Friday, May 29, 2009

The Horse Slayer

A while ago I blogged about where we got our dog, Spanky, and I told of some of the particulars of my job. As a quick recap, part of my job was to drive our data from the paper in Emmett over to our sister newspaper in Nampa. The drive probably took about 20 to 30 minutes and it was almost always at night.

One night in July of 1999, I was on my way home from Nampa to Emmett. Morgan and I had been married for about 2 months and our friends Mel and Michelle had come to visit. Everyone was still awake at my house, waiting for me to get home. It was about 2:30 in the morning and I was a few miles down Highway 16. The speed limit on the highway was 65, I believe, but I usually drove a lot faster than that. There is a lot of desert and nothing between the towns of Star and Emmett. For some reason, that night I pegged my cruise control at exactly 65. I remember that because I usually went at least 70 or 75, but for whatever reason that night I felt like obeying the law.

As I followed a gentle curve in the highway, I saw a horse in the road directly in front of me. You always hear about how time seems to slow down when you're in an accident, and it really seemed that way for me. I first thought about swerving but immediately decided that I was going too fast to turn that sharp. Also, I had no idea which way the horse would go. It was just slowly plodding along from the right side of the road to the left. I realized that the safest option was to try to stop before hitting the horse, so I stood on my brakes. As the tires began to screech, the horse was spooked and began to try to get out of the way. Just before impact, I threw my arms up in front of my face. The horse almost got out of the way. My front bumper hit its hind quarters and the horse slid up the hood of my car, breaking through the windshield with its rump. When the car came to a stop, it threw the horse off of my car onto the road. I'm not sure the order in which the next things happened, but at some point I reached over to turn off my stereo because in the sudden quiet the music was deafening. I could feel something warm and wet on the right side of my face and in my mid-back-length hair. I was sure that the horse had exploded and that I was covered in its innards, so I began to scream. At some point I realized that my car was in the middle of the road, just around a blind corner and that I would probably be safer if I got out of the car. I stepped out of the car onto the glass-covered pavement to see the horse lying several feet to the front of my car. I hesitated, because I wanted to see if the horse was alright, but at the same time I was afraid to go near it because I didn't want it to freak out and kick me.

Where the accident happened, there were two houses, one on each side of the road. The house on the right was a veterinarian's clinic and the horse ended up belonging to the vet himself. These two houses were the only houses for several hundred yards, if not a couple miles. I heard a screen door slam from the house on the left and then a voice called out, asking if I needed an ambulance. It was at this time that I started to assess my body for injuries. I was walking, so my legs and feet worked, although my shoes had come off during impact and I was walking on broken glass in my bare feet. My left hand was cut up pretty good from where the windshield came to rest on me. Everything else seemed to be in good working order. I told the voice that no ambulance was needed, but could they please call the police.

It was about at this point that the horse decided to stand up. She was a pretty mare, light colored, maybe tan or gray and her coloring made it impossible to miss the bloody gashes on her hind legs and rump. She took a few steps and I saw that her leg was obviously broken, as it was bending at any angle but the natural angle intended by God. I don't know what I thought I was doing, but I wanted her to stop trying to walk, so I stepped toward her saying, "No, horsey, horsey, horsey. No, horsey."

By this time people from both houses had started to show up, and I think the police officer was there, too. I was shaking so hard I could barely walk and the officer had to help me down the embankment to lean against the fence. As I was talking to him, I realized that what I thought was horse guts dripping from my face and hair was manure. The horse came in through my windshield butt first and emptied its bowels directly on me. I missed a direct hit to the face because I had thrown my hands up and turned my head, but my cheek, temple, and long hair were coated in stinky, stinky stuff. I was telling the officer what had happened, trying not to stand too close to him in all of my foul-smelling glory. I then realized that I should have been home and that Morgan would begin to wonder where I was. The veterinarian loaned me his cell phone and I called Morgan. This was in the nineties, before cell phones got very good reception and I was also in a valley. Morgan heard something about an accident, come get me, cop cars and flashing lights and then the call ended. Morgan, Mel and Michelle all jumped in Michelle's car. They told me that she practically flew down the highway. After I was done talking with the officer, I walked over to where a group of people were kneeling around the horse. I asked the vet (who was really nice throughout the whole thing) if his horse was going to be okay. He told me that they had just put her down. Then they wrapped a chain around her neck and unceremoniously drug her down his driveway with a tractor.

Morgan and our friends showed up and I didn't think that Morgan would ever let me go. I kept telling him to move away, that I was covered in poop, but he didn't care. It turns out that I wasn't the only one involved in the wreck; I was a few weeks pregnant with Michael at the time. I had suspected that I was pregnant but it was too early to tell. I was so worried that the force of the accident, the pressure of the seat belt on my abdomen could have hurt the baby. Thankfully, it turned out all right.

We went home and I got in the shower and washed my hair three times. It still smelled like crap for days. My parents and all of my siblings except for my brother Lonnie were camping, and Lonnie was going to head up to the cabin later that day. I felt like my family needed to know what had happened, so I called Lonnie collect at 4:00 in the morning to tell him what had happened. I was shaking so hard and my teeth were chattering so violently that I could hardly talk. I finally gave the phone to Morgan and had him tell Lonnie about it. I asked that Lonnie let my mom and dad know what had happened when he got to the cabin. Morgan was sure to tell Lonnie that the horse had covered my head and torso with crap and they both got a good laugh out of that. Now I think it's funny, but it wasn't that night.

My parents made their way to a phone the next day to call and see how I was doing. The first words that my dad said to me when I got on the phone were, and I quote, "Julie, that's not what getting shit-faced means." That sentence has become one of my all-time favorite quotes of my dad.

In the days that followed, I heard many horror stories of similar accidents that made me realize just how lucky I was. First of all, the horse came through the window butt first, which made an incredible mess but ended up a lot better for me than if she would have come through feet first. Apparently many people have been in accidents that they would have otherwise survived if the animal's feet hadn't came through the windshield and kicked them to death. I was wearing my seat belt and it functioned properly. The only physical injuries I received were some cuts on my left hand where the windshield actually came to rest. If I had not been wearing my seat belt, my head would have met the windshield and then the rear end of the horse and the outcome would probably not have been as favorable for me as it ended up being. As I mentioned before, that particular night I felt compelled to go the speed limit. Maybe if I'd been going faster I would have passed by before the horse got out onto the road, but I believe that I was travelling that speed for a reason.

Another good thing about the accident was that the veterinarian and I were both covered by the same insurance company, so they took care of fixing my car 100%. I guess they figured that there was no other insurance company to pawn off the cost on, so they just paid. I don't know if the vet was compensated for the loss of his horse. He and I spoke on the phone a few days after the accident. He had called to see how I was doing. I apologized for hitting his horse and he told me that she was a difficult horse to keep corralled. He had had problems with her getting out of her pen many times before. In fact, the night of the accident she had somehow made it over or through two different fences. The vet was great about not making me feel guilty for the accident.

My car got fixed up within a few weeks, but there was glass everywhere. When we would turn on the air conditioner or heater for the next year little chunks of glass would come flying out. There was glass and manure in the back seat, front seat and trunk of the car. I was glad that cleaning that mess had not been my job.

Morgan, being the sweet, caring man that he is, immediately started teasing me about it. When we would drive past a pasture of horses, he would say, "Don't look! They're all giving you the finger. They know you've killed one of their own." He told me that he was going to get me customized license plates that said HRSSLYR - Horse Slayer.

I have found, by sharing this story, that I am now a part of some twisted club: the 'I Hit Livestock With My Car and Lived to Tell' Club. My dad was a member. He told me that when he was younger, he had hit a cow that was in the road. It bounced up on the hood of the car, continued on up over the roof and landed on the road behind him. He said he swerved to the side of the road and then sat there trying to figure out what was making that awful screaming noise. It took him several minutes to realize that he was the one screaming.

So, there you have it. I have killed a horse. It's ironic, actually, how many animals I have killed. I have such a tender heart when it comes to animals. I have actually cried over road kill. I have never gone hunting before, ever, and the one fish I caught that my dad gutted and cooked for me made me feel so much guilt that I couldn't eat it. So far, the death toll is two squirrels, four cats, one dog, countless birds, one snake and a horse; all of the deaths were accidental, with my vehicle as the murder weapon.


Greg and Gwen said...

Hey I'm part of the club too. I hit one of my dad's cows on my way to seminary one moring in a snow storm. Luckily I was going so slow because I couldn't see anything and because I was on the phone telling my dad that I thought I needed to come home because visibility was so bad. Next thing I knew there was a cow. It slid up my hood stopped right before my windshield, slid back down, got up and wandered off! I was slightly traumatized by the whole thing.
I also had a close friend in high school that hit a horse late one night. It came through her windshild and killed her instantly and her sister (in the passenger seat) went thought numerous surgeries to fix her face from all the damage. It was a pretty devastating experience for our little community and ward.

I'm thinking someone was watching over you and michael that night! I'm glad we're in the "and lives to tell about it" club.

Amy and Darin and family said...

We actually had a deer hit us one night, and NOT the other way around. I can still see it's face in the windshield, it looked like it would have said "what the h***" if it could have.... stupid deer...