An Essay by Ginger Kathrens
He was wild and free, roaming the vast expanses of the rugged Calico Mountains with his mother and father and the other members of his family. This would be his first winter, a time when life slowed down for all the wild ones—the elegant pronghorn he watched on the distant horizon, the tiny pygmy rabbits that foraged in the sage brush undergrowth and darted into their dens when he tried to touch them, the fat sage grouse that were some of his favorites. When he was just days old, he heard their strange, booming sounds and saw the males strutting and displaying for a mate. When he wandered toward them, it was his father who gently guided him home. His mother softly nickered to him. She smelled of sweet sage and invited him to nurse.
Then, one day while his mother and father and the others in his family were quietly foraging, conserving their energy in the growing cold, he saw his father jerk his head up. Ears forward, the stallion watched and listened and the colt did too, mimicking his father. The colt could hear a rumbling drone. In the distance, he could see something flying toward them. It was even bigger than the majestic golden eagles that soared over his home. It came closer and closer, dropping low over the sage. The drone grew into an earshattering roar. His family began to run and he followed, galloping beside his mother where he would be safe. Mile after mile the menacing, giant bird chased them. His legs ached and he wanted to rest, but he could not leave his mother. He kept running, struggling to keep up. Fear gripped the Calico colt.
Then he saw a horse in front of his father and it too began to run. Safety must be ahead. His family followed the stranger and suddenly they were trapped inside walls of steel. His father tried to jump over the wall but it was too high. There were two legged animals running at them with long sticks and something white that fluttered madly. Suddenly, he was separated from his mother when a two-legged moved between them, striking out at him with the frightening stick and the fluttering bag. He was driven into another corral. When he whinnied for his mother, she answered. He raced around the corral calling for her, but found his feet were too sore to run anymore and he stopped. He could hear his father calling and he knew the proud stallion had been separated too. The colt answered him. He could see his mother through the bars of his cage and this gave him strength and hope.
Days passed. It was cold and there was no place to get out of the wind. In his home, his mother would have led the band below a rocky outcrop that blocked the wind. The colt began to fear he would never again smell the sweet sage of her breath or taste the warm milk she offered to him. His feet, so sore, became worse. Shooting pains darted through his whole body when he tried to walk so he moved as little as possible, hobbling a few steps to eat the plants the two-leggeds had thrown on the ground for them. One frigid morning, the two leggeds came and drove him into a truck with others that were his age. The pain was constant now and when the truck moved out, he stayed on his feet but the pain riveted him with every jolt and bump. He called for his mother, but there was no answer. Would he ever see his parents again?
Hours passed and the truck moved onto smoother ground and it turned into a place where he could hear the calls of his kind. He whinnied as loud as he could, but the answering voices were unfamiliar. The two-leggeds drove the colt from the truck into a bigger cage and he struggled to keep up with the other foals. Some of them were limping too. His eyes scanned the horizon, looking for something familiar but the flat horizon looked nothing like the land of his birth. Days went by and he spent hours laying in the dirt, the pain growing. He could feel something happening to his feet. His once strong, dark hooves were beginning to separate from the bone designed to hold them fast. He laid flat and closed his eyes, imagining the home and family he feared he would never see again. The two leggeds walked toward him. He wanted to jump up and dash away but he could not. Over the next few days he grew too tired to move at all. The wind howled and as it began to snow, he closed his eyes for the last time and dreamed of his family. Then two leggeds came again and killed the Calico Colt.
In death, the lively spirit of the Calico Colt was released to roam free once more. He has returned home to his family and the land of his dreams. He is not just a statistic. Neither he nor what he symbolizes will ever be forgotten. (Ginger Kathrens is a filmmaker, author, and founder of The Cloud Foundation, dedicated to preserving our mustangs on public lands. The Foundation is calling for a
stop to the roundups that are robbing public lands of our legendary, native wild equids—the very embodiment of freedom for many Americans. The Calico colt is only one of many who have died as a result of the ongoing roundups this year alone. Find out what you can do at www.thecloudfoundation.org
Photo: Living Images by Carol Walker