We had been riding for several weeks. We were riding in familiar territory, but we had not been through this terrain for some time. The column followed, I rode in front, I was the company scout. Our objective was to move through this territory and make sure that any threats of hostility were redirected. The weather had been threatening rain for several days, and nightfall was at hand. I had a sense that I would not make it back to the company’s campground before dark for my routine check-in. I could feel and sense the rain that was sure to fall in the night, and I did not want to be caught in the open without shelter.
About two miles ahead there was a farm house, and I could spend the night there. If the farmers didn’t have room in the house for me, I would be glad to spend the night in the barn. Anything would be better than getting caught in the rainfall that was certain. I pushed Catcher into a paced lope in order to arrive at the farm house before dark. When the farm house finally came in sight, the smell of a freshly cooked meal was my biggest relief. The family was just lighting the oil lamps and making ready for the evening when we arrived. They welcomed us warmly.
There was no room in the house for me to stay, and I was glad. I preferred to stay in the barn so as to not impose on the farmers. After dinner we talked for a while, mostly politics and other pleasantries, then I made my way to the barn. Catcher was in an otherwise empty stall, a large one, eating hay, and he welcomed me with a simple glance.
Catcher had been my mount for about two years. He was not the fastest horse I’ve ever had, nor was he the most handsome. His strength was in his consistency and trustworthiness. We had established a trust between us that was born of our dependence on each other. He had a cool, even head. He never acted hastily or in a rash fashion, and he most always accepted the task that I demanded of him. In return, he knew that he could trust me to take care of him above all else. We had most certainly forged a trust between us that could be called primal.
As he chomped the hay I felt somewhat safe to hear the grinding of his teeth. We had been lucky to find shelter in the barn, for the rain did begin to fall. The storm pattered on the roof as I lay in the loft of the barn and went to sleep. The last two things I heard were the falling rain and the grinding of Catcher’s teeth.
I awoke in the morning just before sunrise, first light was barely cracking on the horizon. I knew that the company would be concerned about me, so I made haste to mount up and move out. As I approached Catcher with his bridle, he became unusually restless. He refused to let me near him with the bridle, he started prancing and circling in the stall. I couldn’t figure what could possibly be bothering him. Perhaps a rat…a snake? The closer I got to him with his bridle, the more uneasy he became. When I tried to climb into the stall, he bolted to the other end then turned toward the wall and stopped for a split second. Then he lowered his head, and charged at the wall to ram his way through it. He actually broke clean through the wall, which split as he hit it with his full force. I had never seen anything like this out of him, I was utterly astonished.
As he broke through the wall, I ran toward the opening he had forged. It was actually a gate of sorts, a very thick one. It appeared to be at least six inches thick, of solid hardwood, and had been fastened shut for some time. He had found the only possible opening, and forced his way through. I was shocked and amazed, how could he have possibly pushed his way through that fortress of a gate? And why?
When I finally got outside the barn, into the corral, the first light of day removed enough shadow for me to see Catcher as he stumbled in a short circle, pawing the ground. He was hurt, and when he turned I could see the bloody scrape along the right side of his torso. His head was bleeding, from his forehead, but I couldn’t tell how bad it was. I knew that he was seriously injured by the way he was pawing and looking at the ground. Just then, he looked up at me, and I could see how badly his head was: he had fractured his skull. He looked at me straight in my eyes, and he talked to me. He said to me, “I know that I’m going to die. Breaking free of that barrier has killed me.” Then he went down.
I have never felt a sense of powerlessness as strong as the instant when Catcher hit the ground. As his body bounced upon the earth, my soul hit the bottom of hell. It is said that the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man. Certainly, the death of this bond would fracture my spirit. I walked to him, and fell down on my knees in front of his head, and I looked into his eyes. His eyes became bright, and they seemed to grow larger. I did not take my gaze away from his eyes, and he looked back at me with his full attention. I was drawn into his eyes, and I swam into his soul. I could see into Catcher, and I could see the fields and streams where he would never again be hungry or thirsty or cold or tired or lonely. I held his head as he took his last breath, and I remained focused in his eyes. I said: “Catcher, when you get to the other side, tell Ann that I love her.”