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Mystico Part 3, October 2002 ~ Quicksand

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

Read Part 2 of Mystico’s Story here

I saw Mystico off to my friend Cora’s home in Tennessee, and I flew home to Washington State. I called and checked in with Cora every couple of days and she said he was settling in just fine, he was being a good horse, and all was well at her barn with her other horses. All seemed to be going fine, except that the horse hauling company I had hired now said it was going to be another five weeks for them to pick him up instead of three. It was going to be a long time before I could see him. I was eager to spend time with Mystico and let him know that I was his person and not Cora. So two weeks later I flew back out to Tennessee so I could stay with him at Cora’s until the transport came..

When Cora met me late that evening at the airport, I was shocked when I saw her because one side her face was badly bruised. I asked her what had happened, and she sat down with me and told me it was Mystico’s doing. I felt my world begin shifting under my feet like quicksand.

She said that she had been letting him out into a small turn out area connected to his stall that gave him some room to move. She said one day she had decided to go in with him and “move him around a little” and that he had attacked her. He had bitten her in the face. Tears came to my eyes when I realized the extent of what she had experienced. She said she appreciated my concern but she asserted that she didn’t think he was totally at fault, that he was just untrained. She said he could have hurt her worse and he hadn’t. She assured me she would be ok, she wasn’t upset with him and it would all be fine. I wondered why she hadn’t told me sooner as it had happened a few days before. She said she didn’t want to tell me over the phone.

I was deeply disturbed and I couldn’t understand what could have caused him to act that way. But I didn’t know anything about him except how sweet he seemed when I had been with him. Apparently I had gotten myself in over my head just as I had feared. I felt horrible for Cora and I apologized for the danger I had put her in. She smiled and hugged me reassuringly, and said it was all going to be ok.

We arrived at her house after 11 pm. As I emerged from the car, exhausted from jet lag and the emotional evening, the first thing that struck my senses was the sound of a frantically whinnying horse. I looked over at the barn, and then at Cora in concern and she said, “We’ve been having to shut him up in his stall after the accident as he is acting restless and upsetting the other horses. He is just unhappy, he’ll be fine.” My heart racing, I said, “I’m going to go see him”. She continued on into the house.

I walked into the barn. All her horses looked at me but they didn’t seem anxious. In contrast the frantic whinnying came from the end of the barn. The top half door to Mystico’s stall was shut, as was the top half of the door that would normally look outside. He was in a box with no windows. I stood at the barn aisle door and talked with him to told him I was there and I slowly opened the top half of the door and beheld the wild stallion I had encountered before at the horse show, only worse. Now instead of merely being anxious, he was in an absolute panic. He was covered in sweat and his wild eyes didn’t register my presence. He paced back and forth, back and forth in the stall from wall to wall. I didn’t know what to do. At first I was afraid to approach him when I thought of his attack on Cora, but I couldn’t let him go on like this, he might colic or injure himself, and who knew how long he had been in this state. I got a halter and went into the stall with him and he stopped momentarily, long enough for me to put a halter on him. Then he continued his restless pacing. I tried to calm him, but he wouldn’t stop. It was the middle of the night and there was nowhere else to take him to walk him around or try to break the pacing pattern. He wasn’t interested in food. Finally after about an hour of alternately moving with him and talking to him he calmed down enough for me to take his halter off. He never offered me any aggression. As I left the stall to try to get some rest, I felt completely exhausted and emotionally numb. What had I gotten myself into?

I went into the house. Cora commiserated with me and shrugged her shoulders and offered me a late dinner.  I tried to ask her about what was going on with him. She had her theories that he was untrained, a stallion, and that he probably wanted to be with the other horses and got worked up about it. She said she didn’t know why he had begun acting that way when at first he had seemed fine. I wondered again that she hadn’t told me what had been going on. If he had been in this state since the incident she should have told me about it so I could have considered what to do for his safety as well as her own.

The next morning as I slept off my jet lag Cora fed the horses, including Mystico, before she left for work. She said Mystico seemed calmer and she told me to make myself at home until she returned that evening. I had the place to myself.

I had been to stay at Cora’s several times before and it had seemed like a nice place to be, though I had always looked a little askance at her relationship with her horses. She adored her stallion and doted on him. She had two Paso Fino mares and a filly by her black mare. Her chestnut mare was a cribber; a horse who chews on wood while sucking in air, an addictive behavior caused by boredom or stress. I always felt sorry for the mare as Cora and her husband were busy working all week, and the mare would stand in her stall cribbing all day. At least she had pasture turnout with the black mare some evenings or weekends and that was her happiest time.

Mystico was much calmer that morning and seemed like a normal horse. I watched him for any signs of aggression but there weren’t any. Was he a Jekyll and Hyde horse? I decided to take him for a walk around the barn to meet the other horses except for her stallion, as I didn’t have experience with what to expect in that encounter. I wondered if Cora had introduced him to her horses, and I hoped that if he could touch noses with them over their stall doors maybe he would find some sense of comfort from the contact. He politely greeted the mares without any undue excitement. Things seemed to be fine now that I was with him.

Vera, the clairvoyant, said that since I was planning on gelding Mystico I should arrange to have him gelded while he was at Cora’s while I waited for the trailer company. The horse people I spoke with said it would take him about 3 weeks to heal from the surgery, and I supposed it could work out best, but I wasn’t sure about whether it was the right plan. But Vera was psychic and I wasn’t, so I thought surely she must have a reason for picking the timing. Perhaps she saw something I didn’t.

Cora said she knew a good vet who could do the surgery for gelding Mystico. He was scheduled to perform the surgery at the barn a few days later. By now Mystico seemed to be doing well and though I was anxious about the procedure, I felt comfortable that I could handle him and doctor him if needed after the surgery.

The vet arrived. Cora chatted with him and introduced us. He couldn’t help but notice her bruised face and she told him about the incident with Mystico and warned him about his “stallion behaviors” and the vet said he could handle him. All the conversation seemed benign, but not addressed to me. The vet seemed businesslike and efficient, but I was unsure about the proceedings. The vet got his equipment ready. I was surprised when he didn’t examine Mystico or talk with me about his history. It all began to feel very unreal and seemed to be happening too quickly. In a few moments we were going to perform surgery on Mystico, and everything in my inner vision had narrowed down to this one moment. I couldn’t see where we were going. And the vet wasn’t asking for my participation. But I felt obligated to go forward. I had made the appointment, the timing was tight if he was to heal before he traveled, and the psychic had told me this was the best idea.

I put Mystico’s halter on and tried to explain the unexplainable, that the vet was going to perform a surgery on him which would allow him to live with my herd, and that he would have some pain but we would get through it together. As I held his halter the vet came in the stall with the sedative. He didn’t greet Mystico, who tensed at his approach. He began to reach for Mystico’s neck with the syringe and Mystico raised his head and backed up, and when that didn’t work he tried to bite the vet. There were a few tense moments as I tried to restrain him and the vet tried to sedate him. All the while I couldn’t help but feel that somehow this was all wrong. I didn’t like how the vet was handling him, and clearly Mystico didn’t like it either, but he was there to get the surgery done and Cora had recommended him as very skilled. It was all happening too fast. I wrestled inwardly with my indecision and lack of experience and I was too unsure of myself to intervene and ask more questions. I didn’t feel I could ask questions as we were already moving forward. I felt powerless to give voice to my misgivings as I saw myself as the inexperienced horse owner.

The vet finally managed to get the needle in and he stood back to let the sedation take effect. He told me to lead Mystico into the alley and out into the little turnout area so he could lay him down. I did so. Mystico stood weaving slightly but his eyes were wide and he looked unsettled. After a moment the vet lifted his front leg and tried to get him to lay down and he struggled to stay standing. The vet then insisted on giving him more sedation. He was the expert so I agreed. He gave him more sedation and Mystico did finally collapse, but now he was shaking all over. The vet raised his eyebrows and said he had given him enough sedative to “sedate an elephant” but that he wasn’t going under. I realized Mystico was in a state of total adrenaline overload because he didn’t trust the vet, and he was again in an emotional and physical crisis. I looked in horror at the scene before me as if in slow motion, and the feeling of dread overwhelmed me. I didn’t know what could go wrong, but I knew it was wrong. My fear gave me the impetus to speak, and I said, “Stop. We have to stop. We are not going to do this. I will pay you for your time, but you have to stop.” The vet looked at me in surprise. Then he shrugged and said, “Ok, its your call.” He told me Mystico would recover from the sedation in a short time. He gathered his gear and walked back out to his truck. I could hear Cora making excuses and in my mind’s eye I could almost see her rolling her eyes at the cowardice of her “emotional friend”.

By that afternoon Mystico had recovered, and thankfully seemed no worse for the drugs and the stress. I sat in his stall with him happily eating hay next to me. I felt overwhelmed and confused, yet once the crisis had passed there was this strange feeling of ease. If I didn’t know better I would think that we were just sitting together having a lovely afternoon. Had all that craziness and fear really happened that same morning?

What was I to do with this unpredictable horse? I realized that sometimes when he was around other people he seemed potentially dangerous, and somehow with me he didn’t. Yet every person who had an opinion on his behavior blamed it on the fact he was an untrained stallion. As the thoughts whirled in my head of what to do and how to navigate the world with him, I talked to him and I apologized for what he had gone through. Then I felt a tug on the top of my head, and I realized that Mystico was tugging gently on my hair. I looked up and he stuck out his tongue in that foal-like gesture to me just like he had the very first time I petted him. Tears welled up in my eyes when I thought of what I had already subjected him to in my attempts to make decisions on his behalf, and I couldn’t believe how happy and relaxed he now seemed. This horse was not the horse that other people thought he was.

It didn’t dawn on me until later that there was one major aspect that all other people were missing in their interactions with him, one thing that I had as my primary resource, which was a heart full of love and good intentions.

That evening, I started asking Cora more questions about what had happened when Mystico had attacked her. She said she would occasionally let the two mares out to graze and then let Mystico out into his adjoining small paddock, and that he would pace and call to the mares. After a few times of him doing this she decided to try to do some “training” with him by asserting control over what he was doing, just like she had seen horse trainers do who worked with horses in round pens. She had gone in the small paddock with him and had moved him around with a lunge whip and intentionally she decided to block him from going to the side where he would pace and called to the mares. After awhile of her pushing and blocking him he had suddenly lunged at her with his teeth bared and bit her in the face. She collapsed onto the ground. Instead of continuing to attack her like she thought he would, he retreated to the other side of the pen. She said from then on she had been afraid of him whenever she had to move him from place to place she carried a pitch fork with her into his stall and paddock!

I tried to temper my reaction because of the injuries she had sustained but it was clear she had no understanding that Mystico’s behaviors had been partly in response to her overly aggressive behavior towards him in a confined space. Despite my lack of horsemanship skills even I understood that given what we’d seen of his fear in enclosed spaces it was unwise to trap him in what would constitute the space of half a round pen, and push him around just to show him that she was boss. He was frustrated and confused by her actions so he had attacked her.

There was no excuse for his behavior, but likewise I felt there was no excuse for hers. But I didn’t speak my mind. Mystico and I were guests at her farm, and she had offered to keep him there until the trailer company arrived, but it was beginning to become apparent to me that this was the wrong place to be.

Read Mystico Part 4 here

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