In the wake of a tragedy, my love for a spe­cial horse pulled me from the depths of a de­pres­sion.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Kerry McNa­mara

Sav­ing grace: In the wake of a tragedy, my love for a spe­cial horse pulled me back from the depths of a de­pres­sion.

The warmth of sum­mer was fad­ing quickly as the first of Septem­ber dawned. The low moon still shone brightly as it sank to­ward the hori­zon, and the dark land was quiet and still. I looked across the fields to the back pad­dock to see if I could make out his sil­hou­ette. I knew he would be anx­ious for his morn­ing feed.

I first saw Na­tion, my 3-year-old Thor­ough­bred, a year ago, at a barn near our lo­cal race­track. The owner of­ten made deals to pur­chase un­suc­cess­ful rac­ers for a min­i­mal price. I re­mem­ber walk­ing out to a large arena where too many horses stood hud­dled to­gether in a mix­ture of straw, muck and hay. Na­tion stood alone to one side of the pack. His ears were pinned, and he lunged with bared teeth at any who strayed too close.

Na­tion had been at the barn for al­most two weeks, but he sim­ply re­fused to get along with the herd. He had a thick, dark-bay coat and was still in rac­ing trim.

I took him home with me that day. Na­tion quickly proved to be an in­tel­li­gent and tal­ented horse who showed his mis­trust of peo­ple through de­fi­ance and un­easi­ness with be­ing touched. But he soon re­al­ized that no one would hurt him here. He was an easy and nat­u­ral jumper with seem­ingly end­less en­ergy. I de­cided to leave him out­side on sum­mer nights. He en­joyed hav­ing his own space and the free­dom to run. He was a “lone horse,” as they say, and I loved him.

At the time we lived on a farm in On­tario. The own­ers, good friends of my par­ents, had pur­chased this 10-acre prop­erty and in­vited my hus­band­hus­band, Mike, and me to live in the house, train and care for the horses, and de­velop a rid­ing pro­gram. The fa­cil­i­ties were in need of re­pair but the place had po­ten­tial. At 29, I had an op­por­tu­nity to live my dream of run­ning a horse farm with­out the huge fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment. Within six months, we had 15 boarded horses, with a rapidly grow­ing les­son pro­gram, and Mike and I were start­ing our own fam­ily.

When the feed­ing was done, I de­cided to ride out­side in the back ring, to en­joy the nice weather. Although Na­tion was an obe­di­ent horse we had been work­ing on a new dres­sage test, and some of the move­ments were a chal­lenge for him. Sup­ple­ness and for­ward move­ment can be dif­fi­cult for a young horse, and Na­tion’s will­ing­ness was wan­ing as he be­gan to toss his head, re­sist­ing the bit. I de­cided to stop be­fore he com­pletely fell apart, hosed him down, gave him some treats and put him back out in his pad­dock.

Walk­ing back to the house I felt a strange dizzi­ness. It passed quickly so I ig­nored it and went in­side, tired and hun­gry. In the kitchen, the strange­ness re­turned and pro­gressed into nau­sea. I sat at the ta­ble, try­ing to will it away. I stood up to get my break­fast but was stopped by a pierc­ing pain in my ab­dom­men. What the hell? I thought, rub­bing mmy stom­ach. What’s hap­pen­ing?

Ris­ing from deep within, a new wave oof pain took hold, and I dropped to my kknees. I slowly gath­ered my­self, usi­ing the counter for sup­port, but be­fore I could fully stand, the sharp­ness ret­turned and a fresh as­sault be­gan. My kknees buck­led, and I be­gan bleed­ing. “Mike!” I screamed. “Help me!”

My hus­band came run­ning to find me on the floor soaked in blood. The alarm in his voice was ev­i­dent as he called my name, de­mand­ing that I llook at him, to stay awake and fo­cus. My vi­sion faded into dark­ness.

I awoke to the noise of beep­ing, the buzz of voices on a ra­dio and an oxy­gen mask on my face. I was in an am­bu­lance. Tears stung my eyes as I softly an­nounced, “I lost the baby.”

When I re­turned home from the hos­pi­tal, I was med­i­cally sound, but I found my­self un­able to leave my bed. I sim­ply could not bear to join the world again. My poor baby was gone and I was sure I was re­spon­si­ble. I was so en­gulfed in sad­ness I could only cry and hope to fall back to sleep.

Mike’s sup­port was quiet and un­wa­ver­ing, but this de­pressed, sad wife was new to him. Ev­ery day he would come in and ask if I wanted any­thing, tell me kids had come for rid­ing lessons, try to en­tice me to go see Na­tion. Ev­ery day he was met with no re­sponse. There sim­ply was noth­ing to say.

The guilt was over­whelm­ing. How could I have been so self­ish to ride

while I was preg­nant? How could my body be so weak that it couldn’t even carry a baby? How could my hus­band love me? Dark thoughts con­sumed me.

One morn­ing, Mike woke me and de­manded I get up and shower. I had an ap­point­ment for a fol­low-up ex­am­i­na­tion. Like a child, I silently rose and did as I was told. When we met the doc­tor, I an­swered a few rou­tine ques­tions. Phys­i­cally, I was re­cov­er­ing well. Then the doc­tor asked, “And how have you been feel­ing?”

“OK,” I lied. An awk­ward si­lence filled the room.

“She is not OK,” Mike in­ter­jected. “She has been un­able to get out of bed and seems not to care about any­thing.”

I flashed him a re­sent­ful glance. How could he be­tray me like this? “I’m fine,” I as­serted. Then, “I thought you said it was OK if I rode my horse,” I said sharply.

“Yes, it is OK for an ex­pe­ri­enced rider to ride un­til five or six months,” the doc­tor replied. “Why? Do you think rid­ing caused the mis­car­riage?” “I don’t know. Maybe,” I said. “Kerry,” the doc­tor said, “there was some­thing wrong with this baby. Na­ture has a way of ex­pelling fe­tuses that won’t sur­vive. Rid­ing had noth­ing to do with it. You had noth­ing to do with it.”

I wanted to be­lieve this, to be re­lieved of this guilt, but I couldn’t. I fought to hold back my tears.

My par­ents came for din­ner that night, and for a while I tried to en­joy the com­pany. Be­fore long, how­ever, I longed to re­turn to my bed. The dark­ness had be­come strangely com­fort­able, and it was ex­haust­ing try­ing to act nor­mal.

My par­ents left and I went to bed early. It was windy and rainy out­side, caus­ing the storm win­dows to rat­tle. I dreamt for the first time in a long time about Na­tion. I saw him stand­ing in the dis­tance, his head high, his mane danc­ing in the wind. I ran across the field to see him, ex­pect­ing his usual friendly nudges, but he lunged at me bar­ing his teeth. I jumped back in sur­prise. Again I ex­tended my hand in friend­ship, but he

reared up in de­fense. “Na­tion, what’s wrong? It’s me,” I said. Sud­denly, I saw a open gash in his chest. The blood poured from the wound as he con­tin­ued to de­fend him­self against me. “Na­tion, let me help you,” I pleaded. He leapt for­ward and his front legs came down on my chest, crush­ing my ribs. I gasped for air, feel­ing help­less un­der the pres­sure, des­per­ate to be free.

I awoke pant­ing and fight­ing for breath, cov­ered with sweat. I bolted out of bed and raced down the hall and out the door, paus­ing only to scram­ble into my work boots and barn coat. Then I bee­lined to­ward the back pas­ture.

“Na­tion!” I called. I scanned the area for his dark sil­hou­ette and fi­nally saw him graz­ing in the cor­ner. His ears pricked and he made a small noise of ac­knowl­edge­ment be­fore trot­ting over to me. His nose jut­ted out slightly to touch my out­stretched hand. “Na­tion,” I cried, “I’ve missed you so much.”

His damp neck felt warm against my face. It felt good to be out­side again. Re­mem­ber­ing my dream, I stood back to scan his body for in­jury, but there was no mark on him. His coat glis­tened in the moon­light.

I stared deep into his dark eyes and felt the quiet power within them. I raised my head high to see the clear, bright moon and feel the fresh­ness of the rain on my face. I closed my eyes as the sor­row seemed to drip from me, and a feel­ing of ab­so­lu­tion washed over me.

I re­al­ized at that mo­ment the true grav­ity of the nat­u­ral world---both the bru­tal­ity of nat­u­ral se­lec­tion, but also the grace of heal­ing. There was no room for blame here, or re­gret, or loss--there was only the here and now, and a world that would con­tinue with or with­out my par­tic­i­pa­tion.

The sound of dis­tant whin­nies broke the si­lence as the sun be­gan to rise. I walked to­ward the white wooden gate as Na­tion fol­lowed du­ti­fully be­hind. It was feed­ing time soon. I clipped his hal­ter to the end of the damp rope and we walked back to the barn to­gether.

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