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...