The inside of my truck felt like a ball pit at McDonald's.
Clare bounced in the front seat, foot jiggling, and showered me with her usual rapid-fire commentary. Dobby, her Italian Greyhound/Miniature Pinscher mix, bounced from her lap to the back seat with my dogs, and back to the front again.
Every time Dobby flew over the seat, big and hairy Brockle would leap to cut him off, like a very large cutting horse working a tiny little heifer in the back seat of my truck. Charlie, the rat terrier, was curled up on his car bed. He stared out the window, pretending he was the only dog in the vehicle, his only acknowledgement of the other two dogs was a slight curl of the lip when somebody banged into him.
We were on our way to Penrose to visit her horse, Snicket and Clare was wound tighter than her former dreads,. Economics and her 21-year-old circumstance has put her in the position of boarding her horse forty miles from her house. Carless, she is dependent on me to get her out to see him. Lucky for Clare, Snicket is being cared for my first employer as a full-time horse trainer, and I'm still close with the whole family. That gets her a ride from me on a regular basis, so we can visit, and very inexpensive board from them.
"I wonder if Snicket's too old to finish as a cow horse, he's awfully fat, of course that's why I wanted to keep him with Jim and Marilyn. Dobby -- get in back. Work sucks, I've got to get another job so I can move him back to town, do think hay is going to stay so high? Dobby! Get in back. I don't know how I'm going to afford to show. Dobby -- get in back!"
We got to Penrose, hocked our souls to buy hay for the next month and drove to our old friends beautiful retirement home and barn. I was about ready to do a drive by, all six tires spinning in the dust, throw out three of my four passengers out and head for the mountains with Charlie. There had to be a cave out there somewhere where we could never be found.
They burled out of the truck like an emptying clown car and descended on Jim and Marilyn.
"Well hi everybody!" Marilyn hollered with her usual enthusiasm and huge grin. My eyes met with Jim's and we shared our standard resigned half smile and nod. Their tranquil peace was shattered and Marilyn was in heaven. Jim was okay with it, he loves Marilyn and knows she needs periodic chaos. Clare, being her kindred spirit, is more than willing to provide it for her.
Dobbie, nine pounds of whirling dervish, has been providing all the chaos anybody could ever need since the day Clare had brought him home from the pound. He is a macho, puffed up firebrand, ready to take on all comers, be it a surly St. Bernard, a roommates cat, a puff of wind, an opinionated sofa pillow or a pile of clean laundry. He'll eagerly attack it, destroy it, bark at it or pee on it, whatever he thinks is necessary. Dobby is working through a crippling case of disrespect and separation anxiety and Clare loves every twitchy, shivery, neurotic, narcissistic inch of him.
We began our visit with our usual tour of the horses lucky enough to retire with Jim and Marilyn. Clare immediately slid trough the fence to visit with Snicket. Fat, shiny and very happy to see her, his dark chestnut coat made him a standout in the herd of retired buckskin and dun, broodmares, a couple of studs and their riding horses.
Dobby flew, darting between the horses legs, tearing around the pens at a good 100 mph or so. The only time slowed down was to investigate the feed tubs for any stray tidbits. Brockle and Charlie were messing with the barn dogs, three heelers, a pit bull and a rottie. They played in the yard, pretty much out of the way and definitely not in the corrals.
"That dog's going to get killed one of these days," Jim said to me.
"I know," I said, "but he's getting better. He used to bark and snap. Clare doesn't have him quite in hand yet, but she's closing in on it. If he lives long enough , she might get through to him."
Jim just shook his head. He knows from lots of experience how hard it is to let kids do it on their own, especially when animals are involved.
Clare and I began to stack her hay. Well, mainly Clare. I like watching her work. A lot. There's no satisfaction like a mother's when she gets to watch her help-around-the-house-phobic daughter sweating it out with manual labor.
It was a typical Colorado winter day, pretty and clear, dry, temps in the fifties, with a promise of weather on the building wind. Marilyn couldn't stand it and started helping Clare, but Jim and I didn't have the same compunction, we stood around and visited.
A sudden blur of motion caught my eye. Dobby had squirmed into their grulla stud's pen and was sniffing around his grain pan, looking for leftovers. Their grulla is a young horse, a foundation bred colt their son had bought when he lost his favorite horse, Sunny Peppy Pine. The horse is rowdy, in your face and no fan of dogs.
"I'd get that dog out of there," Jim said.
"Clare, call your dog," I said.
Just as Clare called Dobby the stud spotted him and charged, head low and snaky, with his ears pinned and his teeth bared.
Dobby panicked and bolted around the pen, too terrified to think his way out. The stud followed close at his heels, his intent all too clear. I remembered a similar situation with my first cow horse, Sonita, and a hapless chicken, and my stomach soured.
"Dobby! Come!" Clare ran to the fence and crouched, trying to get her flying dog to see her. His head turned and he started to come to her, but the stud horse caught him with a quick strike and flattened him into the ground. He reared in the air and came down hard, both front feet in the middle of his back, smashing him into the dirt.
I watched Dobbie's eyes glaze and could only imagine the shattered bones in his tiny, frail body. I felt my heartbeat slow, my instinctive response to disaster. In two strides Clare was at the fence and climbing over. She jumped into the pen, her feet landing two feet from the angry stallion's nose.
"Get off!" She screamed, threw her arms in the air and took a step towards him.
Surprised, the stud's focus came off the crumpled little dog and on to Clare. He backed a step.
"Get off!" Clare was so close, spit sprayed across his nose, her teeth were bared and her eyes narrowed in fury.
The young stud spun around and trotted to the other side of the pen in confusion. He spun and stared at my fierce, crazed daughter, standing over her dog with her arms high in the air.
"Mom, what do I do?"
"I suggest you scoop him up and get the hell out of there."
She did. She was back over the fence before the horse knew what hit him. He took a few steps toward us and Clare turned on her heel, pointed at him and shouted, "I said GET OFF!" The horse backed himself to the far wall.
Then she turned to me and burst into tears. "Mommy, is he dead?"
I stepped in and looked at Dobby. His eyes were still glassed over, but he was breathing.
"Honey, he's still alive, you have to calm down so he feels your heartbeat start to settle. Come sit in the truck and get yourself there."
"Is he going to die?"
"I don't know. All we can do is give him some time, let him feel you're there and see what happens."
Clare tucked him into her hay-covered hoodie and bent over him, crooning and whispering.
Jim, Marilyn and I stood around waiting, talking the nervous idle talk of families in a waiting room at the hospital.
"No matter what happens, I'm proud of her, she handled that perfectly," I said.
"I'm surprised you let her in there," Ji m said.
"She knows what she's doing," I said. You could take a few lessons from her and that son-of-a-bitch horse wouldn't have done that, I thought.
"I'd of at least gone in with a rake," Marilyn added.
"She might have triggered a fight if she actually hit him," I answered. "As far as I'm concerned, she did it just right, the way she was taught. Although I think she'd a gone for his throat if he had moved one onch closer."
I went to the truck and checked on them. Dobby's eyes were clearing and he was huddled as far as he could get into Clare's arms. I poked and prodded, moved his legs, felt along his back and couldn't believe it.
"He seems fine," I said.
"I know, can you believe it?"
Within ten minutes, Clare came out of the truck, set him on the ground, and Dobby did his crazy gnome dance around her feet.
It was incredible. Dobby lost quite a bit of skin off his head and got a big lump, but other than some body soreness the next day, he was fine. All we could figure is the dirt was soft enough to give way with the impact.
That is one lucky dog.
epilogue: We took out more hay this past week. Dobby started to shake when we got o the highway and was about wetting himself by the time we got to the barn. We ignored him. He stayed at Clare's heels for most of the day, but was playing with the barn dogs by early evening. He didn't step into a single pen.