“If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.”
John A. Dix
Who doesn’t love the 4th of July? Horses, for one. Many, many horses. Dogs, too. Many, many dogs.
I also love the thrill of fireworks, and the excitement of recreating “… the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air …” We were brought up as kids in America, on fireworks for the 4th.
Illegal fireworks in horse country are what bother me.
Perched atop the seventh rail of the corral at our ranch, each 4th I have a front row seat to at least three different (legal) fireworks displays as they circle the horizon before me. The lights mushroom up over the mountains from the towns below, and a horse or two usually keeps me company, love-nibbling my boots as I watch.
Surrounded by the peace of the summer desert at night, with toads chirping like crickets and crickets croaking like toads, hawks imitating creaky doors and the night sky punched with stars, if God goes somewhere for the 4th of July, I know it’s here. The cooler air rising after a monsoon rain is like nature’s air-conditioning, perfect for a holiday.
This year, around fireworks time, it begins to rain. Maybe it’s that, or maybe it’s that more people have secured illegal fireworks this year. But the personal displays begin, first in the park-land across the main road. I can hear children squealing with delight.
Out flaking horses, all of a sudden, fireworks light up the corral. As the first big blast shakes the ground, the horses and donkey freeze for a split second before galloping off to the four winds, too surprised to herd up.
I cringe when I see my Mustang and Draft almost collide, each darting in opposite directions at the last second. But Cloud, my Arab, in a blind panic, gallops into the round pen, at which point I jump from the rail and gate him off.
After the initial fright, the other horses meander around eating grass and enjoying the aftermath of the rain, which means, for them, a big cooling off and the accompanying friskiness.
But Cloud is inconsolable. Another stick of dynamite rocks the world, and Cloud, after taking off and turning from a dead stop, goes down. I feel the earth take his unexpected weight, and see the confused look as he slips on his hay, then his wild eyes as he hits the ground. My heart stops.
With a bleeding rub on his right stifle, easily tended to and superficial, and limping on his right front leg, my heart breaks for him, but it could have been a much bigger disaster. With Cloud up again and pawing the ground obsessively, I spend the next three hours watching for signs of colic, on a vigil until three in the morning.
I dread the coming of the night, again, and perhaps more fireworks. This time Cloud is already sectioned off and I’ll hold back the evening feed so there’s no grass to slip on.
Who knew something as innocuous as grass could mix with fireworks to bring down a horse? Cloudy knows, but it will all be forgotten once the booms start up again. Many dogs are also lost this time of year, bolting in terror from the noise. On high-alert, I carefully walk the terriers in the walled-in garden, sadly hearing our neighbor whistling for his own lost dog and making a mental note to keep an eye out for it.