Authors: Gigi Amateau
n his darkest hour, a friend once asked, “What if they sell me?”
Such fear tangled up in that question:
What if I am not needed, no longer useful? What if I am not wanted, no longer loved? What if I am forgotten?
The quiver in his voice pierced my heart, plunged through flesh, blood, and bone and into memory. “What if they sell me?” he asked.
Here is how I answered.
I was born at a place for breeding horses but not for keeping horses in Alberta far from the Maury River where I call home now.
I remember as a yearling I surveyed my pasture and the jagged gray mountains beyond the fence.
“If you dare, just try to beat me!” I called. I raced past every mare grazing in the summer grasses, and I dashed by every foal standing in the rocky field. The colts and the fillies gave chase, but I crested the hill first, many lengths ahead of them all.
When the fastest filly caught up, she head-butted me, slamming into my shoulder with all her strength, but she was not strong enough. I stood on the tip of a great boulder jutting out from the ground, and, like the stone beneath me, I would not be moved — not by the wind and not by the filly.
I nickered for her to come at me again. “One more try,” I urged her.
She spun around, pawed at the ground, and made a big show of snorting. She backed up and charged. This time, I dodged her battery, and the filly fell down into the tall grass.
“I’m king of the hill!” I proclaimed. “Bow down to serve me.”
A cabbage white butterfly of silken cream, unconcerned with my victory over the filly, lit across the white clover blossoms. She circled my cannon and flitted down my hoof. She fanned her wings, came softly to rest on the grass, and tickled my foot with her legs. Butterfly kisses.
The filly — a draft like me — was strong and powerful. The butterfly looked delicate and fragile.
“I can play gently, butterfly. You’re safe with me,” I reassured her.
The butterfly darted around my ear and then disappeared away down the hill. Because I was enchanted with the cabbage white, I didn’t see or hear anything else happening until I heard the mares sounding an alarm.
Our caretaker, Janey, had left a new farmhand in charge for the day. He had let the stallion into our field by mistake, then walked away. The stallion shouldn’t have been let into the pasture. Mixing up stallions and colts could endanger the mares and the weanlings.
When I heard the mares shouting, I forgot my butterfly game of wings and flight. I needed a place to hide. I turned to bolt, but before I or the filly could run, a long, dark shadow overtook us.
Behind me a voice bellowed, “Little Horse, why don’t
who is king of the hill?”
Stepping out of my blind spot, a blond stallion appeared. A white blaze ran the length of his face, and white socks painted all four legs. His coat glistened. Every rippled muscle from his neck to his hocks pulsed as if it were its own living thing. My sire!
must be among the greatest of Belgians.
He blocked our path. “Step aside,” he ordered the filly.
She took off for the far end of the pasture.
The stallion rammed his shoulder hard into mine. “Walk with me, son. I only visit this farm in the summer to breed, but today I was let into pasture earlier than usual — a mistake. But, while I’m here, let me tell you something.
I moved in closer to my sire.
I will be just like him.
He stared off toward the horizon. He didn’t graze the clover or notice the butterflies. I nibbled dandelion leaves and waited to hear the reason for his visit.
What did I need to know?
“By now, the yearlings have usually already gone. Still I’m not supposed to be in your field until tomorrow. So we haven’t much time before they remove me.” The great Belgian snorted loud like thunder and nodded toward the mares below us. “Which is your dam?”
I whinnied toward Mamere, who stood apart from the others.
“Ah, Tina. We are old friends. Your mother has lived here for many years. She’s the leader when I’m gone,” he said. “She is lovely.”
I sunk deep into my hooves and stretched my head high, as if I were the tallest lodgepole pine of the forest, with roots to anchor me to the earth and limbs to scale the clouds. I reached up, up, up but fell short of the stallion’s withers; still I found the courage to correct him. “Mamere’s the leader all of the time,” I said. “This is her herd.”
“Do you know who you’re speaking with, young colt?”
“Yes, you’re my sire. Mamere told me I will grow big like you. She says I will be a very great Belgian someday,” I said.
“And, little king, what do you think it means to be great?” he asked me.
I puffed my chest far, far out. “It means everyone looks up to me most of all, that every filly and colt and mare serves me.” I stomped my foot. “That I get to eat first and do whatever I want.”
He said, “It’s true; you were bred a fine Belgian. And I have seen you playing with your siblings and cousins today, and you are fast and strong, but being king is not a game.”
The great stallion set his gaze upon Mamere’s herd. He lifted his head into the wind, and I did so, too. He trotted back and forth across the hilltop, all the while watching the mares and yearlings. I tried to keep up but tired quickly.
“What did you want to tell me?” I couldn’t wait any longer.
The stallion stopped suddenly and snorted. He held me there under his fiery stare, and then he said, “You need to learn your place, young one, and your place is not here. When I’m here, this is
herd. Not yours. Not Tina’s.”