Tag Archives: farm

Horses and Hallucination

This really happened. And the part where the hallucination hit me, I remember like it happened five minutes ago.

I was a farm kid of a sort, and those of you who have been reading here awhile may remember some of my fond and less than fond memories of those days (the rest of you can catch up here.) My dad was a veterinarian and we always had a lot of animals around: dogs and cats, the occasional steer, pigs of course (previous post,) lambs, a burro and some peacocks  come to mind. But among our not-for-profit animals, the horses were the stars. I loved our horses. The numbers varied, I remember we had up to five at one time, but Sandpiper and Friday were constants.

A Buckskin, like Sandpiper

An Appaloosa, like Friday

They were a comforting presence as they grazed or dozed in the pasture. There were rare sudden moments when one would jerk his head and kick up his heels and they’d all go stampeding around as if they’d whiffed a pack of wolves approaching, and other times when one or more rolled on the ground, hooves waving joyfully in the air. Fifteen seconds later, playtime would be over and they’d return to trimming the grass to its roots. I loved to talk to them and stroke their silky necks and the bristly hair sprouting from their velvet muzzles. A calm, inquisitive horse, or a horse who knows you well will commune with you if you put your head near theirs. If your faces are close enough, the horse will gently exhale through its nose. The horse is talking to you,greeting you, saying this is who I am in their foreign language. It is polite to return the breath. The exchange is not wet or messy. I would rank it among the most calming yet stimulating experiences I have had in life. A moment of zen. That being said, one time Sandpiper turned his head when I was riding him and blew his cavernous nose on my favorite purple sneaker. I admire horses, but I don’t hold with over-romanticizing them.

Also, I didn’t love riding the horses. My older and younger sisters were both better and more avid riders than I, in fact my older sister won prizes for barrel racing in rodeos. As far as I was concerned, the risks of uncontrollable sprints back to the stable and infrequent falls were a little much for me, unless there really was nothing else to do or I had a horse crazy friend over. But we all took turns caring for them. We filled their trough with water, sometimes flooding a big patch of the back pasture in our forgetfulness. We moved them from the back pasture to the front pasture and back again as needed. The horses were savvy enough to know that if they played hard to get, ignoring us and munching grass instead of coming to the gate, that we would put some delicious grain into a pail to sweeten the deal. They’d get their treat, and we would snap a lead onto Friday’s halter. Our small herd proceeded quietly, hooves crunching into gravel, one small human escorting two or more great beasts.  My father fenced the pastures with electrical wire. As far as I know, the horses rarely made any move to escape the enclosures, but the shock of touching the wire kept them from leaning against the fence, which would easily have knocked it down. The electrical charge, which we all felt multiple times either through mistake or dare, felt like the sharp smack of a stick, followed by a fading, numbing tingle. It was aversive enough to make kids and horses wary, but not enough to harm. The front pasture was enclosed with a single electrified wire about four feet off the ground. The back pasture was encircled with five strands of wire, the middle one electrified.

On one particular gray and rainy day in my early teens, it was my turn to move the horses from the back to the front pasture. The rain had stopped, but a heavy wetness lingered in the air and dripped from the eaves of the sheds and barn. The horses saw the pail in my hand and moseyed up to meet me. The gate, made of several solid iron rods each less than an inch thick, hung heavily on its hinges. The latch was simply a chain welded to the gate which we threaded through a loop screwed into the wooden fence post and then slipped into a notch on the gate. To get the chain out of the notch, we had to lift up on the gate to get some slack, which I did that day. The horses waited patiently as I set the pail of grain aside, away from the puddle of water in which I stood. I reached between the horizontal bars and grabbed the second bar down, leaning in a bit to lift…and gently, unwittingly, brushed my forehead against the electric wire. I don’t know if it was the puddle around my feet, or if it was that the fence was starting to short out making the exact amount of electric current a little unpredictable, but I do know that for a few seconds the world as I commonly perceived it disappeared and I could see nothing but one singular image: an x-ray of my skull, ghostly white on a field of black. I knew it was my own skull because I could see my braces glowing in sharp contrast on my teeth. Then the image vanished, depositing me back in the world and I realized I could TASTE my braces, which were unusually warm and metallic in my mouth. I was still standing, still holding the gate, but no longer in contact with the wire. I let the gate rest back on its chain and hinges and walked away, leaving the pail and two puzzled horses behind.

I don’t remember ever walking away from a chore without permission any other time, but the horses were fine where they were, and having just had a mind blowing and potentially dangerous experience, I felt justified. Perception and the human mind has fascinated me ever since, and this may be why I ended up majoring in Psychology. So I thank the horses and the electric current for giving me something to think about, and God for letting me survive the day so I could do so. And I thank you for reading.

Hallucination or horse stories, anyone?

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