Three women wait quietly outside the paddock holding a large bay mare. The youngest of the women sits in the far corner of the paddock on the top rail of the black board fence; her crystal-blue eyes watch the mare intently. A middle-aged woman with fiery red hair and deep green eyes stands with her arms folded across her chest, leaning her left shoulder against one of the thick, wooden fence posts. Near the paddock gate, a slender woman with long, grey hair and multi-colored eyes watches the bay mare closely from her tattered old folding lawn chair.
Inside the paddock, the mare circles restlessly, working her soft, black muzzle back and forth along the ground. Her large belly swings gently side-to-side as she moves about the enclosure. She stops to paw at the ground, her sharp, heavy hoof sending clods of dirt and bits of grass flying out behind her. Looking up from her pawing, the mare snorts loudly and shakes her graceful head. She looks at the woman sitting on the fence; flaring her nostrils she blows out a deep breath before she begins circling once again.
The large, bay mare’s burnished red coat glistens in the waning sunlight as she began to sweat lightly. She continues to circle, stopping more frequently now to paw at the ground. Pausing for a moment, she lifts her head high; sniffing the air before turning to look at the red haired woman for a moment. A soft breeze gently lifts her jet black mane away from her sleek neck. The mare’s gaze turns toward the grey haired woman sitting by the gate; she blinks her eyes slowly as she licks and chews, working her mouth gently as if savoring something particularly delicious.
Suddenly, the silence is broken as the mare squeals and rears up on her hind legs. Rocking back on her haunches, she lifts her front hooves above the ground before coming back down, squealing and kicking out with both hind legs. She shakes her head fiercely before once again rearing up in the air and kicking out with her hind legs. Again and again the mare circles, squeals, raises herself into the air and then kicks out, lifting her hind end as her hooves shoot out behind her.
The girl on the fence watches the mare as she moves about. She is scared, the girl thinks to herself. That is why she is acting that way. She doesn’t know what is going on, she is terrified. She didn’t ask for this foal, she does not know what to do. She is scared of what is out of her control.
The red haired woman watches the mare’s unusual antics. That mare is angry, the woman says to herself. She will lose that foal and she knows it. Sure, she will be allowed to care for it for a while, just long enough to get really attached to the little one. Then, the cruel hand of fate will reach in and pluck that foal right out of her life. They call it “weaning” but they may as well tear the mare’s heart out. The red haired woman absently touches a tattered picture of a red haired toddler in the pocket of her faded blue jeans.
A smile spreads slowly across the rose colored lips of the grey haired lady sitting by the gate. She watches the bay mare rear and kick as she moves around the paddock. “That mare is dancing!” She said aloud although no one was near enough to hear her. She is celebrating the life inside her. She loves to be a mother and she is dancing for joy at the coming of her new foal! The woman thought of her own children, now grown with children of their own. Her multi-colored eyes sparkle as she relives the memories of her children growing up. Then the corners of her mouth quiver slightly as she reminds herself that she would never have another child to raise; that part of her life was long over.
The mare stands quietly now in the center of the paddock. One-by-one she gazes at each woman, slowly and steadily until each looks up from their own thoughts to meet the mare’s deep, brown eyes. The mare blinks slowly before turning away from each one. She circles one final time and carefully lowers her heavy body to the ground.
The three women each move from their respective vantage points and come together near the gate to watch the mare deliver her foal. The mare lay on her side in the soft, lush grass, breathing heavily and grunting with each push. Soon a tiny hoof appears; then another followed by a tiny muzzle still covered by the amniotic sack. The grey haired woman quietly opens the paddock gate and steps cautiously over to the mare. Kneeling behind her, the woman speaks softly, stroking the mare’s hindquarters before carefully breaking open the thin, white sack with her hands. The mare continues to push and the foal’s shoulders slip through the birth canal, followed by the midsection until only the foal’s hindquarters remain within the mare. The grey haired woman guides the foal’s legs and head down toward the mare’s hocks as he emerges into the peaceful evening air.
As the sun dips below the distant horizon, the mare gives a final, mighty push and her colt is born. “Welcome to the world, little one,” says the grey haired lady, her silver locks falling softly around her shoulders as she kneels over the new foal. She smiles as she gently clears the fluid from the little colt’s nostrils. She has delivered many foals over the years, each time it was still magical, still new. Her heart sang at the thought; there would be many more.
The two younger women watched from outside the gate. A single tear escaped from a crystal-blue eye and slid down the youngest woman’s cheek. Fear and terror have been replaced by wonder and amazement. She watches as the mare nickers excitedly to her new colt, gently licking his still-wet body; she placed a hand over her own belly and smiles.
Brilliant streaks of pink and yellow dance across the sky. The red haired woman now clutches the picture of the red haired toddler tightly in her hand. She watches as the mare lifts her large body up from the ground and turns carefully to tend to her new foal. The little colt is already pressing his front feet into the ground, one at a time, back and forth as he prepares to stand for the first time. The mare nudges and encourages him, still nickering to him softly. The woman looks down at the picture in her hand, tears stinging her emerald green eyes. Anger is replaced by gratitude, even time much too short was a precious gift to be treasured.
Hours have passed and now the foal lay dry and warm, sleeping under the watchful eye of his mother. The women have gone their separate ways, each with a new understanding, a new awareness, a new perspective. The mare stands contentedly, satisfied with the events of the day. She looks down at her sleeping colt knowing he has already touched the lives of the three women outside the paddock that day. There would be many more opportunities for him and for her. She cocks one hind leg and slowly closes her eyes. Her head lowers bit-by-bit as she relaxes her neck and drifts off to sleep.
This piece was written as part of the Connected Project with the goal of demonstrating how different people watching the same horse can have three very different experiences -- one reason why equine assisted therapy is so successful when we allow the client to tell their own story.
A jet-black stallion stands majestically atop a stone ledge jutting out from the rocky hillside. From here he can see for miles around him. His coat glistens in the hot sun, the glossy sheen interrupted by jagged scars of many battles. Below him, his band of mares picks at the sparse clumps of dry grass; their spindly-legged foals playing or sleeping in the sunshine. The stallion intently watches the distant horizon; lifting his graceful neck higher, he tips his nose upward, nostrils flared, scenting the wind as it swirls around him.
The wind lifts tangles of black mane away from the stallion’s well-muscled neck. He shakes his magnificent head, sniffing the air again. He catches the scent of an intruder. The stallion scans the landscape around him, searching. In the brush near the edge of the clearing where his band grazes, a mountain lion crouches, eyeing an old mare heavy with foal as she sleeps in the sunshine.
A scream of warning trumpets across the canyon as the stallion whirls and bolts down the rocky slope. The old mare stirs and struggles to get her stiff, aged legs beneath her. With precision and lightning speed, the other mares work to group the foals together, nipping at them urgently as they drive them to the opposite end of the canyon. With the foals grouped together, the mares form a circle around them; their heads facing inward and their hindquarters forming a protective external barrier.
The stallion charges across the canyon toward the aged mare, his hooves pounding the hard-packed canyon floor. He screams in fury as the lion descends upon the old mare still struggling to get to her feet. The lion pounces on the mare’s back, clawing and tearing at her flesh. She falls to her side, thrashing and squealing with terror. Moments later, the stallion arrives. Quickly he runs to the prone mare and grabs the lion by the neck with his teeth, throwing it to the ground.
Before the lion can regain his feet, the stallion rears on his hind legs, his front hooves crushing the lion as he comes down over and over. When the lion was dead, the stallion turns to the old mare. She is lying on the ground, breathing heavily. The stallion stands over her, watching. She nickers softly to him. Lifting her tired head, she looks toward her tail. She is in labor.
The mare struggles and pushes; soon she delivers her foal. She turns her head and nickers softly to the little filly before she laid her head back on the ground and breathes her last.
With the danger passed, the mares slowly open their protective circle and the herd moves back out into the canyon. A grey mare, her new colt close at her heels, walks cautiously toward where the stallion still stands over the body of the old mare and her foal. The grey mare sniffs the old mare’s body and let out a deep sigh. She then turns to the new foal and begins licking her dry, nuzzling her and nickering to her, just as her mother would. The stallion lowers his head and blinks his eyes slowly as her turns to walk back down the canyon to keep watch over his herd.
In a few hours, the new filly is on her feet and nursing from the grey mare. The stallion comes back up the canyon; it is time to move the herd out to find water. One-by-one the mares file past the body of the old mare; each pausing to sniff her or gently paw at her. The grey mare stands quietly as her colt and the new filly sniff the old mare. She then lowers her graceful head, blinks slowly and touches her muzzle to the old mare’s head. Blowing softly through flared nostrils, her breath gently lifts the old mare’s forelock away from her face. She licks the old mare’s muzzle then slowly turns away to rejoin the traveling herd; her own son and her new half-sister following close behind.
This piece was written for the Connected Project -- Featured at ArtPrize and published in an upcoming book. To find out more about the project, click HERE.
Cheryl L. Eriksen, MSW - EAGALA Certified, author, horse midwife, artist...not always in that order...