“The truck that brought the stallions he’d bought at auction came at the wrong time -- when he was gone -- so they just put them in his corral. When he came later, he turned them into the home pasture where there was grass and water enough until he could get around to dealing with them. He was surprised and not happy to see a mare standing there staring at him, a buckskin with the vague rump striping of mustang blood, refusing to move because it would mean turning her back on him. She had the attitude of a feral horse: her back showed white rub marks from a saddle. Not only that, she had scars and knots from beatings. And she was pregnant, bulging.
He’d beaten horses himself. He hated mares and all other females of every species. Horse whispering had not been invented yet. Anyway he liked the struggle for domination, the restraints, wrestling and blows of old-fashioned horse-breaking. It was an identity he had inherited from this father, another of that well-known Out West type who depended on rage and booze to get through life. The mare looked at him with head turned a little, eyes bugged, ears back and one rear foot cocked.”
The old woman sitting at her computer in her plaid flannel housecoat stopped typing and scratched her head. The germ of this story idea came from watching out the window next to her computer where a feral cat had begun bringing her kittens to wait in the backyard for cat food. The cat was NOT taming down, which was the point of feeding her. She was a hissing cat, jolted full of defiance as soon as she saw a human, but too hungry with kittens sucking her down to give up the source of food. The old woman would take out cat kibble, then leave and watch through the window next to her computer. She didn’t want to attach.
She was thinking about someone who had sent a comment on a story post in which she had a character refuse to ride mares because “real men ride stud horses.” Uncut. She would answer with this story, but how would it go? The commenter said that the toughest and most headstrong horses were sometimes the lead mares. She already knew that stallions are tough defenders against predators and rivals, but that it was the mares who knew where to go for water and who could lead a change to new territory. It’s just that she also knew a few cowboys who were embarrassed by foals, sucklings, who followed along by the stirrups in hopes of catching a snack. Maybe these guys just didn’t get enough sex in their lives or didn’t have contact with human infants, so they found even the sound of sucking, much less a nose between the back legs of the mother immensely emotional. Maybe they were emotionally starved men. Jealous of a foal. Maybe they thought of whores.
“The man had been beaten up so many times, starting in childhood with his father who used his belt or sometimes a club, that some of his internal organs didn’t work quite right, especially kidneys which are always a bit of a problem for a cowboy who rides a lot of broncs. Almost every bone had been broken -- some of them mending a little askew, especially the bones in his face which lent him an expression he would not own: slightly sorrowful. He affected the old-time cowboy role, which meant never taking his long johns off, so no one really knew about most of the scars.
Without knowing it, he had a schema in his mind based on gender: women are victims. Victims deserve to die. His father had beaten his mother until she died, then started on the son. For that man violence was something like sex: dominance, catharsis, proving superiority, defeating whatever in life might destroy him -- which it did, since his other release was drinking and you can’t defeat a telephone pole by driving a pickup into it.
“The horse auction yard insisted that he had bought the horse. They would not take it back. It was described in the papers, though it was unbranded. No tattoo on her lip. A slick. Fairly good horse except for the fatal flaw of being the wrong gender. He tried to sell her but it was a bad year for grass and no one wanted another horse, especially a pregnant one. He thought of just losing her on the range, but the idea seemed weak. Certainly he was not about to shoot a valuable animal. Because of the money, not some notion of mercy. While he was reflecting about all that, the mare delivered her foal, male. Good thing she could do what was necessary, because all his work had been with adult stallions. He had never helped at a birth.
“She was opinionated and didn’t want him to come near, a defiance that made him determined to get his hands on that foal. When he tied her to a post so he could throw the colt and inspect it, roll it over, look into its mouth, run his hands over it, she broke the rope and came at him with teeth flashing and feet flying. Despite going up the corral fence as fast as he could, he ended up with some painful bruises. He perched up there resettling the snoose in his cheek and sort of dancing his shoulders to get his dignity back.”
The old woman stopped to replenish her coffee. Now what? The only thing likely to change, propelling the story along, was the colt growing up. Neither grown creature was likely to change. Was the story really about the colt? Or was it about how the adults got the way they were? She thought about “The Red Pony” and “Carrion Colt” and even “My Friend Flicka,” which was written by a woman and therefore a little sentimental, even melodramatic.
Melodrama was probably the way to go. The horse gets tangled in barbed wire -- the mother or the colt? Or both? The animal is thrashing, desperate, tearing itself up more and more. He has to get in there with wire cutters to save -- which? The mare or the colt? Which will make this man achieve insight into himself? Or should he try to save the colt and then the mare kills him because she doesn’t understand what’s happening? If she kills him too soon, the colt won’t be freed and she will standing over two bodies. If she kills him after he frees the colt, the last thing he sees will be the colt and mare leaving.
The story needs to establish the sensuality of the colt, the innocent velvet of its skin, the small muscles working against and along its green bones, the curly whisk of tail, the clever hooves. It should kindle in the man a new kind of eroticism, something that allows the connection of love.
What does a foal smell like, anyway? Mare’s milk? What does mare’s milk smell like? Or should she make up a smell: custard with nutmeg on it or bruised sweetgrass or just go to the reality of horse apples, not a bad smell, really. Her mind went back to the man. She knew what a man smells like.
But now it was time to get dressed and take a little cat food out to the yard.
(Thanks to Dori Cavala, Martinez, CA, who was the real-life person who wised me up about the gender of tough horses!)