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A Happy Ending (Not That Kind)


 

Taylor had transitioned from a bustling city into life in the Mountain West relatively easily. She started eating meat again since cow- excuse us - beef seemed to take up most of the triangles in her small town’s food pyramid. She bought a cowboy hat, a few horses, and often had manure on the heels of her “going out” boots. She’d met a real cowgirl, Carol, a neighbor in her 60s who’d grown up ranching and who was always looking for an adventure. They would saddle up for every sunset ride that they could manage, pour wine in a tin flask, and head out on the trail. Life was pretty great. Then a rescue horse showed up at her door. The horse’s name was Tinkerbell and she did not look good.

Tinkerbell was old - not on her last legs by equine standards but definitely pushing it to Grandma Land. She’d been used as a barrel racing horse for most of her life. She was sore and tired and thin. After arriving at Taylor’s, the horse was perfectly content to occasionally walk down to the river and spend the rest of the day eating hay while basking in the sun. But that was it. Tink’s working days were behind her. Taylor knew that she couldn’t keep her. The winters in Montana were too harsh and she didn’t have space for a horse who couldn’t do much riding. Taylor needed to find Tinkerbell a home.

First, Taylor was determined to put some weight on this sweet mare. She bought her special feed and spent hours grooming her until her chestnut coat shone. Every morning when Taylor went out to the barn to feed, she’d give Miss Tinkerbell a critical look-over, the number of visible ribs decreasing every week. Tink slowly gained weight, built muscle, grew a healthy coat, and even her eyes found a new sparkle. By the end of July, the horse looked good by anyone’s standards. And then the rehabilitation took a turn in the other direction.


Carol had left the neighborhood six months earlier, moving out to the city with her husband, when she decided that she missed her cowgirl fun and came back into town for a visit. Unfortunately, two days into her visit that August, she’d slipped, falling down Taylor’s stairs, and was presently in the hospital.

Taylor was worrying about Carol while driving home after picking up the kids with her father in the car when her phone rang. It was Carol.

“Honey, I’m gonna be just fine. I might have broken my tailbone in four places but I didn’t break my spirit,”

Taylor covered the mouthpiece and turned to her dad, “It’s Carol, she says she’s going to be ok.”

“What a relief,” mused Taylor’s father who had come to be quite fond of the cowgirl neighbor.

“Carol, you just let us know when they’re going to release you and one of us will come pick you up.”

“Oh, that sounds fabulous!” Exclaimed Carol, “Oh blah di, Oh blah da, life goes on, la la la la-

“See you soon, ” Taylor hung up, murmuring under her breath to her dad, “I think they put her on a lot of drugs.”

“DRUGS,” her three-year-old yelled from the backseat.

Before Taylor could even begin to undo that parenting gaffe, she slammed on the brakes. She squinted her eyes directly into the sun, “Oh shit,” she said loud. Moseying up the old road from her house, she could make out the silhouettes of four horses and one very (very) small pony. “Our horses are loose. Shit.”

“SHIT,” Yelled her three-year-old from his car seat. Taylor’s father looked at her sideways. She pulled her truck to the side of the small road, grabbed a dog leash from the back seat, and tried to approach the most docile of the herd, Lady. It didn’t work. Lady ran. The rest of the horses followed, including Hank, the pony the height of your countertops.

Taylor ran back to the truck, hopped in, speeding to the house where she unloaded her kids with her dad, grabbed some grain and halters from the barn, and tried to run back to the small herd before they made it to the main road or got caught up in someone’s rusty fencing. This is when the kids screamed to come with her.


“MAMA!”

“Not now, you guys - Dad, can you just—?” Taylor looked at her lovely father as he stared at her unruly, wailing, possibly possessed children. “Ok, ok, we’ll figure this out-“

Taylor’s heart raced. Five horses were a lot for one person to corral back home and they were getting further from the house the longer she stood there. “Dad, get in the gator -“The ‘gator’ was this 30-year-old four-wheeler that came with the house, green, rusted, on the same approximate life timeline as Tinkerbell- “Get the kids, here’s my phone, call Robin, she’s in my contacts.” Robin lived two streets down and was a lifelong horsewoman with an endlessly surprising list of talents.

Taylor threw her phone to her dad, tried to ignore the screaming kids, and ran down the road to where she could see the horses grazing in her neighbor’s field. Taylor bounced the grain loudly in the large, plastic bucket she carried in her right hand. None of the horses cared. She inched closer, maintaining eye contact as she heard her father in the gator sputter up the road, the kid’s whining getting closer.

“What’s your phone password?” He yelled from 50 yards away. Taylor fought back her embarrassment since this was an emergency,

“First a six then a nine then another six and then another nine,” was her best response. And with that, the horses jerked up their heads and trotted off further into the field.

“Shit,” she cursed under her breath.

“Shit!” She heard her three-year-old yell from the road.

“SIRI CALL ROBIN,” her father directed into the phone. Taylor could make out the response as she moved further into the field,

I didn’t get that.”

Taylor crept forward towards her very wild-looking animals, shaking the grain bucket a little more aggressively with each step. Tinkerbell turned, looking at Taylor with her soulful brown eyes, and then slowly nosed her way into the grain bucket. Taylor gently reached over the mare’s neck to tie her rope halter. The other horses must have either smelled the grain or sensed that Tinkerbell had found an all-you-can-eat buffet and crowded the bucket. It was at this moment that Taylor felt something wet and sticky pouring down her head and took a little too long to come to the realization that she was covered in blood.

We will spare you the gory details but it was poor Tinkerbell who’d managed to injure herself during her brief time as a free woman. Taylor persuaded all four horses and the spirited pony to march back to the barn as her dad sputtered ahead with the kids, no thanks to Siri. The trail of blood that followed them down the road was not pretty. Taylor was freaking out. She couldn't lose this horse, not now, not after the journey they'd made. She'd come to adore little Tink and this injury looked serious.

At the barn, Taylor, in full panic mode, which made her weirdly calm, which in turn freaked out the children, managed to fix up the horse’s face with sixteen gauze pads and a long, stretchy bandage that she wrapped around Tinkerbell’s entire jaw. Tink swayed from side to side - she’d lost a lot of blood. Taylor thanked the First Aid Gods that her compression hack had worked and booked it across the street, banging on her neighbor’s door.

“JACK THIS IS NOT MY BLOOD,” she announced when the kind, grey-haired man in his 70s answered the door. Jack explained that he didn’t have a surgical kit on him and had spent his career stitching up humans, but he would come over and take a look. Taylor ran back to the corral, feeling slightly guilty about interrupting Jack’s evening.

The vet showed up in record time and gave the sweet mare some sedatives. With her father, Jack, of course, Robin who Taylor had managed to call (without Siri), and two of her favorite ranch-y neighbors who’d shown up for moral support, Taylor, looking like she belonged in a horror movie, dropped to her knees outside of the corral where Tinkerbell was being treated.


Then she puked.

It turned out, Taylor didn’t like the sight of blood. It was here, on the ground that probably had some manure on it, that she saw her father standing at Tink’s hindquarters, clearly holding up the woozy horse on his own, his shoulder leaning into the poor mare’s haunches, using all of his strength to keep all eight hundred pounds of horse upright. Oh, her dad didn’t deserve this either.

“Dad!” She called out, “What are you doing?”

“I don’t want her to fall over,” replied her very helpful dad.

The vet, having set up his tools and lights at Tinkerbell’s head, was an Old West cowboy himself. Taylor thought of how her two worlds were presently colliding: her North East academic suburban upbringing and now, here, in the shadows of the mountains where people actually lived off of the land and fixed tractors and saved lives with their own two hands. Dr. Brendan was calm, laying out his sterile equipment. He had a drawl that could sooth a colicky baby to sleep and his dusty cowboy boots looked like this was not the first corral he’d saved a life in that day.

“Don’t do that,” said Dr. Brendan, “she’ll crush ya.”

“Oh, ok,” Taylor’s dad nodded his head vigorously, adjusting his polo shirt and Yankee hat, trying to step back from the horse’s butt. However, Tink didn’t get the memo and simply let her weight fall with him. Taylor’s dad pushed her back upright and tried again. Tink just let her bum fall back into his hands. This went on for the next twenty minutes until he was able to extricate himself and join Taylor sitting on the ground. Both were covered in sweat and blood and pretty exhausted. Taylor shook a bit as the sun went down over the mountains. This is when her phone rang.

“Taylor! Doctors said I can leave and we gotta get to the pharmacy before they close because I need LOTS of pills for my ass!” Taylor looked and her screen and slowly blinked three times. Oh, yes, CAROL. Dr. Brendan continued to stitch up Tinkerbell with the most thoughtful of motions. She turned to her father,

“Carol needs us to come to get her right now. I obviously cannot go out in public without a shower. And I can’t leave Tink. Can you get to the hospital?”

Her father thought he could. “Siri, directions to St. Luke's Hospital, Bozeman.” Taylor looked at him just long enough to notice his Android phone which, she was pretty sure, did not have Siri. Her dad was so smart, so compassionate, so helpful, but technology had never been his thing.

“I can go get her,” Robin, who’d taken over holding Tink’s face, was going to go down in Taylor’s book as the kindest human ever. “Just tell me what Carol looks like.”

“Oh Robin, you are seriously amazing,” Taylor pulled herself into an upright position and then swiped to find a photo of Carol on her phone. “Just so you know, I think they gave her a lot of pain medication. She might be a little silly. It should be an entertaining drive home.” Robin wasn’t the least bit phased. Apparently she’d been an EMT at one point in her life as well.

The following week was filled with a lot of caretaking. Tink needed to be fed by hand and kept in a clean stall, her bandage changed daily. Carol spent her time in the guest room, shuffling occasionally to the kitchen or the couch to watch her “programs.” On the third day after her fall, when no one was around to tell her not to, Carol the cowgirl slowly slipped out to the barn to pay a visit to Tink.

Neither Taylor nor her dad nor Robin was there to see it, but something special must have happened out there in the cedar-smelling barn. Maybe it was the mountain air, the shared history amongst two ranching daughters, the simultaneous injury, or all of Carol’s drugs, but the two gals fell for each other, hook, line, and sinker.

At dinner that night, over cow (steak,) corn, and baked potatoes, Carol announced that she would be taking Tinkerbell back to her family’s ranch in California. The old mare would retire in the sunshine on thousands of acres of a citrus orchard. She would walk up to the cattle pasture a few times a week but would never have to tough out a harsh Montana winter again. She would be loved and pampered and fed and adored, just like she deserved. And Carol was good to her word.

“Holy—-“ Taylor began,

“SHIT.” Yelled her three-year-old. Taylor’s husband choked on his corn.



 

Tinkerbell now looks like she’s aging backward. She’s on bright green grass with a handful of other horses, living out her days like the true Golden Girl she is. And Carol? Her butt is just fine, thank you very much. She’s presently spending her days tracking down buried treasure. But that is a story for another time. Sweet Dreams.



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