Last night when I went to feed, my heart (and the 30 pounds of hay I carried) hit the ground. The second my eyes made contact with my Hanoverian, Marathon, the reptilian part of my brain knew something was very wrong.

Marathon stood at his gate, pawing and nervous. I scanned his body, starting with his legs and moving to his belly, back, and neck, finding nothing wrong. With Marathon accounted for I moved my gaze to the adjoining paddock. By then, the rest of my brain kicked in, and I realized my Quarter Horse, Jack, was gone. Vanished. Poof!

I went through my mental checklist:

Paddock gate, closed.

Second paddock gate, closed.

No Jack behind any trees, shelters.

No Jack in our empty paddock.

No Jack in neighbor’s pasture.

No Jack standing loose outside of Marathon’s paddock.

No commotion on the road or barking dogs.

No one steals horses these days, I thought.

Then my eyes landed on the fence charger.

Unplugged.

I had filled water troughs that morning and forgotten to plug the fence back in when I finished. My eyes left the charger and followed the fence line, seeing what I’d originally missed in the waning daylight: The top two strands of tensioned cable horse fencing hanged broken and sagging.

Horses

Jack all in one piece and safely in a secure paddock. The fence, foreground, has seen better days but helped keep a trouble-making horse from getting hurt.

If you’ve ever had a horse go through a fence, you know the outcome is rarely positive. Fine bones, tendons, and ligaments rarely fair well when tangled with wire, boards, nails, and posts. Some of the most catastrophic equine injuries I’ve seen resulted from fencing entanglements. The realization that my simple oversight could have killed my horse—my baby bred and raised—sent me into a panic.

This all took me about 30 seconds to process before I set into action. I looked for signs of blood on the fencing and then started calling Jack’s name. Marathon’s frantic whinny joined me.

As I ran down the driveway to close the front gate (hoping Jack hadn’t made it to the road) still calling his name, Jack came bolting around the house and parked himself in the front yard. He stomped and kicked and started to graze, tearing out mouthfuls of lawn.

I caught my breath, then the horse, and looked him over for signs of injury. I found no bleeding or swelling, and all four legs seemed to work right. Other than a foot-long welt on his hindquarters where the tensioned fence smacked him like a snapping rubber band, Jack came out of the incident unscathed and requiring no further care. Phew!

Our fencing, which my husband and I selected five years ago after judiciously evaluating a dozen options, worked as the promotional material promised. When Jack went through it (likely trying to graze between the lines of the impotent electric cables) the fence busted at the strapping, which allowed the tensioned, rope-like strands to fall rather than ensnare my horse. It also didn’t cut, slice, or severe his fragile legs or flesh. For that, I’m thankful. And, had I plugged in the charger to begin with, he never would have gone through the hot fence at all.

Silly mistakes can lead to big problems when you keep horses at home (or anywhere for that matter). But, as my ever practical and patient husband noted while we cleaned up the fencing and plugged the charger back in, “You can’t always fix horses, but you can always fix a fence.”

Have you ever had a heart-stopping moment with your horses at home? Have simple oversights led to big problems the rest of us can learn from?