I watched the sky for a moment as I picked up my spurs from the mounting block. The light travelled in colours of violets and blues at dusk. Clouds glowing in pink spread across the sky in strips of cream. All the glorious views during a warm summer evening at the barn. The sunset lasting a bit longer as cooler air hovered above my head for a last hurrah before drawing the curtain and resting along the soft ground. Bull frogs singing in the pond by the barn and sequoias brushing their legs together in harmony, acting as the symphony for the sun’s glorious spectacle. The last few riders cleaning up after a day at the barn and enjoying the evening calm.
I took a deep breath and watched the mares and the new grey gelding grazing in their paddock across the lane. Danielle walked past with Sampson, the gentle draft cross. She was returning him to his field beside the ring for a quiet evening with his paddock buddies after a sunset ride.
Sampson was the ultimate steady horse. Young Danielle was just learning the ropes, and he was the perfect teacher. We could trust him to let her learn about horsemanship in comfort, growing her confidence with his steady guidance.
Sampson was the type of horse everyone loved. He wasn’t particularly handsome, or well put together, but his kind eye drew you near. A moment with Sampson was all you needed to believe animals care for each other, no matter the species. Sampson seemed to care for humans as much as they cared for him. He was a saint, and we were just about to find out how much of a saint that old horse was.
Danielle made it to the gate before I had finished revelling in the sky’s beauty. Sampson helped her along as she tried her best to perform equestrian gate gymnastics. She turned him around without taking her hand off the gate, and raised her foot off the ground to hold the gate closed, freeing up both her hands. Just as she prepared to stretch forward and lean in a bit more, stretching her leg out to keep hold of the gate, she wavered from unclasping the halter and stopped short. Although Sampson stood still to have his halter removed, Danielle needed more practice executing the stellar balancing act. She stepped back, leaving some slack in the lead rope, and latched the gate. Sampson understood and waited for her. With both feet on the ground, she successfully took off his halter.
The farm had recently accepted acquired a new boarder and her grey thoroughbred gelding. We had introduced him into the mixed paddock of geldings and mares only a few weeks prior. The hierarchy was being tested, but Sampson didn’t partake in disruption. He desired utopia.
As Danielle was doting over him, the new grey gelding came barrelling down the field. He came straight for Sampson, too quickly for young Danielle to react. The gelding began an unprovoked attack, ears pinned, hooves striking. Sampson was just as surprised as Danielle and with the first blow, Sampson knocked into the girl, pushing her to the ground.
The gelding wasn’t backing down, and Sampson was finding himself being kicked and bitten while Danielle screamed. He thought quickly and spread his front two hooves over her, keeping her underneath him and away from the crazed horse. With the scream, I came running. Sampson stood like a statue, the whites of his eyes growing as I approached. His hind end bleeding from the bite and kick marks, and the gelding continuing his brutal attack, but Sampson wasn’t about to move. He stayed as still as he could over Danielle. I acted quickly, slipping into the paddock through the fence boards and stepping in to scare the gelding away. He was wild with fury.
Danielle crawled out from under Sampson and scooted under the fence to safety. As I attempted to keep the gelding away from the gate, I could see something was different about him. He wasn’t backing down. His body grew larger before my eyes. I picked the lead rope up off the ground as my weapon and began swinging it at him. Crazed, but laser focused on Sampson, he ignored me. My flailing lead rope would not deter him, so I opened the paddock gate and let poor Sampson out, knowing he was safer as a loose horse, then a cornered one. We slithered out the gate; me thwarting the striking gelding with the lead rope as I worked to save Sampson from the abuse.
Once to safety, I snapped the lead rope on Sampson’s halter on and we hurried back to the barn to get help. The gelding continued to charge the gate, teeth bared long after we distanced ourselves from him. Already alerted to the commotion, the farm owner came out to see what was happening. She met me on the path and Danielle came along, taking poor Sampson back to the barn for a better look at his injuries. He was shaking in fear.
We carried on to the paddock, the other horses all staying back as the wild gelding considered jumping out. We had little time before he would. Luckily, he had his halter on. We each got a lead rope on him and opened the gate to bring him in the barn. One of us on either side of him, digging our heels in the ground with little success of slowing him down. He flew us all over the place as he marched us in the right direction.
He was on a mission to find Sampson. A third helper showed up, throwing a lead around his neck, and digging their heels in. We must have looked like we were wrangling a wild elephant with ropes. At least, it felt that way! Somehow, we managed to all stay on foot. His mind so wild, he hadn’t noticed we had just maneuvered him into a stall and shut the door. Exhausted, we all started trying to figure out what the hell just happened.
We kept the horse in the stall for everyone’s safety. After a call to the owner and a visit from the vet we found out the gelding wasn’t a gelding at all. Although he had always been quiet and gelding-like for his owner, he kept a secret tucked up inside. He was, in fact, a stallion. The horse had never been turned out with mares before, and when they came into season, his internal stallion awoke, preparing to fight any other male horse who came near. Sampson happened to be that horse, and Danielle got stuck in the middle of it.
Sampson was surely the hero that day. He protected Danielle during the violent attack. The situation was one which tested the very nature of the gentle giant, and he proved that day why all who met him instantly fell in love. Sampson would recover from his injuries, knowing he had taken them all to save the little girl. Danielle would be forever grateful and I, in awe of witnessing such a heroic act.