When my husband and I purchased the property we built our cabin on it was early summer. The land wild with hundreds of leggy deciduous trees coiffed in green, made it impossible to see our closet neighbor, whose house sits an acre away. We moved in during a fiery New England fall. Dying leaves alive with color. The essence of a water-color painting in progress.
That winter I noticed the horse. Always standing, lopsided, alone, in the same location. I could see her from my kitchen window and no matter the weather, freezing rain, heavy snow, even in an unusual winter thunder and lightning storm, there she stood. When darkness swallowed her I could hear her occasional stomps and snorts. A lonely whinny sent out into the night like an SOS. I waited, hoping to see someone who cared for her. To no avail.
The first time I approached her I noticed that the only thing caging her was a thin wire, hot with electricity, attached to the two back corners of the house. The ground beneath her hooves, the ice-covered crown of a giant granite boulder. It took her a long time before she made her way over to me. Even though the space she was allowed was no bigger than a trainers corral. I reached out as far as I could, holding an apple in the flat palm of my hand. Her flesh a mass of jumping nerves twitched. She stretched her neck out as far as she could and after smelling me, yanking her head up and down, snorting, hot heavy frightened breath, finally, she gently took the apple off my hand with her lips.
All winter I fed her. Sneaking into their barn for hay, like a thief, stealing from them, to save her from them. I carried five gallon buckets of water through the deep snow and watched as she sucked up the liquid like a vacuum. Each morning when the life affirming sun rose, I’d go out onto my deck and there she’d be. Watching my house. As soon as she spotted me she’d start to dance and neigh excitedly. My thought was always the same. So much for so little.
Deeply troubled by my new friends dilemma I worried each night for her life. She didn’t have shelter and I not once saw anyone there with her. Rarely found flakes from alfalfa I hadn’t fed her. Her rusty water trough stayed frozen solid. Finally I notified the local police who put me in contact with a horse rescue. I contacted the State Department of Agriculture. Found out that legally she had the right to shelter. Also that defending ‘livestock’ from their captors was nearly impossible under the law. Against the wishes of both my son and my husband, who felt it best that I didn’t get involved, I began to solicit other neighbors to see if anyone knew who owned the horse. Told them of my intention to do whatever I could to help my unlikely companion.
The next time I went to visit ‘Foxy’ [I learned her name from one of these neighbors], a crazed bald man with a gun charged me, unloading the firearm into the air. I stopped dead in my tracks. Foxy reared up and started spinning around in a big circle. I should have run for my life but I refused to leave my friend. I could hear my heart thumping in my ears and my life flashed briefly in front of my face but I didn’t move. Me and my uncivilized neighbor stood, eyeing each other down.
Foxy still doesn’t have the life she deserves but someone feeds and waters her regularly. They moved the live wire corral to the side of the house where she and I can no longer see each other. The police warned me about trespassing. My animal abuser neighbors literally cut through the back of their house, opening up a room inside so she would have shelter. I wonder if they have a DO NOT OPEN, LIVE HORSE INSIDE, sign, hanging on that bedroom door. Like I said, ignorant and uncivilized.
I wonder how many of the neighbors, in the many neighborhoods we lived in when I was a child, knew what was happening in our home and opted for the none of our business route? I’m still not comfortable with the way things are for this magnificent animal, but I know that I did all I could to make her life better. I believe she knows that too. And although we are both far from as free as we deserve to be, we are freer than we were before we crossed each others path.
Occasionally I see my crazy gun wielding neighbor when I’m out walking my dogs. He always waves. And I wave back.