The Sway-Back Horse

8726074306_0f40ca7d39_sAlmost every window in the house across the pasture was lit up at night, like cheerful eyes peering out into the darkness.  Sleek cars purred up the winding drive, and people came and went.

Each day the other horses and I had fresh water and grain.  In summer we grazed in the pasture and slept with fireflies blinking around us.  In winter, we passed our nights in the barn, away from the biting winds and snows.  I was the oldest of the four of us.  I’d carried many a foal.  In my day, I streaked across the meadows, my head held high, my tail flying in the wind.

Gradually a change came: fewer cars, fewer people, and less food.  One day some strangers arrived, looked carefully at each of us, then led the other three horses into a trailer and drove off, dust kicking up behind the wheels.

I was let out into the pasture.  I grazed on the grasses and drank from a small pond near the fence.  There was a blackbird that kept me company sometimes, perching on my back and clutching my mane, chattering away.

The only human I saw was a man who walked the far hills from time to time, disappearing into valleys and emerging again.  One day he came to the fence, offered me a fistful of grass, and stroked my face.  I closed my eyes at his touch.

With the first winter storm the pasture grasses were buried in snow.  I pawed at the ground and ate what I could uncover.

As winter set in the snow grew deeper, and the grasses were more difficult to reach.  The pond froze from the edges inward, and I couldn’t quench my thirst from eating snow.*  Mostly I stood with my eyes closed, snow crystallizing on me.  My hunger and thirst grew, and my ribs became more pronounced.

The walking man came one day, spoke to me gently, and climbed over the split-rail fence.  He looped a bridle over my head, and I stood still for him.  He led me away through the snow, each footfall sinking deeply.  We walked a long way, coming at last to a barn.  Two horses in their stalls looked up expectantly, their ears forward.

The man led me into a stall with soft hay, and grain and water, and I drank and ate my fill.  The man leaned against the wall and watched.  Then he said a few words to me that I didn’t understand, but their meaning was clear: you are safe here.

The winter has turned to spring.  The other horses and I run in the pasture, blue sky overhead, sweet grasses beneath our hooves.

* Did you know that horses cannot get enough water from eating snow only?  A bucketful of snow melts down to an inch or two of water.

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