I was a sophomore in college when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. My first paying job in the animal world was a barn hand at a small horse barn that taught English dressage riding. I sought this position because, at the time, I wanted to be an equine veterinarian. The married couple who owned the barn were decent and sturdy people; unfortunately, their barn was not quite so decent or sturdy.
I liked working at the barn. I have something akin to affection for the satisfaction of manual labor, and I enjoyed working with the horses. I had a favorite horse in the barn, and his name was Bentley. Bentley was a Clydesdale-Thoroughbred cross who was jet black and absolutely colossal. I stood barely eye level to Bentley’s withers, putting him just north of 18 hands. He was an intermittently cantankerous creature but had developed a fondness for the carrots I carried in my back pocket.
One day I was in the hayloft of this rickety barn, stacking the latest delivery of alfalfa bales. So happily was I humming along in my manual labor that I forgot the advice given to me by the barn’s owner: the floorboards up in the hayloft were not suited to carry (an admittedly large) person’s weight, and I should make sure my footfalls landed on the crossbeams so the floor would not fall out beneath me. The advice was sound, because when my size 12 work boot hit the floorboard, I went right through it.
I found myself hanging by my underarms, dangling over the stall of a suddenly terrified Bentley who was now kicking and stomping up a storm. Clinging to frail floorboards over a panicking 1,500-pound horse is an effective way to get one’s adrenaline cranking, but it isn’t one I recommend. Falling into the stall with a frightened and gigantic horse would probably be the the end of me. I hung there for nearly a minute, certain of my imminent and grisly demise, when I heard Bentley suddenly calm down. While I was fairly certain what scared him, I was completely in the dark as to what would make him relax just as quickly. That is, until I felt his enormous nose sniffing at my back pocket. Bentley was going for the carrots.
As relief and obscenities ran through my mind, I began to wonder if I could devise an escape. Not trusting the floorboards to hold me should I attempt to climb back up to the hayloft, I started to wriggle my way down through the hole in the floor so I could then drop down into the stall. I succeeded in this endeavor and was hanging with my hands gripping the floor of the hayloft, Bentley still happily pickpocketing and crunching his carrots, when the barn’s owners happened to walk by the open Dutch door of the stall. Their faces showed confusion until their eyes saw the hole in the floor/ceiling. Then the confusion turned to profound amusement: “I told you to step on the crossbeams,” he said with a grin. Bentley munched away.
The floors in my hospital are quite a bit sturdier than those of the hayloft, and nowadays I’m a small animal and exotics veterinarian, but the importance and value of nearby treats was not lost on me. I will never forget how carrots saved my life.