What is it with me finding loose horses in the road?
The other day I was driving down the (old) main road to town – not the motorway. Various ideas were floating in my mind: coping with our surplus mangoes, how to best begin the rainwater harvesting plan that Best Beloved and I are implementing, where to get information on the construction of natural swimming pools, and as I was passing the construction site that is planning to open as the Big Ones’ school in two weeks, three loose horses trotted from an open gate, the leader heading into the lane of oncoming traffic. The car swerved into my lane and I pulled up onto the hard shoulder. Meanwhile the horse decided that discretion vis a vis traffic was the better part of valour and began galloping down the verge. Fortunately at that point – and for the next 200 metres – the verge is about 15 metres wide and interspersed with rows of saplings that we so carefully planted for the school last April. The other two horses, both younger, followed.
As usual when anything outside my experience happens between me and horses I called Yiannis. But his phone was busy. Traffic began beeping and flashing warnings, so I called the police emergency number: a first for me. One-one-two worked! I got through on the second ring and explained in English where I was and what was happening. “Right, we’ll send a patrol!”
I did a U-turn to keep an eye on where the horses were, and realised that they were probably thirsty. They wouldn’t let me get closer than thirty metres, and clustered in a snorting group just where the school fence line ended. I didn’t want to approach and spook them, but as I watched, the largest one headed straight onto the tarmac in front of a cement lorry that was approaching the downward curve at about 60 kilometres per hour. The driver braked hard and swerved into the other – empty – lane, but I knew that things were rapidly becoming critical. It’s only a two-lane road, but the traffic is heavy and moves fast. ‘If I can get water to them,’ I thought. ‘I can keep them off the road.’ I saw a tap on the other side of the chain link fence and turned it on, hoping that they would smell the water and come to me.
It worked for a few minutes. Their heads came up and they drew near, then something set them off again and they hared away.
I called the school secretary, but she thought it was funny and tinkled a South African accented laugh “Yiss, they riyce up and down all the time!” Then she told me that she wasn’t at school, but “I’ll alert them… Hee! Hee!” I wondered if she was drunk and wishing for the tenth time that the school’s telephone system was not routed through her mobile, hung up.
I drove through the main gate and found two workmen. They pointed me to the offices around the other side of the building, confirmed that horses had been around the buildings for the last few days, and shrugged when I told them that they were now loose on the road. And no, they didn’t have a bucket or a hose.
The Assistant Principal was in the middle of a meeting with Sophia’s Maths Teacher when I knocked on the glass door of her office and burst in with my explanation. The AP grasped the seriousness at once, and led me to another office while SMT just gawped at me with a silly look on his face. “Hope, assist Mrs Asproulla with whatever she might need to try and catch the horses: a rope, a bucket, a hose. And call the police again to make sure that they know!”
Hope and I could find nothing more suitable than the kitchen bin, so I took out the trash bag and ran back to my car, leaving her poised on the building’s concrete foundation edge and looking dubiously from the broken ground between her and the fence-line to her stilettos. “I don’t even know if there’s a gate between here and there that you could take water through,” she said. “I hardly know my way around yet.”
I went back toward the still snorting and milling horses. There was no way to get water to them. No way even to fill the bucket. I called Paphiakos’ large animal rescue. “It’s a police matter,” they said. “Nothing we can do at this point.” But they said that they would call the police again.
I took the kitchen bin back and on the way met the Cypriot foreman of the builders. He took in my flushed face and escaping hair, the tank top strap sliding off my shoulder, and the corner of his mouth turned up. “Are they your horses?” No, but I know something about horses. “How? Where are you from?” London, via the US. “Ah! And how long have you been in Cyprus?” Seventeen years. “That’s why you speak such good Greek.” Well, I’m married to a Cypriot and have children at the school. “See, over on that hill, that’s where the horses are from.” He pointed to a corral and barn about three hundred metres away. Two other horses were still there. “They’ve been around for a few days behind the school.” I told him I thought they were thirsty, and a thirsty horse will break a fence to get water, never mind attempting to cross a road.
Then I remembered the irrigation canal – two metres wide, two metres deeps, unfenced, with sloping concrete sides, and the scene of numerous drownings over the years. If they went in there looking for water, it would take more than the police to get them out. “I’m just trying to prevent an accident!” I told him, and headed for my car, dialling Yianni’s number again. Maybe he knew the owner. But this time there was no answer.
As I reached the front of the school I saw a patrol car with flashing lights, I saw stopped traffic, I saw three horses, spooked but still standing. And I saw Yiannis and another man herding them into the gate from which they had originally come. Yiannis spotted me and waved. “I tried calling you!” I shouted. “Are they yours?” He nodded. “Thanks!” “I had to call the cops!” I told him. “No, fine. It’s ok now.” And he followed them into the field and closed the gate. I called Paphiakos and told them that the situation was under control, and went for a word with the cops.
Once the adrenaline subsided, what fascinated me about the episode was different people’s reactions. The airhead secretary, who treated it as a joke (has she ever scraped a horse off the road?), the AP and her disciplined delegation of tasks, SMT (for whom the other shoe has yet to drop), the secretary who did her best to help, the former-Soviet builders and their shrugs, the Cypriot foreman and his frank appraisal.
I hope Yiannis keeps his gates shut in future.