Was it in my eyes? Sure I was afraid of their kick, you would be too if you had dissected out and seen first hand the massive muscle mass that focused all of its power into that hoof. But my eyes did not betray me. I had perfected a good cowboy look; I was an avid fan of cowboy movies. I could even swagger like John Wayne.
Was it how I dressed? I lost the sandals and started wearing boots, I had Levis, not as good as Lees, but horses really only require denim. My cowboy hat was crumbled and used and I developed a good sweat mark around it. I was careful not to ornate it with any feathers, just a plain old cowboy hat.
Was it how I talked and acted? Admittedly I had trouble with horse talk, especially the colors: sorrel, bay, chestnut, etc. Why couldn't they just be brown or black? When an owner had to clarify "the bay is the dark brown one Doc."; it tended to shake their confidence in me, even if I was good at horse medicine. So I learned the talk. I mastered the "yaw aaaa!" the "chik, chik, chik,", and the "get up." I talked tough and acted tough. I kicked them in their bellies, I pulled on their leads with strong asuredness, I learned to spit and cuss, I even tried to chew. But still they knew I was a Southern California Kid.
What is giving me away? No matter what I did as I approached a horse, the ears would go back, the tail would twitch, and those eyes, whites showing, pupils dilated, fiery and adrenalin stimulated, always snorting and prancing and wheeling to position this surfer for the ride of his life, even the old gray mare that I had to take a temperature on one morning.
I approached the stall, no time to ask for assistance, class began in about 5 min. The school rule was you were never to do treatments alone, but this was just an old gray mare and all I had to do was take her temperature and give a shot. I swaggered up, said the deep-throated "Whoa girl", and approached the rump. Then I lifted the tail to place the rectal thermometer and there they were those eyes!
Now I was instructed to stay close to a kicking horse so as not to be kicked by the full impact of and extended leg. Suddenly I was hanging on to the tail for dear life as we did several 360's, all the while thinking "stay close, stay close!" Her body circling and kicking, throwing me up6 and down until I could hold no longer and was thrown against the cement wall. Before me was the stern of a mad mare who had set her sites on my heart and launched her two rear hoofs. Quickly I sidestepped as the horse pounded into the wall inches away with a loud thud that would have crushed my chest instantly. Adrenalin surging I dove for clearance through the open lower stall doors to safety.
Shaken by the incident and unable to stand for a few minutes, I realized that my fear of these animals was real. They can kill you!
I returned to my classmates and warned them of the old gray mare only to be told, "That old mare? She's a sweet heart, I treated her all last week and no problems." Again I questioned, what is it about me?
Later that week I was on emergency duty in the large animal clinic. It was about 2:00 am in the morning when a one-horse trailer rolled in. Inside was an appaloosa stud, excited, nervous, and restless. And there they were, those eyes!
Now how do you enter a one-horse trailer when the only way in is to face the horse’s firepower straight on? I thought, "I'll just let the doctor in charge teach me."
I was lucky the doctor on duty was an experienced clinician and horseman. Why he even had a Copenhagen ring etched in his back pocket. He swaggered up the ramp (just like John Wayne, I noted), said the "Whoa fella", and entered the trailer with self-assurance.
THUD! Two hoofs nailed him in the chest and out he flew from the trailer at least 10 feet. He laid still on the ground unconscious, no breath, and eyes glazed. I hurriedly fumbled for my stethoscope. No heartbeat! I panicked! Begin CPR?. He has got to be dead! That horse really got him one.
Suddenly life returned to his eyes and he slowly stood up, shrugged, took a deep breath, felt himself over for broken bones, then casually stated, "Boy he really got me a good one".
"Good one!" I exclaimed, " We thought you were dead! We couldn't get a pulse. We were scared to death. You’re lucky to be alive!"
He looked at us as if we were over-reacting and said, "I'm OK, lets get back to work", and proceeded to walk right back up the ramp into the trailer with no added precaution as if nothing had happened.
I couldn't believe my eyes, he didn't even hesitate, it was just part of a day's work to be flattened unconscious and see the light at the end of the tunnel.
This time the horse backed out with no incident. He either had his satisfaction, or maybe he saw in this doctor what I saw, INSANITY. That's it, I reasoned. That's my problem with horses, you have to be crazy to work on them and I'm not crazy!
The next week I put my boots away and slipped into my tennis shoes and cords. I replaced the cowboy hat with a baseball cap, and I walked with a bounce up to the small animal clinic. I now had peace of mind. Yes, this is where this surfer belongs.
I'm no longer a horse of a different color. Happily I greeted my first client. " Good morning Mrs. Jones, How is "Fu Fu" doing today."