Friday, Dec. 1, 2023

Grace Under Fire: The Skunk Debacle



At 3:08 a.m. on an early July Monday, I awoke with a start. The distinct smell of skunk wafted through my open window and filled me with the kind of fear one only develops after their house has previously taken a direct skunk hit. 

Upon further investigation, I concluded that we were in the clear. The vile smell swiftly dissipated, and I returned to bed, confident that all was well. 

Several hours later, with the near-miss skunk attack fading into distant memory, I headed to work. I am lucky to live close enough to my barn to be able to walk, and as I strolled up to begin my day, the smell of skunk began to sneak into my nostrils once again. “Hmmm,” I casually thought, “I wonder if the neighbors’ dog got sprayed, or perhaps the skunk was in my parents garden?”

Wishful thinking. 

I opened up the barn door and was hit with a wave of skunk stink foul enough to make my eyes water. I WAS HORRIFIED. I hustled around, opening every window and door, cranking up the fan, and exclaiming in disgust to every horse that would listen. Shockingly, the horses were completely unfazed by the fact that a skunk had laid waste upon their home. This was remarkable, as some of these equines have been known to feel nervous when another horse farts in a particularly boisterous fashion. Apparently, there is no accounting for logic and reason. 

I concluded that since the horses were doing the “Nothing happened! Why is the human so wound up??” act, I would feed as normal and then turn out. 

I reflected, briefly, on what a glamorous existence I have. Little did I know, it was about to get even more posh.

I feed these horses every morning. I have a routine and can do it with zero thought process. Dump grain into bucket, check to make sure horse drank, scan stall mindlessly for abnormalities. As I moved through this task, something caught my eye. A dark something on the floor of the stall of Grace, one of my little school horses. (Insert doom music now.)


I paused.

Backed up. 

Peered into Grace’s stall. 


Dead skunk. Totally dead. 100%. I was literally like, “Nope. Noo. Uh-uh. No way. Nope. WHAT THE CRAP?” 

Logically, I texted my assistant, Casey. 

“OMG!” I scream texted. “I NEED A GROWNUP!!! Grace is a SAVAGE and killed a skunk!!!” 

After sending said text I realized two critical things. One, it was 6:35 in the morning and Casey might not yet be up. And TWO, which was a far, far worse thing: I WAS THE GROWNUP. I am almost twice Casey’s age, which (upsettingly, and undeniably) makes me the adult. *SIGH* I did not want to have to adult so early in the day and on a Monday no less. 



The fallen intruder. Photos Courtesy Of Sara Bradley

After getting a grip (since I was also not able to locate my father, an ACTUAL Adult) I dealt with matters. Grace was smug and proud. She felt that she had done me a great service. I was just plain aghast. She is a 16-year-old Quarter Horse mare who routinely gives lessons to 5-year-old children. I had no idea of her desire for brutality! She nonchalantly allowed me to inspect her for possible skunk bites or wounds (there were none; she is a Jedi Ninja Warrior), and she ambled into her paddock to continue living her best life. And I went back into the barn to continue living mine.

I attempted to collect the dead skunk with a shovel. The thing was shockingly heavy, huge and floppy. Not to mention that he was leaking copious amounts of blood from the brutal head wound that sweet, innocent little Grace had inflicted upon him. Also, the place stank to high heaven, so I was sweating, swearing, laughing and gasping for air like a beached whale while struggling to remove the vermin from my barn. Finally, using a bigger shovel, a pitchfork and some choice words, I was able to flop him into a pail and deliver him to the great outdoors. 

In my traumatized state, I was trying to decide whether or not one can cancel a day of lessons due to a smelly barn. (I did not!) I definitely concluded that I most certainly could not tell any of the children about Grace the Great Skunk Killer. (Their levels of trauma could have been much more real than mine were!) And, of course, I decided that official people needed to be involved to be sure the skunk was not a rabid beast. (It wasn’t.) I simply could not wrap my head around the events of the day, and it was barely 7 in the morning. 

After I had pretty much taken care of the disaster, my dad strolled in. (Convenient timing! Kidding, kidding, Lee, I know you are going to read this.) With many exclamations, I told him the whole outrageous tale. He said, “Well THAT explains the huge thump we heard up here at 3:06 this morning!” 

Apparently, he and my mother were both awakened by a tremendous thump (Grace’s savage feet), but since they did not hear another bang, they did not investigate. (Grace is so efficient she doesn’t need to double-tap.) 


She might look serene, but Grace has proved she’s not one to be messed with.

I decided that it was a weird event, and maybe I would not tell anyone about it. I mean, I don’t ALWAYS need to overshare, right? This notion lasted about 12 hours because I went to a horse show and decided it was a pretty great story to tell everyone I know. 

Grace spent the week smelling terrible, looking a little overly proud of herself, and, yes, continuing to give lessons (in the slowest trot possible) to the smallest of children. Her fierce instincts seem to only come out sporadically! She has become something of a legend at this point, although I have encouraged her not to make this a habit. 

And by the way, on the off chance you still think being a glorious dressage diva is just riding top horses while looking and smelling fabulous, it really isn’t. The trick to dressage diva-ing is to look and BE fabulous while dealing with the occasional crazy skunk situation. (Or, to have an “actual” adult on stand by!) 

I’m Sara Bradley, a full-time dressage trainer (and stall mucker and skunk odor removal expert) from the lovely state of Maine. Most of my time is spent educating young horses and young children at my facility, Waterford Equestrian Center (and yes, I do like to instruct mature horses and humans as well!). When I am not busy at the barn riding, teaching and making sure all the equines are staying spoiled, you can find me marathon training and hiking with my husband, Eric, and my Vizsla, Ellie.




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