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The Nag, the Cripple, and the Deaf Dog, continued ...

We rode through the palo verde forest and down an arroyo past the owl nest in a saguaro. Just before we got to the Hohokam ruin, Lady froze and pointed. No big deal, I thought, maybe a tarantula or desert tortoise. That's when the buzzing began. Lady was pointing at a diamondback on the trail, thicker than my arm, coiled. At the sound Boy Horse screamed and reared. Mary held on, clinging to the saddle horn. Taffy shuddered but waited for my command.

Cued by Boy Horse, Lady lunged at the rattler. I hollered "Lady, no." Of course she couldn't hear. She bit it and it bit back, impaling her muzzle. Lady thrashed and flung it off.

Boy Horse bolted home with Mary. Lady bolted, but in the wrong direction.

Time seemed to freeze for me. Half an hour, I thought. Lady had half an hour to get rattler antivenin or she would surely die. Within half an hour, despite living way the heck outside Tucson, we had to get Lady to a vet, and on a Sunday.

And -- would Boy Horse bring Mary home OK? Or would she get peeled off by a palo verde branch, maybe end up bleeding and screaming in the middle of a cholla cactus?

I needed to catch Lady. I also needed to gallop after Boy Horse to see if Mary was OK. I leaned forward, asking Taffy, not demanding, that he move fast. Without hesitation, he thundered after Lady.

She was running with the power of a superbly fit, adrenaline-drenched Dalmatian. She soon outdistanced us, disappearing over a ridge. What about Mary? Taffy and I turned and followed Boy Horse's dust, hoping Lady would manage to run home.

As we galloped up to our home, Mom and Dad and Mary were outside with Boy Horse. Mom had already called our vet, who was already rushing to his office to meet us.All we needed now was Lady herself. I wheeled Taffy and we galloped to the east of where I'd last seen Lady heading.

We found her collapsed on a caliche ledge. No time, I thought, to check for a heartbeat. Miraculously, no cholla needles were visible bristling her coat. I slung her limp body over Taffy's lathered withers, leaped into the saddle, rolled Lady up onto my lap and galloped home. This was a stunt I could never have done bareback.

My parents were waiting in their Impala, engine running. Mary took Taffy to cool down while the rest of us drove off.

It was a good thing Dad didn't pass any cops. We skidded to a halt as the vet was unlocking the office. I lugged Lady inside and laid her on the examining table.

The vet put a stethoscope to her chest. "She's alive." He examined the wreckage of her muzzle. "That was one big rattler." He opened her mouth. "I'll be darned. The fangs punched all the way through. I'll bet most of the venom poured out through her mouth. She just might make it."

He injected antivenin and got intravenous fluids going. Her head was now beginning to swell.

It seemed like an eternity before Lady opened an eye. That was when the vet said, "She's going to live."

His voice echoed like I imagined God must speak. I suddenly felt thirsty. I wobbled into the waiting room toward the water cooler. As I reached for a Dixie Cup, there was a buzzing sound and everything went yellow, then black. I'm not sure how long I lay passed out on the floor .

The next day Taffy felt fine even though he'd galloped with 220 pounds of saddle, dog and rider over caliche and rocks in desert heat. A week later Lady came home, wriggling with joy to greet her horses - our magnificent horses.


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© 2004 Carolyn M. Bertin. All rights reserved.