An equestrian affair

2013-12-06 00:00

IT was a Friday night and I had received the call as I was closing the clinic. A horse had gone down with colic on a smallholding between Eston and Richmond.

She was a tall woman, I suppose not entirely unattractive to those who find horses appealing, and she spoke in a loud, authoritative voice.

“You can change in here,” she commanded, pointing to a door leading into the main bedroom. Her demeanour demanded compliance, honed from a lifetime of non-negotiable response to the crop and the spurs by the stable of horses outside. Her wishes, I could tell, were commands, her suggestions non-debatable, and her instructions were only disregarded by the mentally impaired or those with a death wish. I wondered if there was a husband. If there was, I was sure, he would have been short in stature and subservient by nature. The boudoir also offered no answer to the question. There was no real masculine presence that I could perceive, but maybe he had to keep his effects away from the public gaze. The room was dominated by an oversized double bed covered in a blue and white striped counterpane, an antique oak bed-side dresser upon which a handful of photos of family and pony shows were scattered, a yellowwood rocking chair and a stretch of built-in cupboards. Organised and efficient — no mess, no fuss. Old money, I guessed, not excessive but pervasive, and enough to employ servants and keep the horses fat and happy.

I did as I was told, leaving my long pants and short-sleeved shirt draped over the bed and my Jim Greens on the floor below, emerging in my khaki overalls with cut-off sleeves. I tip-toed over the carpeted floor in my socks, trying my best to render the odd holes inconspicuous by walking with my feet almost on top of each other. It was not the environment where sub-standard apparel was acceptable. Pierre Cardin would be ideal, Horse and Hound preferable, Protecto-Wear tolerated, Bargain Bin avoidable. Kind of ruled me out. My gumboots were under my arm, as I did not want to leave a trail of dried-out farmyard debris on her Persian rugs. She was waiting impatiently in the hall, her stare direct and critical, an attempt I assumed, to determine if I was an adequate alternative to the specialised horse vets from Summerveld. I felt, it must be said, like an ox at an auction.

The horse was in serious trouble. A large chestnut gelding, he was attempting to roll and kick at his flanks. A stable hand was leading him around the lawn outside the stable block in an attempt to stop him going down and hurting himself further. Food had impacted in his colon causing him severe discomfort and I began a protracted treatment protocol that involved tranquillisation, intravenous colic medication, and tubing with a cocktail of medicaments to help dislodge the offending obstruction.

It was late when I was happy that he was comfortable and out of danger. I had also received a call to see a dog that had been hit by a car, so I quickly washed at a tap outside the stables and changed into clean overalls around the corner, before bidding my hostess a hasty farewell and leaving with instructions for further treatment.

Saturday morning clinic is always busy. This one was no exception and the waiting room was full to capacity. I was busy with a puppy in the consulting room adjacent to the reception counter, the door slightly ajar, when I clearly heard a rustle and a rattle of a belt on wood as she dumped my clothes and shoes on the counter and with a loud, authoritative voice say: “Tell him he left his clothes in my bedroom!”

The mood in the waiting room had changed when I emerged from my consultation. The old man in the corner with a spaniel at his feet had a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips. Mrs Vermaak was staring at the ceiling. Mr Mkhize, slumped in his chair, appraised me with something approaching respect and the gossip emanating from the two suburbanites on the bench dried up mid-stream.

It took many days to rebuild my credibility with the reception staff.

The effect on my clients — irreparable!

• The writer is a practising vet.

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