Ironically, I was humming “The Birthday Song”. The reality is that outside of Christmas Carols and a few favorite hymns, it is the only song that I know all of the words to. I was humming it over and over as if the “repeat” button on my limited musical library was permanently jammed in the downward position. Of course, being completely non-musical (which can be easily validated by my brutally honest and also tone-deaf siblings) my choice for music had much more to do with knowing the importance and impact of rhythm and melody on the equine brain. My soft humming did little to conceal the squeaking of the stall door that I had previously unlocked and was now rolling open. The lyric-less rhythm matched my own beating heart and helped control my breathing as I gently reached forward with a privileged reverence and pulled the warm sack away from a tiny wet set of miniature nostrils and the most perfect little snip. The mare, Stella, watched me warily over her shoulder. I silently backed away from the new mother and foal and allowed newly born emotion to interrupt and awkwardly choke my humming. I had spent the previous 63 nights delivering Stella’s nightly hay, making small deposits of trust into her very bankrupt account, and tonight she allowed me limited access to help deliver her perfect foal.
I crept back to a safe distance, making room for the beauty and intimacy of the bonding, hitting the stopwatch button on my iPhone to begin the next careful period of monitoring the progress of our newest precious resident. Stella nickered, nuzzled and nurtured her new little one with a tenderness that revealed perhaps Mother Nature’s most valuable gift…mothering. Completely unneeded, I sat on the overturned bucket that had been placed outside of Stella’s stall to collect the afterbirth. Long before my iPhone indicated the markers for standing and nursing, our newest little redhead was up and feeding with the gusto of an athlete attacking a pile of spaghetti. She barely wobbled when she stood, and she nursed voraciously, nickered enthusiastically, and played and bucked around her exhausted mother with the brilliance of promise, joy, and unquestionable expectations.
Every spring the “livestock auctions” are congested with very pregnant and quite often feral mares. While horrifying to those of us who save and serve them, a pregnant mare weighs more, and therefore the seller can command more money, as horses are sold by the pound to the kill buyers. These auctions are brutal and unbearably anxious environments that are often inhumane and always devoid of dignity. Stella had been rescued from slaughter by a different rescue group. Once her feral status was apparent, the rescue no longer wanted her or the work and responsibility that she represented and she was relinquished, and fortunately came to Red Bucket.
The baby, a filly, was the smallest of the babies that we have had the privilege of foaling…of saving. She was tiny, feminine, dainty…and mighty. We chuckled that her opinionated personality came from her bright chestnut coat, but perhaps her confidence and sassy streak was more about freedom, safety, and good old-fashioned unconditional love on our part. Stella’s foal was perfect; she resembled her beautiful mother…petite, well bred, and adorned with similar markings…down to that little snip on the tip of her miniature muzzle. That is about where the similarity stopped. Stella bore more than the disfigurement of a crudely branded scar; she also carried the armor and defensiveness of the chronically abused. She was distrusting and genuinely terrified that we would harm her…really hurt her. We, the collective hearts and hands of Red Bucket, made regular but not intrusive visits to gently speak with her, and over time touch her in a way that was first not allowed, then tolerated…and later yearned for. Like so many of the abused who come to us for salvation, she did not know the taste of a treat or the pleasure and satisfaction of touch.
The headlights of the big diesel caught the grit of the rural road; the grime and filth seemed trapped within the beams as if punctuating how dirty the night really was. Two hundred horses had been subjected to the charade of an auction…or perhaps a predestined trial where the falsely accused were loaded onto semis that had still-warm engines and had been prearranged by cold and vacant-hearted people. While it was not without careful and perhaps anxious orchestration, a timid mare and her nursing colt was purchased and loaded onto a simple trailer and taken to a quarantine facility a number of miles away. As the semi roared toward the border, and certain brutality, the colt greedily nursed from his mother, as if trying to fill himself with more than just the nourishment of her milk.
The night was black and the air still fragrant with the late summer blossoms wafting through our little ranch. The barn timers had clicked off a few hours earlier, and I manually turned on the arena lights to brighten our horses’ ranch. The glow of the headlights and the gentle bouncing of the horse trailer alerted us to the impending arrival. The overnight pasture horses lifted their heads from grazing or slumber, many approaching the gate with curiosity…and what I can only interpret to be a knowing and benevolent kindness that embodies these animals that we love so dearly. Humming softly, I lightly gripped two halters and lead ropes, and slipped inside the darkened trailer. Emerging with a beautiful mare and her curious and perfect little colt, and under the watchful eyes of the previously saved, I led mother and baby off of the trailer toward the prepared paddock on the west side of the ranch. They both drank deeply from the waterer, and after a long exhale, the mare nuzzled her baby and lowered her nose, and began to eat from an ample pile of fresh hay as her little one nursed. Walking back to secure the ranch gate with goosebumps that had nothing to do with the temperate night, I smiled as I realized the humming of my breath had lyrics that so poignantly represent our work…Happy Birthday to You…
This culture message is dedicated to my cherished friend Kristine, the many nameless strangers who help link arms with us in saving these beautiful lives, our donors who make our work possible, and the Red Bucket family who care for and heal the previously unwanted.