The call was for a pre-purchase exam on a fancy warmblood gelding. The potential buyer would not be present, but his trainer, a woman named Fiona, would be representing him and was authorized to make all decisions on the sale. I didn’t know Fiona, and hoped she knew what she was doing, as the horse could be a handful.
A Tiny Dynamo
She had a lovely soft voice, and addressed me as Dr. Diehl, which was refreshing, and went out of her way to make sure I’d have everything I needed to do the exam on the big warmblood that waited for me a few stalls down.
She carried my tote for me, still chirping away merrily about various things, and swiftly unwound the horse’s leg bandages so I could look at his legs and feet before watching him move in the arena. The standing exam was uneventful, and she dimmed the barn lights for me without being asked when she saw me pull out my ophthalmoscope to check the big horse’s eyes.
I opened his mouth, palpated his legs, throat, neck and spine, and auscultated his heart and lungs, noticing her run across the barn to turn down the blaring radio in a corner so I could hear through my stethoscope.
When she saw me load my things back into my tote, she quickly gathered up a longeline and a dressage whip and unsnapped the horse from the cross-ties. She expertly changed his halter and threaded a short chain around his muzzle and snapped it to the ring under his jaw, then led him from the barn aisle into the immaculately groomed arena. Her soft voice lilted as she spoke to the big horse, and I shut the arena gate behind us.
Without warning, the huge animal shot straight up into the air, and came down hard, bumping the tiny woman. She reflexively popped the lead shank, never ceasing her gentle chatter, and otherwise ignored the horse. She didn’t even come up to the top of his shoulder. He half-heartedly pranced in place, and then settled down. I could see him assessing the situation, and I knew his antics weren’t over yet.
After staring innocently into space for a minute, he airplaned his ears, stuck his tongue out the side of his mouth and began a series of rapid head nods, shaking his big head as close to her as he could. She took no notice, only flicking a small hand at him as he brushed her with his muzzle. He stopped for an instant, than seized the leather lead shank in his mouth and began to gnaw it, twisting his head to the side.
She was telling a story about a young horse that had trampled her best saddle and without looking at the huge horse, stuck her thumb into his mouth, freed the lead shank and wiped it dry on her shirt. He continued to chew the air for a few more moments, then lowered his head to the arena floor, and busily rubbed his face on his forelimbs. She paid him no attention, and continued to talk happily as we walked to the far end of the arena where the exam would commence.
We were almost to the end when the big horse threw his head and exploded, rising high into the air. He landed, rose again, then bolted violently sideways, taking her with him as he covered half of the arena in seconds. The violence and speed of his departure caught me completely off guard and I dropped my tote in the dirt as I scrambled to help her.
The Great Correction
I needn’t have worried. A soul-cleaving feral roar filled the air and vibrated my eyeballs, stopping me completely in my tracks in mid-stride. I noticed the big horse had frozen into an identical stance and we eyed each other from across the arena too horrified to move or blink.
The tidal wave of sound and fury went on and on, the very air seeming to undulate around my head, and I was dimly aware that the diminutive woman was somehow generating this ghastly din. The only thought going through my mind was, “Hold absolutely still and it will stop.” I’m pretty sure the horse felt the same way.
After an eternity it did stop, and the tiny woman relaxed, coiled up the end of the lead neatly, and marched the giant equine firmly back to the end of the arena. I realized that I was allowed to move and timidly picked up my tools.
Put in His Place
The horse caught my eye as he passed me and silently I willed him to never, ever do anything to provoke that demon hell sound again. He looked incredibly contrite and as the little trainer put him through a series of exercises on the longeline, he completed them flawlessly and almost apologetically, practically bowing to her as he finished.
She beamed at me and drew in a deep breath to speak and I flinched reflexively. But all she said was, “Now, Dr. Diehl, shall I tack him up for the next part of the exam?” I nodded silently, and she and the horse disappeared back to the barn to find his saddle.
My cell phone rang and I about jumped out of my skin. I got through the remainder of the exam OK, but for the rest of the day, I had a lingering feeling of having been in an explosion. There were no more antics from the horse, although I noticed him shaking his head strangely in the paddock as I drove away.
COURTNEY S. DIEHL, DVM, has been an equine veterinarian since 2000. She resides in Steamboat Springs, Colo., where she is in private practice. Her first book, Horse Vet, Chronicles of a Mobile Veterinarian, was published in 2014. She is currently at work on her second book.
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!