by Ann Clark
There’s a glob of perethrin ointment two inches thick cupped in the fingers of my hand, and it is the most ridiculous day-glow pink and smells like liquorice and pine-trees. The mare is edging away no matter how slowly I ease up on her. The ointment won’t help her heal faster, but it will keep bugs away from the wound. Flies especially have to be kept out because that thing about maggots only eating dead flesh is a myth. You definitely don’t want to see them in a live animal—you just don’t.
This mare is the ugliest horse on our place. She’s physically ugly, with an old-fashioned boxy quarter-horse build and a ridiculous ox-head, and she’s bad-tempered with the other horses, taking sly nips out of them when she gets a chance and bullying mares and geldings lower in the social order. She’s barn-sour and herd-bound, too, so she gets stubborn if she’s ridden out on the trails, adopting a machine-gun trot that leaves even experienced riders sore for days.
We brought the horses into the barn for vaccinations, and a five inch flap of skin was hanging open on the mare’s throat, blood clots dried down her chest. “Any further up or over, and you’d be calling the mink man,” the vet said. She was talking about the guy who farms mink for fur coats and takes slaughtered animals for feed.
The vet’s best guess was the mare had caught herself on a thorn apple tree and panicked, pulled up hard, and ripped half her throat out; we don’t use barbed wire because it can cause just these kinds of injuries. But, God, as I’m looking at the raw flap that couldn’t be stitched up, it’s as if the horse’s head is going to fall right off even now, two days later, and I think of the horse in the movie guy’s bed in The Godfather. It looks that bad.
But this isn’t a horse that would make me or my husband scream until the echoes chased around the farm buildings if we woke up at dawn and found her head in the bed. I mean, first, fat chance on sneaking into our house without getting your ass shot off. After that, this is the horse we could probably most spare. She’s the horse whose head we might leave in someone else’s bed, and I know I’m not the only one who is just a little bit admiring of that tactic in the movie.
I’m inching closer to the horse, who’s quivering and flinching at the flies landing on her. I do wonder if she could really have done that kind of damage to herself on a thorn bush because the tear seems very neat and straight, but then, we’re on the end of a dead-end road and nobody much knows about our place, and besides that, if I were the kind of person who wanted to hurt something beautiful, she really wouldn’t make the cut.