This week in Wyoming, one of my childhood dreams came true. Somewhat lost on back roads, searching for Butch Cassidy’s Outlaw Cave in the middle of nowhere Wyoming, I happened to look off to the side of the red dirt road and saw something that made my heart stop: a tiny red foal, all alone, laying down among the red rocks, no mare in sight.
I immediately pulled over, left the dogs in the car and climbed up the bank above the road to get a better look. I grew up with horses, but I’d never seen one so new; the foal was no more than a few hours old. As I approached, slowly, talking sweetly, and holding my hands palms up and open in front of me, the baby whinnied and wobbled to her feet.
Mares will sometimes leave a foal if it is sickly or deformed, but this one seemed well enough and looked perfect. She took a few unsteady steps towards me and whinnied again, making desperate suckling motions with her mouth. Gently, I ran my fingertips down her velvet nose, the softest thing I’ve ever felt, and she latched on to my finger. She was alive but thirsty, hot and stressed. She needed her mom, fast.
Miraculously, I had an idea where her mom was. A few miles back down the road, I had passed a field of mares and foals and noticed one mare running back and forth, calling frantically. At the time, I thought, poor thing must have lost her foal. I never dreamed I’d find it!
Quickly I ran through my options. She was too weak and wobbly to walk back to the field, even if I could get her to follow me. I could try to put her in my car or in my Teardrop and drive her back down the road, but I was afraid to handle her too much, in case my scent or the dogs’ might make the mare reject her. So I told her I’d be right back, ran to my car, drove back to the ranch and tracked down the owner, an older man with a big hat and a bigger moustache.
Sure enough, one of his mares, a first-time mom, had gone off to give birth overnight and returned in the morning without the baby. He assumed it was dead and seemed incredulous to hear that she was on her feet. He asked if I would go wait with the foal while he hitched up his trailer.
The filly was still standing where I left her. I grabbed my camera and sat on the ground in front of her, talking sweetly, assuring her that help was on the way. I wanted so badly to run my hands over her, to feel that newborn baby softness again. Even her tiny hooves were still soft and curled from the womb, not yet hardened by life on earth. I looked into her big brown eyes and she looked back at me, the first human she’d ever seen and it was love.
In my childhood fantasy, I find an orphaned foal and she’s mine and I’m hers, forever. I raise her by bottle, teach her everything I know about being a horse and she teaches me everything she knows about being a horse mother and the two of us grow up together. Now, 30 years old and tied to nothing but a couple of dogs and a Teardrop trailer, I’m glad to know her mom’s just down the road, hopefully eager for a reunion. Watching over this foal for a few minutes is as close to motherhood as I want to get.
When the rancher arrived, he looked her over, and told me he thought she’d be all right. The mare was still looking for her, hadn’t yet forgotten and hopefully they’d be happily reunited. He guessed the steep bank above the road might have been their undoing; if the mare gave birth up here, the baby may have been unable to follow her home. With that he picked her up, carried her down the bank and loaded her into his trailer.
As he was driving away, he leaned out the window of his truck and asked me, “Hey what’s your name?” I told him and he said, “It’s a filly. I’m going to name her after you. Thanks again.” I’ve never been so honored by anything in my life.
Dedicated to all the moms in my life: my mom and her mother, Meg and Meg, Amy and Lesly, Shumin and Reinhild. You ladies are amazing. Happy Mother’s Day!