How to Shoe a Horse
BY JEANETTE RAWLINS
I MISCARRY the day before my wedding. The white doctor sucks up the chunky fluid into a thick, see-through tube. The fluid that hasn’t already made its way down my leg, that didn’t seep into the sheets before I woke up in time to know something was out of order. She asks me if I want more meds. I can’t tell and shrug. She points helpfully at the morphine button on the cuff around my arm and reminds me of its function. I’d forgotten, and as she continues scraping out my uterus, I imagine a dentist who suddenly loses control of his whirring tool inside me. My throat closes as a few more chunks jolt through the tube and light shoots at the sides of my eyes.
Use a hoof knife to remove excess, flaky sole from the bottom of the hoof. Typically, before a horse is shod, the dark, hard, outer layer of each hoof's sole is removed to reveal the softer, whiter material underneath in a process roughly equivalent to trimming a human's toenails. Take care not to cut too deep, or you risk hurting the horse or even rendering it temporarily lame—the same as if you'd cut a person's nails too short.
Two hours later I am chiseled empty and moved into a recovery room where sun showers through the curtains like many tiny shooting stars. The nurse pops his head in and says, If you start feeling anything, press that button. I nod okay and ask if he can adjust the curtains so the light shoots up, not out and everywhere. He slides properly into the room because, Yes, that’s what he’s here for. The white bed and white sheets are crisp, like they’ll break up into particles, and I feel almost dead white under the covers that don’t quite reach my head. The metal racks on both sides of the bed sit straight up like brackets, perhaps to ensure my body doesn’t fall through the cracks. Anything else? he asks, adjusting the pamphlets on the side table. They smell like the disinfectant he uses on his hands. No. He cocks his head at me and slides back out the door, saying I’ll be just fine. Everything aches.
Size the shoe to its hoof. If you have to choose between shoes that are slightly too big and shoes that are slightly too small, choose the bigger shoes. These can be bent, shaped, and ground down to a smaller size.
There are a few yellow paintings on the wall—the kind you’d never see anywhere else—and fire stabs up and down my legs and thuds into my back. I stare at the posters of people coughing into their upper arms, not their hands, and smiling kids with thermometers hanging like pipes from their mouths, and a bunch of red text about if you travel to one of those countries with Zika. People talk about back labor being the worst and I wonder if you can still have labor without a baby in there anymore. Like what if your body doesn’t know it won’t need to go through the motions after all? Cliff calls and asks if he should leave work early and come by, if I’m up for visitors. I tell him there’s no point in him just sitting and watching me. But he wants to be there for me, to support me, y’know? Before his sad voice says, It was my baby too, I ask if he can imagine what it feels like to have a lost dentist’s drill all up in him and he’s quiet. I want to make him angry, not sad. Not sad.
This process is easiest if you keep your hoof knife razor sharp. But use caution. It’s easy to accidentally slip and cut yourself while working.
I wish I had thought to bring a book. I try closing my eyes but the red dots on the insides of my eyelids burn. My fingernails burn. There are shadows at the bottom of the door like people are going to come in. Goosebumps poke out of my backless dress and my nipples are red and angry, chafing with a sudden lack of promise. I shift my weight onto the other side of my saggy stomach and suck in a thunder of punches. Women who give birth at least have something to show for the fact that their stomachs look like doughnut dough after the blood and feces and baby have been pulled out. The nurse pops his head in, Your vitals are a little concerning. You know it’s okay to use the meds, right? You’re in a lot of pain. I know. His eyebrows are permanently arched. My ankles throb. Everything throbs. I hate how he chews his gum. Like a horse. I can regulate my own damn pain. He snaps his gum and says, I’m gonna go ahead and administer a dose, okay honey? You’re not looking so good. Like I can’t be trusted.
Domesticated horses require regularly-maintained horse shoes to protect their feet from injury.
The sun isn't seeping through the curtain rings any more when I see that I’ve been asleep. The clock says 11:17 pm and the hair on my arms stands up. I remember the nurse smiling and saying, There you go. See? Your body always knows what it needs. I want to wipe his grin away and say that it took morphine for mine to fall asleep which means
a. it didn’t need sleep or
b. it didn’t know what it needed or
c. it knew but didn’t care or
d. it knew and purposely made a different decision or
e. it knew on a theoretical level but not a practical one or
f. it didn’t know and said it did or
g. it wasn’t mine.
Well, you’re feeling better, he says with a self-congratulatory smile. Cliff is on his way—he probably thinks it’s the right thing to do, that in these cases even when someone says, Don’t come, what they really mean is Come, or when they say Yes and really mean No to save hurt feelings. I can feel the morphine slipping away, diluting in my blood and guts, and thicker and stronger is the pain like ten fingers with long nails raking at the outsides of my thighs and arms and in between my ribs. The plate of pale fruit and thick-rimmed cheese and white rolls on the side table smells like the disinfectant the nurse uses on his hands. I say I’m not hungry. He leaves the plate anyway. My cold little body is getting whiter and colder and hotter and I’ve heard shivering is how the body warms itself up. You’re still not pressing the button, honey, he says. Cliff arrives and still doesn’t know what to say. He’s twisting the ring on his finger and it makes my ears pound. His always-sad eyes are sadder. I close mine and they burn. I think he says,
Secure the shoe in its place with nails. Align the shoe so that it sits perfectly against the edge of the hoof, then drive nails through the holes in the shoe.
Can’t believe this is happening, or maybe, Can’t you just press the button? I nod. When someone is so sad you just say yes. He holds my hot little hand and says, You’re so cold. The doctor and the nurse are gathered here and the doctor is angry at the nurse and Cliff is holding my hot little hand and the nurse is administering a dose and it drips and drips. Your temperature is 104.1, which means there’s an infection somewhere, the doctor says, waving her white gloves. She pushes and pushes down on my doughy stomach and asks, Does that hurt? Punching and punching and kneading and kneading and grinding and grinding into my back. I say it does, a little. Cliff asks, Are you okay? Are you okay? with wide, wet eyes. I shake my head. Tell him to go. What? Go. What? Go. You’re too heavy. I’m here for you. No. Go. Cliff stands at the door. Go. The doctor takes her fingers and starts playing them on my body, playing and digging and digging and digging and digging
she’s trying to find
like she knows the tune
where it started
like she knows
so she can mark the spot
how it sounds
cut it out
the deeps and highs
make it stop
how loud it should be
wrap it up
like a gift
All images and accompanying text sourced with permission from:
Jeanette Rawlins is a writer in Portland, Oregon.