I’m finding trees all over the pasture rubbed smooth where Jason and Luke, the two itchiest clydes, scratched their butts and necks, strands of hair left behind. I miss them everyday. Reminders are everywhere.
We were finishing up rehearsal on the day of our first preview. I was waiting to release Endo for his liberty walk across the stage. It had been a long, hot day and everyone was nervous about doing the show for an audience. It never feels ready the first time. Luka was tied up under the bleachers and started barking when she saw Charlie in the parking lot field chasing ground squirrels. I started to feel tense and Endo started circling.
We got the cue to go and walked to where I let the loose rope around his neck drop. Instead of walking across the ‘stage’ -it’s a pasture in the forest- to Morgan, he turned back, got confused and trotted towards the trees. I called out ‘Whoa’ and he stopped. I threw the thick rope across his shoulders and as I reached to collect the other end he swung his head fast and impacted me square across the left side of my face with such force it blew me off my feet on to my back. A youth spent snowboarding and skateboarding ingrained that when both feet leave the ground my body should stay simultaneously controlled and relaxed. Fall into the unknown.
Gaz said when he heard the crack, he thought it was a tree branch breaking not the sound of a blind appaloosa skull and my skull colliding. Courtenay ran over thinking he’d kicked me -that rumor lasted several days. I kept hearing ‘So you got kicked by the horse.’ Morgan smiling broadly; nodding her head as she took Endo ‘Yeah, fucking hurts doesn’t it!’ Horse people. They get knocked around the worst but their love for horses doesn’t stop. Lesson learned. I now know when Endo is nervous and given that he doesn’t have any eyes, he is prone to swing his head suddenly. I learned the ‘arms length rule’ the way most horse handlers do.
Rehearsal dispersed and we prepared for the sold out house. Jen and Courtenay looked at me seriously and said ‘You know the signs of a concussion, tell us right away if you need to go to hospital.’
‘Yeah. I’m fine, a little rattled but I’m fine, thanks.’
Still I couldn’t tell the difference between show jitters from four weeks of intense work or the symptoms of my brain having been violently swooshed. At the half hour I asked Jason to look at my pupils. Standing on the porch he stared for a while and said they looked normal/stable. He remarked I did seem ‘off’ but questioned too, if it was just nervous, tired energy. I forged forward and we all bumbled through the show. The liberty walk was changed and thus far has stayed changed. Morgan walks out with him instead of me releasing him to her and I just give the cue.The audience doesn’t know what they are missing given the standing ovation every night for the horse who lost his eyes to moonblindness and his best friend/rider who refused to put him down because of it and has remarkably helped transition him without sight.
As a vegan I struggle everyday with the fact that I work for an outdoor theatre company that also works with horses. I hate rodeos, urban horse drawn carriages, petting zoos and aquariums. I reject the idea of animals used as entertainment and yet here I am twelve years with a company I love and horses who I consider family, though many have passed away in recent years. This is horse country. A lot of people have drafts that till, log and work the land but mostly they’re big pets. Big, expensive to care for pets. Or as Cameron calls them ‘giant dogs.’ In my small circle around here I’ve seen nothing but well loved and cared for horses. One friend, when his -now ex- wife gave him the ultimatum ‘It’s me or the horses’ he dropped his head and said ‘I’m so sorry.’ His team of belgians were driving the wagon at the farmers market last Sunday.
I won’t ride them -I use to and my last major concussion was being thrown from a wild horse on my cousins farm in Australia- or drive them, no matter how many times the Teamsters offer me the reigns but part of my job here is working with them. I’ll continue to do so as gently and respectfully as I can.
Endo loves going out for his final curtain call. He hears the ‘go’ from my radio and snorts and does this little joy buck with Morgan on him bareback and bridal-less and canters out to center stage as the cast spread wide like a deck of cards for them. I love this horse and feel lucky to spend a summer with him and his rider -who has had him since he was a foal and is tirelessly dedicated to his care. Not every show involves horses -though winter shows always do and the letterhead of the theatre is a clydesdale horse- this dichotomy lives in me. At least the animals out here are treated by the same rules that govern our theatre union. In fact they might even be treated better than our union standards.
The day following mine and Endo’s head bonk Sarah May showed me what the plant yarrow looks like and cut me a bunch to take a bath with. She said it will help with the inflammation. She said to steep the bundle in a glass pot of boiled water with a lid over it to keep all the properties in, then add the yarrow tea to the bath. It’s been so hot I haven’t taken the bath yet but next cold night, I’m in! Now that I know what yarrow looks like I see it everywhere on the farm.
Just like the plantain that grows everywhere too. Sarah May also taught us if you get a wasp sting: grab a leaf, chew it up and put the pulp over the bite. It’s amazing how fast it cools the sting, pulling out the venom. Jan and I were walking and a wasp slipped under her sandal strap and stung her. I chewed up a dirty piece of plantain at our feet and stuck it on her bite. The bits left in my mouth were dry and gnarly and stuck to the top of my throat. I laughed and accidentally sucked it up my wind pipe into my nostril. It was horrible trying to blow it out.