It is an understatement to say I’ve spent quality time around horses. I hung out at Tara Stables in New Jersey as long after a riding lesson as I could; I’d go for 1- and 2-hour rides with friends in the forests around the Delaware River Valley, and twice I went to horse camp. Because once necessitated a sequel, I suppose. I learned how to ride horses in the Western and English styles, and I took a horse riding class in college as my one and only “fun” class in 120 credits of my undergraduate career. As a tween I drew horses for hours and collected small statues of the animals in the way that kids are strangely encouraged to identify hobbies.
I even helped a horse give birth when the colt was breech, because at 14 I had gangly sticks for arms, and the large animal veterinarian directed me on how to help the baby turn, which unsurprisingly, was a messy process.
I’ve washed horses, groomed horses, shoveled horse manure (which I used at one point in a practical joke against two Syracuse U. students who were trying to put one over on me), fed horses, baled hay, been kicked, thrown, stomped on (this is the value of steel toed boots), and entered riding contests. I know how to properly saddle a horse in both styles, and take off horse shoes. In addition to plain old riding, I have logged copious hours at the track and by the age of 7 I knew how to handicap thoroughbreds and read both betting and tip sheets (even though after a decade of playing the piano, I’m still pretty rough for reading music).
After all of this vast experience, it was entirely unexpected that in showing Emile his first up-close, real life horses, I would lean too close to the electrified fence wire and shock myself. Emile, two feet behind me and secure in his $300 stroller, looked at me quizzically.
First, there is the leading edge of the shockwave, which asserts itself along with a quiet, dull buzz as some small percentage of electricity not planning on entering my body crackled into the air. Already the neurons in my brain have taken notice of the intruding sensation, and as if I’d shaken a hen house, everything in my head starts a sudden chatter.
Horses. I see horses. Not the ones in front of me, but the ones I’ve known in years past. Killer, who threw me twice in a row in the only act of defiance he knew how to execute. Sadie, a slow but sweet girl who loved having her mane brushed. Percy, who tried to wet nurse that colt I helped get born but who had no milk for him. It was equus, flashing before my eyes.
Then the words come, in the middle of this long second of electricity.
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME, screamed my brain. Flooded with external impulse, my mind didn’t have enough reserve to take stock of what was going wrong at the moment. I’d leaned on a metal gate to pet a horse named Emma, and that gate had moved five millimeters to make contact with the live wire. But I didn’t realize this just yet.
Rapid-fire, my parasympathetic nervous system sent out an urgent declaration that all limbs should move from their present position. This is the human body’s “reboot” instinct, I guess. My arms flew inward, covering my chest, and my legs pulled together, tightening up my very previously casual stance. I’m not sure, but I may have also yanked my head down onto my shoulders.
And then it was over, the current from the outside world passing into something else—electrons in the air, the grass underneath me—and I took a breath. Not exactly a cleansing breath, but it managed to transport fresh oxygen to my lungs, which were pretty pissed off about the whole event that had just occurred. Lungs are suckers for oxygen, after all.
I turned at looked at Emile, making sure that nothing adverse had taken place over in his universe. He chewed on his gums in the international baby sign of “life is okay, other than this impending tooth thing.”
Only then did I hear the giggling. Two young kids—a boy and a girl—standing by me had watched the whole show and were positively gleeful about it.
“Was that funny to you,” I asked the girl, raising an eyebrow. Oh, how nice to have control over my own muscles again.
“Yes,” she said. Then the boy chirped up.
“Do it again!”