Several months later, I was out riding one day on a quiet road in Assegai, enjoying the peacefulness as we walked along, when Starr bucked without warning. I was flung onto his neck – I did that a lot – and he bolted. I had lost both my stirrups, and clung to his mane, trying to keep my seat as we careered along a narrow road with even narrower hedged verges. As it turned out, he hadn’t bucked, but had kicked the two Doberman pinchers that had attacked his hind legs. He must have hit one, for I’m sure I heard a soft whine. The Dobermans were in hot pursuit, but gave up the chase after a few hundred metres.
With my heart in my throat, I regained my balance, although not my stirrups, and, as we rounded a corner and started down a hill, I was able to lean back and pull on the reins. Starr stopped within a few dozen metres. I dismounted and inspected his hind legs, but could find no sign of blood. The dogs must have bitten him fairly hard, though, for him to lash out like that. The fact that he had not taken off until after they had bitten him, while he had probably been aware of them racing up behind him, was a testament to his steadiness, even at the tender age of four.
Then again, Starr didn’t expect to be hurt, and his trust extended to other animals as well as humans. After that, however, he was warier of dogs. Needless to say, my mum, when I told her the story, insisted I take her to the house were it had happened, whereupon she called out the home owners and berated them roundly about allowing their dogs to roam the streets and attack unsuspecting children on horseback. Mum to the rescue! When I rode that way again, the dogs were locked in the garden.
Also in Assegai, we had our encounter with what Starr considered to be the scariest thing he’d ever seen. A cement truck. These, of course, have that huge drum on the back that rotates, and this particular truck was painted a particularly virulent shade of orange with grey stripes. We were heading towards it, and Starr watched it warily, but continued to walk. Again, it was a narrow road with a narrow verge bordered by a hedge. As the truck approached, he grew more and more nervous, until, as it started to pass us, he decided he didn’t like the look of it at all, and tried to turn to run.
Unfortunately, by that time it was next to us, and swinging around only brought him closer to it. He turned away, into the hedge, and I hung onto the reins, preventing him from turning around so he could bolt. It passed us while he shuddered and shook, but then it was behind us. The next time we encountered a cement truck, I flagged the poor man down and forced him to stop while I walked past, but this time Starr was okay, and only snorted a little.
Some time after that, Starr developed a nasty cough, and I called out the vet, who diagnosed rhinopneumonitis and gave him a long acting antibiotic injection. He also left a few more shots with me, since one wouldn’t be enough. Now, I was okay with giving injections to any horse except Starr. Somehow, I just couldn’t bring myself to stick a needle in him. I found a nice man – the father of a riding friend – who said he could give Starr his jabs. The first one went off without a hitch, but when he injected him the second time, Starr staggered and almost collapsed when he pulled the needle out. I let him out of the stable, since he was reeling around still, and raced to the house to phone the vet.
Dr Cairns told me that the kindly neighbour must have injected Starr in the vein, and the antibiotic had gone straight to his brain. I was lucky, he said, because most horses dropped dead off the needle. The next time the poor man came to give Starr his shot, he must have stuck the needle in ten or twelve times before he was sure there was no blood. Starr must have felt like a pincushion!
At that time, I was cleaning the stables myself, and noticed that right after Starr had finished his food, he would have a huge pee on the bedding. Thinking to reduce my workload by at least one pee, one day I took him out on a halter right after he’d finished eating, led him to the back of the stables where there were soft pine needles, and told him to ‘PEE!’. Believe it or not, he got the message, and from then on I took him behind the stables every day, and he would immediately pee. Smart boy!