A horse lover sees her faith rewarded when her beloved filly is rescued.
Oct 4, 2011
The morning sun streamed through the window, glinting off my dresser mirror, and I knew exactly how I was going to spend the last day of summer vacation. Freedom would end tomorrow with the start of my sophomore year of high school.
So today I would do what I loved most: be in the great outdoors with my best friend, my horse, Lady. I’d ride her without a bridle and saddle—that’s how much we trusted each other—and we’d gallop across the pasture.
If she stopped to graze, I’d stretch out on her broad back and watch the clouds drift overhead. It didn’t really matter what we did as long as we were together.
I’d often said it was Lady who raised me. She was part Morgan, part anyone’s guess, all black with a big head and big feet and a mane that curled when it got wet.
Dad originally bought her for Mom, but soon it was obvious she was meant to be mine. Even before I could walk I would do whatever it took to be with her.
Once when I wasn’t quite a year old, I crawled out of the house and disappeared. Mom searched our little farm frantically and finally found me sitting between the front legs of my 1,100-pound horse, gurgling contentedly.
Other times when I had a meltdown and nothing else would comfort me, Mom would pick me up and stand close to Lady. I’d stroke her and smell her and suddenly all would be well.
The bond between us hadn’t wavered as I got older. If anything, it grew stronger. Our farm was fairly isolated on the forested coast of Oregon above the muddy, tidal Yaquina River, five miles from the tiny town of Toledo. None of my friends from the private Christian elementary and middle schools I’d gone to lived close by.
Lady was always there for me, my favorite playmate, my steadfast companion. She understood me better than anyone, especially since I switched over to the public high school last year.
There, the look was everything, and if you didn’t have it, you were out. Big curly hair. The right brand of clothes. Logos on everything. I’d never given much thought to appearances, and it was like I’d been dropped into a foreign country without a guidebook.
I did well academically but otherwise, ninth grade was a disaster. This year I was prepared. I’d saved up and bought my first-ever designer sweater. And I’d gotten a perm that totally transformed my long straight hair.
I looked in the mirror at my trendy new curls. This year is going to be different, I lectured my reflection, but I couldn’t quite suppress a flicker of trepidation as I turned away.
I headed out to the river pasture where Lady grazed. Then I reached the gate and my world seemed to go dark though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The field was empty. Lady was gone.
Out of habit I picked up the lead rope. I checked the fences. The gates were closed and there were no holes in the wire. No tracks outside the fence either.
Sometimes she would lie down in the tall grass and you couldn’t see her until she sat up, but it was too early in the day for her afternoon nap. She was an old horse now, nearly 30. If she was down, that could only mean... No, I wouldn’t think it.
"Lady! C’mon , Ladymare!” I hollered for her so loudly Dad heard me from the barn and rushed down. Together we searched the pasture. Along the side of the field closest to the river, Dad stopped.
“Over here,” he said. I ran over. Then I heard it too, Lady’s low whicker.
She was close but I couldn’t see her. That part of the pasture wasn’t fenced. It didn’t need to be. There was nothing to interest a horse, only thorny blackberry bushes that made a natural barrier and a steep, 15-foot drop to the murky river. Why would she have come this way?
Then Dad pointed at something. A hornets’ nest on the ground, a few insects still buzzing angrily. Next to it was a swath ripped through the bushes. Instantly I knew what happened.
Lady must have trampled the nest by accident, gotten stung, fled in a panic through the blackberries and fallen over the cliff.
Dad and I pushed through the brambles. There was Lady at the bottom of the cliff, stuck chest deep in the eight-foot-wide span of mud along the water’s edge.
I had to get to her. Without a second’s thought, I skidded down the cliff. I landed up to my waist in the clammy mud. Sticks buried deep below the surface stabbed at my legs.
I wrenched one leg up and managed to stand on submerged debris. Then the other leg. Step by step, I edged over to Lady.
“Try to lead her upriver,” Dad called from above. “There’s a place we might be able to pull her out. Keep her away from the bank. The mud isn’t so deep farther out.”
I still had the lead rope. I snapped it to her halter and she nudged her head into me.
“It’s okay, Lady, I’m here,” I said, my throat tightening as I backed toward the river. I pushed my curls out of my eyes with a muddy hand and set to work.
I pulled, trying to turn Lady away from the bank. She resisted at first. Then, putting her trust in me, she tensed and lunged. The rope burned my hand and she nearly yanked me off my feet, but I didn’t let go.
Slowly Lady maneuvered around until she faced me. I backed waist deep into the water, and she followed cautiously. The mud was thinner but still our progress was agonizingly slow.
Lady sometimes waded, sometimes swam. We made our way upriver a hundred yards to where the cliff gentled to a slope.
Mom and Dad were waiting. To our dismay, the mud was even deeper here. Even with Dad and me both pulling on the rope, we couldn’t get her out.
I stayed in the water with Lady while my parents tried everything they could think of. First a longer rope hitched to our tractor. Then as the tide came in and the river rose, Dad went down the road to the public launch and put his motorboat in the water.
Soon his boat nosed around the bend. I tied Lady’s halter short to the side of the boat to keep her tail and legs clear of the prop, and we towed her across the river. She swam along, afraid but trusting. The far bank wasn’t any better.
We were running out of options. The launch was too far to swim her. We towed her back to our pasture and tried once more. The tide crested but the water didn’t lift her high enough to get any traction.
As the tide fled to the sea, all hope seemed to drain out with it.
It was late afternoon. Lady had been in the water nearly 10 hours. She and I stood in three feet of muddy water, our heads together. This was too much for an old horse.
I closed my eyes and pleaded desperately, “Oh, Lord, please help us help her. I don’t know what I’d do without this horse.”
What was that rumbling noise? My eyes flew open and I looked up in amazement. Two big diesel tractors barreled into our field. Then a big pickup with a massive winch on the bumper.
We’d been too busy to tell them what was going on but somehow our neighbors had gotten word. They’d come to save Lady.
From the bank the men studied me and my horse. Ideas flew back and forth. A few attempts were made and abandoned. It was nearing dark when one man thought of his trawling net. “How about we wrap it around her, roll her on her side and drag her out?”
Digging by hand, several men pried her legs out of the mud and kept her on her side long enough for others to gather the net around her. They hooked the net to the tractors. As the tractors slowly reversed, Lady inched up the bank.
At last they hauled her onto solid ground. A cheer went up. But I didn’t feel like celebrating. Lady staggered to her feet, trembling and dripping, caked with mud, her head hung low. Her eyes were swollen slits, her ears canted down. She sank to the ground with a groan.
I brought her feed and water but she ignored it. I piled loose hay over her for warmth. I was ready to bed down with her but Mom sent me home.
“School is tomorrow,” she said. “Eat something and go to sleep. Dad and I will stay with her. We’ll wake you if there’s any change.”
I hated to leave Lady but Mom was right. There was nothing more any of us could do. Except pray.
“Lord, you know how much I love Lady,” I said. “Please, please don’t let her die.” I went back to the house in a daze. I dished up supper but I don’t remember eating it. I crashed on the couch, too tired to go any further.
Mom woke me during the night.
“Lady got up on her own. Dad just walked her to her stall. She’s going to be okay.”
“Thank you, Lord,” I whispered and fell into a deep sleep.
The next morning I climbed on the school bus. All the perfume in the world couldn’t have masked the smell of mud. My perm was ruined. Across the front of my new sweater was a big stain where Lady had just rubbed her dirty head.
I definitely didn’t fit in with the other girls with their perfect curls and designer clothes. But I couldn’t have been happier. I had what mattered. The love of my best friend—and of the One who understood me even better than she did.
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