Feeling A Bit Tied Up

By Lauren Giannini

I know how horses feel when they’re stall kept. I understand how easily their energy level builds up, how they look for outlets that range from kicking the snot out of stall boards to wood chewing, crib biting, and weaving. I share their claustrophobia. It’s normal to feel deranged when confined to quarters.

A detached retina put me on severe restriction from early July until further notice. I’ve been pretty much confined to quarters for a month now, and I empathize wholeheartedly with equines who endure incarceration for whatever the reason. It’s no fun. It’s not at all natural. And I face fixing up imbalances all throughout my body because I must keep my head and eyes down, sleep on my stomach, and be very gentle in my activities.

Being involved in complementary modalities, I know a few things about the healing process. One, it takes however long it takes. Two, it is much easier to nurture other creatures, quad and bipeds, to get them sound of mind, body, wind and limb. It’s a far greater challenge to extend the same courtesies to myself. In other words, having talked the talk for many years, now I’m learning to walk the walk. Gently. I’m learning to take care of myself gently, much the way I treat my beloved horses.

Isabel, however, has a story or two to tell about me. She has been my faithful canine companion throughout this ordeal. Our greatest grievance is that she may not accompany me to UVA Medical Center. I’m quite sure she could also come up with a tale wagging or two about human frailties, but she’s so loyal I feel quite safe.

One story is no secret. Early on in my confinement, I was headed out the door to ride to the grocery store with my landlady (Gret is more like family, plus she’s a wonderful sporting artist, a great horse and hound person). I’d seen her walk out of her house and across the lawn to have a word with Chris who was operating the riding mower by the side paddock.

Knowing that Gret’s appearance outside meant she was ready to rev up her sporty little red car, I put my hand on the knob of the kitchen door to follow suit. That’s when the knob twisted in a muscular spasm and dropped to the floor.

Now, I am not phobic about snakes, especially black snakes, but I’m not in the habit of handling them either. It’s quite a shock to the nervous system to make contact with one that is draped on the knob of your kitchen door.

My blood pressure shot sky high and I’m afraid I started to scream. It fell right in my sights, which is why I didn’t see it on the knob. I’m not allowed to look up, only down, and that bleeping snake was on the floor and regrouping in a heartbeat.

I screamed, “Help! Snake! Help” while it unwound and slithered with alacrity into a pile of jod and tall boots at the base of the coat and tack racks.

My heart thumped so maniacally it might have registered on the Richter scale. And I could feel myself still screaming as I about-faced and fled out of the cottage via the front door of the living room.

Gret and Chris still couldn’t hear me, because the riding mower was idling. Something in my face made Chris turn the key to off.

“Snake,” I gasped. “Black snake in the cottage. Help me before it goes to ground.”

I’ve never made it a secret that I would far rather muck stalls than clean house. Hiding places abound. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to relax in my cottage until we apprehended my reptilian invader and evicted it.

I armed Chris with a garden shovel from the nearby shed. He entered my cottage with purpose and determination. We both spotted the snake at the same time, slithering into the doorway to the bedroom. Like that woman on the B.C. comic strip, Chris raised his shovel as I screamed again.

“No, Chris, don’t kill it! Don’t kill it!”

In the time it took him to turn around and look at me with an expression that clearly stated that I must have gone absolutely crazy, the snake motored into the dark covert of the bedroom and disappeared from sight.

Chris is too much the old-fashioned gentleman to say harsh things to me. But I knew what he was thinking. It’s totally unprintable.

For many decades this horse and yard man has been the self-appointed dispatcher of black snakes, eggs and newly hatched offspring too dimwitted not to take off the minute he opened the cover to the sawdust bin behind the barn. As survival belongs to the swift and the smart, anything that escaped his dedication had to be the best of the species.

And since I happen to be part American Indian, and my earth walk sign is the serpent, I couldn’t let him massacre my power animal in my so-called teepee. It was absolutely unthinkable. Plus, I didn’t fancy having to clean up afterwards.

Gret was still waiting, so we opened up all three entrances to the cottage. I left Chris with these instructions: “Watch for the snake and see if you can persuade it to leave peacefully.”

Again, what his expression said is unprintable.

About 90 minutes later we returned. Chris was fooling with the motorized push mower, and the doors still stood open to my cottage. Inside, parts looked as if someone had stumbled about, knocking over various furnishings. I wanted to stretch out; after all, I was on stall rest and needed to keep my head and eyes down.

I found my power animal under the bed, behind a bunch of boxes storing things like Irish dessert china, spare curtains, old manuscripts, cartons of ink jet paper, and heaven only knows what else. Using a battery powered lantern with a powerful beam, I persuaded the snake to move under my computer desk. There, it was only about 10 feet from the “dog door” and freedom. The beam made it angry, so did the broom, but we got it flushed out the door and it took off like greased lightning. Chris shouldered his shovel and went back to more peaceful endeavors. I shut the doors and took a nap.

Now, since the snake hunt, things have remained pretty quiet around here. We had a heck of a thunderstorm and lost power for about 12 hours. We felt superbly lucky that none of the big trees felled did any damage to vehicles, houses, horse trailer, etc. I took the snake hunt to heart: sometimes the thrill of the chase is better off between the covers of a good book. The next week, I had major surgery to repair my retina. I’m staying as calm and quiet as possible.

That snake had a lot to do with my dealing with stall rest gracefully and cheerfully. Not that I want a repeat of the lesson, no thank you.

Major surgery on my eye took place nearly two weeks after the simpler procedure proved unsuccessful; it involved removing my eye’s lens, extensive laser repair and inserting a gas bubble to help the retina heal in its accustomed place. I opted for the local, so I was awake throughout. Afterwards, the local made my skull feel as if it had a cold steel plate over the left eye. The next morning, my vitreoretinal specialist took a look at his handiwork. This is what he told me: “I have never seen so many tears in one retina in all my 23 years of practice.”

Up until those words, I had been battling not to give in to the flight instinct. It takes a lot to stand and face challenge. I’ve discovered that sometimes it helps having more left brain than horses: therefore, more complex analytical thinking. I cannot describe what a relief it was to hear that the eye specialist had not seen so many tears ever before. It meant that my case was an exception, that my body wasn’t falling apart. It triggered the notion that a car accident in February when the air bag exploded on the left side of my face, because I drive the way I ride, looking where I want the horse to go, might have been the original cause. Airbags are packed with a powder to keep them from sticking so they deploy properly. I’m 5’3” – just the right height for facial trauma.

If I had been a horse, I wouldn’t have thought things out so thoroughly. I wouldn’t have been able to make the pro-active choice to put all my energies into healing, to look for the bright side, to seek light, love and laughter. If I experience moments of human frailty and feel frightened, I comfort myself, and the darker moments pass. It’s a lovely new way of handling things. My horses sometimes get scared, but they show great heart and keep trying. There is much to be said for a good horse in the barn, and I happen to have two, and they are my best school masters. Plus, they love me unconditionally. They are very cool.

Good things result when you are as hyperactive as I have been all my life and must come to a screeching halt. Lessons are assimilated that hitherto have been ignored simply because of the pace being too much to absorb subtleties. I have learned to allow myself to be human. Accidents happen, and I’ve come worse croppers and still bounced back. As my mother used to tell me: You are one of the few people I know who can fall face down in manure and come up smelling roses.

Go ahead, snicker. It’s true. Like many kindred horse crazy spirits, I only learn by doing, and I’ve had a lot of time to mull everything and anything.

That snake got me thinking about re-organizing my cottage. I have plenty of time on my hands. I guess after I finish re-reading my current favorite (pick one, all or none of the following: Dick Francis, Jilly Cooper, K.M. Peyton), I can follow doctor’s orders and keep my eyes down and start making sense out of chaos.

Right now, I’m feeling a bit tied up.

About the author:

Lauren Giannini is a freelance writer, Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist, and Bowen Practitioner for horses and humans. Her lifelong favorite subject, horses, led her to be a riding instructor, a remedial trainer for horses off the track, out of the show ring, and in the field, and much more. Lauren has since turned her efforts to bodywork on horses. Her latest project is a short course, “Happy Horsekeeping Massage 101”, in which she teaches people how to incorporate massage principles into their regular grooming routine. Happy Horsekeeping 102 will offer ways to spot and prevent potential red alerts from turning into major muscular and movement problems.

For more information on Bowen, Massage 101-102, or to book a barn call in your area, call Lauren at 540-349-8141 or email happyhorse@erols.com .