How a horse taught me to be a better nurse

“If your nerve deny you, go above your nerve,” said Emily Dickinson.
Only today I didn’t.
But I did learn something.
From a horse.
On how to be a better nurse.

It’s mid-afternoon and the sun moves across the ranges like it already has someplace else to be and that winter will soon be here. I watch the mare and her foal canter across the paddock towards me as soon as I arrive. I never tire of their movements. It’s like waves coming into shore, the sunset, the burning embers of a campfire. You just can’t look away when a horse has the freedom to run. Their paddock friend also comes over to say hello. He moves like a beautiful old car that’s seen a few kilometres and knows the ropes. He gives out advice through his soft warm muzzle and never tires of conversation.

Today they’re all light and playful. Look at me, says the foal, throwing her head in the hope the curls on the tips of her mane will catch the light just so. It is the perfect setting. It’s just how you imagine your life could be, everything coming together in that perfect moment of cantering across the paddock, moving effortlessly through the grass, small crickets leaping out of your way, every step landing perfectly, and arriving where you wanted to go. Isn’t that what we strive for? But I’m not that stupid to realise they’re giving me this perfect moment because they want to be fed. They’re waiting for me to uphold my end of the deal. We did this, now you do that. I know how it goes. Still.

So I open the bag of food. There’s jostling going on, some vying for space, the usual feed time hustle. A back leg kicks out, a hoof, hard to tell whose, another hoof. Then, without warning, there’s panic. A leg caught in the wire of the fence. It happens so fast. It’s the beautiful old Car, only fences aren’t his thing. He’s out of his depth and he panics. He tries to pull his leg back, but it’s caught. As he shifts his weight to try again he loses his balance and falls back into the fence, landing heavily on his backside, his leg trapped between the two wires with the full weight of his body over it. It happens so fast. It unfolds in slow motion. The Car looks over at me, terrified. And I panic. And I don’t know what to do.

I pause here.

In five seconds I will be that panicked carer, paging our service, desperate to speak to someone, wanting to be told what to do. And I think I needed reminding of the feeling of helplessness, of being so heightened with adrenalin that decision-making is compromised, that in calling I might not even realise that it’s something that can be easily rectified, that could possibly wait till morning. Sometimes a small taste of being out of one’s depth is necessary to appreciate the situation of how the other is doing. I’m a novice in the equine world and it’s keeping me humble in the nursing one.

I ring A. She’s four hours away but her voice is the most comforting thing. We discuss what to do about the situation. I’m trying to sound calm. There’s blood rushing through every vessel possible. Same with the Car. He’s stopped struggling and slumps into the wire like he needs to think about the situation along with us. (But I’m anthropo-morphing again). The nurse in me wants to help. The practical person says keep clear. He’s more than 500kg. He could kill me. He panics again, he’s moving every limb, snorting, pushing into the fence, throwing everything at the situation as he tries to stand, untangle himself. Then he’s free. Oh thank fuck he’s free. I don’t even know what to do now that he’s free. He’s moving. All four limbs are moving. There’s no gushing of blood. Oh thank fuck.

I need a valium.

The adrenaline is trending down but still lingers.

The dog’s at me for a walk but I need to get this down.

And I’m buying me some wire cutters.

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