ranch. Packing some warm gear, a headlamp, boots and oil (a remedy for colic).
On the drive out, Inge and I discussed the treatment so I was well-prepared when I arrived. I punched in the code at the gate to get into the several-hundred-acre private property. I had never been out at the ranch after dark. A city-dweller for well over 15 years I am not used to the haunting blackness of the remote, mountain night. No street lights. No light pollution. Just trees and stars. Darkness stretching into the forest and pastures all around.
I parked close to the pasture where Remington lived. The headlights, that offered some visibility, soon turned off automatically. I was left with a weak dot of light from the headlamp. Not a soul in sight, save for the herd of horses.
Inge had assured me the ranch was safe at night, except for the mountain lions. One had recently killed one of the miniature horses, dragging its body from the paddock. The minis have since been relocated to a safer home. Yikes. I immediately wished I had brought one of my karate weapons, a Hanbo at least, to be able to give the lion a good wack before it took me out. Nevermind, I had a job to do. Remington’s life depended on me.
Remington and another gray horse greeted me at the pasture gate. The horses eyes glowed green in the headlamp light.
Remington is a gentle giant. All black, with long black main & tail. A heart-shaped white mark on his forehead covered with a thick black forelock. Weighing in around 2000 pounds, a friendly nuzzle from him can knock me off-balance. Yet despite his great size he is easily terrified by a distant sound and could inadvertently trample me with giant hooves if I don’t stay vigilant.
I haltered him and brought him to the hitching post. The forest loomed behind. I stayed alert to sounds that might indicate a predator. Inge had assured me I would know if a mountain lion was attacking because the horses would start freaking out.
“Just get yourself into the center of the heard and you will be safe.” She had assured me. Who am I, Tarzan?
I prepped Remington’s remedy, a slurpy soup of water, bran mash and oil. All meant to get his intestines moving again. Colic is from the compaction of food in the intestines that results in a blockage. Horses can’t vomit so a tummy ache causes them to thrash on the ground in pain, eventually tangling up their intestines, leading to death. My job was to get the blockage removed and the food flowing again.
While he slurped his soup, I put my ear to his side. Very faint, infrequent gurgles. This was a bad sign. A horse’s gut sounds should be noisy, with lots of gurgles & rumbles.
I massaged his belly in an attempt to get things moving in there. His belly was solid as a rock. Tense with pain.
Next I led him on a walk. The movement should help to loosen things up. As I led him around the ring I felt slightly safer, being surrounded by open pasture rather than right up against the creepy forest.
I took a moment to enjoy the starry sky and faint outline of craggy mountains in the distance. I could see a fog rolling in from the North. The distant howl of a coyote. The much closer reply of another from just behind the bushes adjacent to the ring we were in.
From that point on I took to brandishing a pitch fork as I navigated the ranch that night. Alternately prepping & giving Remington his soup. Massaging his back and belly. Taking him for walks.
Even in the tranquil setting of the Santa Monica mountains the threat of violence loomed. I was grateful for my karate training which helped me to remain calm, alert and gave me some basic knowledge of how to leverage the pitchfork as a weapon of self defense. In length it was similar to the Jo, a 4 foot wooden staff we train with in class. I would at least stand a chance of landing a few good jabs before the mountain lion took me out. It’s better to go down fighting and possibly, narrowly escape then to be completely helpless.
Despite the fact that we live in a time in human history that is relatively peaceful, the threat of violence looms in many of our cities and in nature itself. Self-defense training doesn’t guarantee safety but it does give a sense of readiness and preparation. It’s a critical skill for females who have been conditioned by society to look to others for defense (think Disney princess being rescued by the daring prince). No one told us that the very people who were supposed to be our protectors could just as easily be our attackers.
As society changes, the opportunities for girls to learn self-defense skills through martial arts training and self-defense workshops increases, as do positive role models in self-sufficiency (think Brave and Moana). I’m grateful for my karate training which allows me to navigate the world with more skill, awareness and confidence.
Ultimately I was spared from having to use my pitchfork that night. The mountain lion prowled elsewhere. Remington’s guts began to move, emitting happy gurgling sounds. I put him safely in a paddock with lots of water, a fresh preparation of bran slush for good measure. I observed him one last time, looking for signs of distress, but he stood peacefully in the dim light. I locked myself in my car and said a silent good night to the horses as I headed to the safety of my home.