I stepped outside my Colorado ranch home that afternoon in early October, taking a break from my work as a local journalist when I heard a faint nicker. Walking toward the pasture to investigate, I saw movement in the trees near the fence.
Flame, my recently rescued horse, staggered out of the trees, stopped, and put his head down. My heart sank to the bottom of my boots as I stood in front of one of the worst barbed wire cuts I had ever seen.
The wound across Flame’s body was at least 18 inches long and so deep that the bone showed on his leg. His chest was flayed open, dripping blood, the skin hanging nearly to his knees. The massive gash continued across his right leg between his elbow and forearm. Tendons, muscle, and skin left a mangled mess that looked hopeless. The injury was so recent that the blood had only begun to trickle down, splashing on the ground beneath him.
I knelt before him, trying to comprehend where to start or whether I should try. A vet was out of the question. I was recently divorced, and there was no extra money. I thought about getting the gun and ending his pain. The wound was one more devastation that year, which included leaving a toxic marriage after 26 years. Darkness momentarily consumed my focus as I wrestled with what to do.
Then I felt Flame’s nose brush my ear as he blew a soft breath down my neck. Looking up, I saw the hope in his eyes. It was as though he could believe in me, even when I struggled to. At that moment, I knew only one thing: it was time to step onto the precipice and take on the challenge of healing this horse as I began my journey back to becoming a country witch.
With the hot drink in hand, we were ready to face the evening chill and move on. The city is small and crowded, traffic jams were a frequent occurrence so we spent most of the day up on our feet, exploring. There was no stopping, photos needed to be taken, the beach needed visiting, I was in a hurry to absorb as much of the experience as possible.
A horse destined for slaughter
I first met Flame four months earlier, in June 2007, when I was covering a newspaper story on the 32 horses rescued from the Cavell Slaughterhouse in DeKalb, Illinois. It was a nationwide effort to save the horses, but the only ranch big enough to take on that many animals in that much distress was in Colorado, near where I lived. Because of an article, I had written earlier on the cruelty surrounding the slaughter of horses; I received a special invitation to write this story.
While rescuing animals is a part of rural life, this one was like a scene from a bad movie. There were horses on the ground struggling to move, moaning and groaning. Others were hiding in stalls and pens, shaking whenever a human walked by. None of them looked well, except for this tall red horse named Flame, who was penned by himself, nickering to everyone that walked by. It was like he was looking for a party.
I walked up to him and said, “Hey, buddy! You are looking good.” He leaned his head over the fence and gave me a horsey hug. I could swear he whispered that we would be together. I backed away. I had a horse and didn’t need another one. I figured he would be one of the first to find a good home as he was healthier than all the others and still in great spirits.
One can imagine my surprise when the rescue called in September, asking if I wanted this crazy 16-hand horse. Every time they tried to rehome him, Flame managed to bite or kick the new would-be owner. His attitude was so bad that the trainers thought he was an Arabian when he was a Saddlebred. Nevertheless, I remembered our first meeting, and what he had whispered to me. I opted to adopt him for $200.
New horse, new opportunities
During those first few days of new ownership, I felt like I had made a serious error in judgment. Flame had a bad attitude and a total disdain for humans. Trying to lead him from the barn to the pasture was a nightmare. Adding to that was a vicious case of bastard strangles, which had left nodules under his jaw, ping-pong ball-size lumps on his belly, and a thick black goo that streamed out of his nose at different times. I told my son, Joe, I wasn’t sure what I would do with Flame. Every day seemed worse than the last one.
And then came the injury. Word of the accident spread quickly through my small community. Friends stopped by to see Flame, and many left shaking their heads in disbelief that I hadn’t called a veterinarian.
One of them, a man who had spent years training and doctoring horses, said, “There’s no way you can heal this horse without a vet. Even if he does make it, he will be scared, and probably never able to run or even walk easily. It will take months and months to heal.”
His words were not cruel, but they were honest. I remember looking at him and saying, “I understand where you are coming from, but I think I can heal Flame in 30 days, with no scarring, and he will not only walk easily, but he will run again.”
The man smiled at my naivete, patted me on the shoulder, and said, “Darling, if you can do that without the help of modern medicine, then you will have done something not even a vet could do.”
True to my word, 30 days later, all that was left of the injury was an inch-thick scab across Flame’s chest. Within three months, I was riding him, and he was fully able to run. It took $200 worth of herbs, a lot of love, and time, but Flame ultimately became my dream horse.
The wound healed to a small scar, the nasty attitude was replaced with love and trust, the bastard strangles disappeared, and I found my way back into my witchy world of natural healing.