The Starting Line
"On your mark, get set…" The starter’s words ring out over the public address system, "Bang!" He fires his pistol into the air.
Drivers snap their reins, sending a clear message to the teams. Shaking the ground, they sprint away from the starting line, twenty-four feet of horses followed by twenty more of iron, wood, and canvas.
Racing into the first turn, wagons squeeze together as drivers lean to the inside to keep their balance. Each expert coachman controlling ten tons of flesh and carriage thundering down the track. Racing through the turn, the wagons reflect the light of the sinking sun behind them. They pass the shadows of shade trees under western blue skies. Into the straightaway they sprint, a continuous stream of dust kicks up into the air behind them. Maneuvering for position, each team tries to take the lead.
The announcer calls out their order as they enter the last turn. "It’s the Hawker Ranch in the lead, followed by the Bond Farm, La Rosa Ranch is third, and bringing up the rear is the Quest Group!"
Coming through the backstretch and heading for the finish, the teams gallop four abreast. A mountain of wood and animals roar past the grand stands.
People are jumping up and down waving colored bandanas and hats. Everyone is standing, electrified, as the teams stampede by. My seat vibrates as if a clap of thunder has just hit nearby.
All of a sudden Crash! Boom! Bang! Comes from the finish line in an explosion. Clouds of dust rise above the size of hot air balloons, obscuring the finish, silencing the arena. Air Currents scoop up the dust and carry it away, revealing a mound of wagons and horse teams in chaos.
The dreadful image burns in my mind. Horses are tangled, trapped, raising their heads straining to be free. Two teams of horses are knotted together amid the pandemonium, and two lone horses are ensnared by wagons, held captive by their harnesses in the mangled wreckage.
What once were horse drawn wagons are now twisted metal, torn canvas, and splintered wood.
The crowd already silent, lets out a collective gasp, "Oh!"
A man behind me sighs, "They are going to have to destroy that horse," he points at a trapped horse.
I leap from my seat, crossing the blacktop and climb to the top of the arena fence.
A grisly sight, horses are whinnying and snorting, struggling to be liberated, gasping for freedom.
"Looks bad," a man near by whispers to his friend.
It’s a miracle, all the drivers and passengers seem to have escaped injury. A few can be seen, in shock, eyeing the devastation, not knowing what to do first.
Trainers, bronco riders, and calf ropers are risking their lives running into the wreck to rescue the teams of horses.
Men brandishing blades of steel cut agitated horses from their harnesses. Spooked, shaking their heads, one Appaloosa and an Arabian dash in opposite directions. They run erratically through the arena, each turning at different intervals, only to dart back from where they came.
More men rush to help. Carefully crossing the track, glancing in every direction, not wanting to be trampled by horses running untamed in the arena.
One team of six horses, wagon-less, is careening around the track eerily holding their heads high--manes blowing in the wind--bodies sweating--eyes bulging.
Someone shouts in amazement, "There goes Doc Cuthberson! Look at him climb into the wreckage!"
Another man yells, "He’s fearless!"
Before anyone can blink an eye, he’s in the middle of the debris grasping the reins of one ensnared horse, pulling it to its feet. Reaching to untangle another, he coaxes it to his side. Everyone in the bleachers is in shock, motionless, eyeing his every move.
Horses are still running loose in the stadium. Cowboys, with lassoes in hand are chasing them down. Wagons from the massive crash are being hoisted and towed from the arena by teams of men with trucks and chain.
Holding the horses, he perilously stands his ground, ordering the cowboys, "Pull there! Push that wagon! Now that one!" He yells, "Hurry boys, hurry."
Cowboys are yelling, shouting orders to untangle the wagons surrounding Doc and the two remaining horses. Working feverishly side-by-side, they thrust and heave, determined to free up the wagons. Finally, untangled, they are swiftly pulled away.
Smiling, almost laughing, Doc immerges from the chaos jogging toward the main gate with the two horses in his grasp.
Concerned owners and trainers run to him, eager to take their horses and calm them with familiar words and comforting strokes. Cautiously they inspect the livestock for injury, and then whisk them away to their stalls for further care.
Many in the crowd sigh, one concedes, "I’m glad that’s over with."
Another exhales, "That was a close call."
"Were any of the horses hurt bad?" I ask.
"Won’t know till Doc checks them out," someone responds in a hopeful tone winking and holding up two crossed fingers.
Now is my chance to see Doc Cuthberson--to save Neewa. I jump from the corral rails and sprint to the stables to find him.
Arriving in moments at a gigantic wooden barn between the arena and stables. I hesitate before entering. Slowly I peer around the corner and inside. Thick wooden timbers climb from the floor to the cross beams that traverse it’s length and width above me. Dim sunlight shines through a few tattered boards protecting the loft full of hay from rain and wind. Bowls of milk for the cats sit on the floorboards next to the green poison for the unwanted rats that will soon prowl through the night.
On the hay-covered dirt floor, horses held by their trainers, wait their turn for the vets assessment of every bump and bruise. Everyone is talking about the crash. Their voices are laden with concern. That’s when I see him, kneeling along side an appaloosa gelding of at least fifteen hands, examining, and gently patting his side.
Tears stream down my cheeks as I stagger up to him and cry out, "Dr. Cuthberson my puppy has distemper--she is going to die--you’ve gotta save her!"
I plead, "Can you help her? Please?"