You could see in his eyes the wild gallops of his past,
his lush mane streaming and his glorious tail wind-whipped in his wake.
Eight years in the wilds of Utah, a stallion, maybe with his own band,
maybe running in the bachelor herd, a life on the move—
grazing, finding water, rutting and running on stony ground.
But then his flight was thwarted. Capture, castration and servitude.
Scars on his dark russet hide, scars on his heart, a wariness filming his eyes.
I imagine a brutal breaking to the will of man, and then years of packing
their stuff deep into the mountains, trussed and hobbled.
Luckily, Lucky’s luck changed. A slight and tender woman and her daughter
decided they needed a mustang to round out their hearts, gentle to their hands,
rub and admire and fuss over, sing their love songs to, bandage and woo back
from sickness, and to leap upon in wild flights through the field, Lucky’s short legs
pumping through the long grasses, his long back cradling them both.
I missed all that and only know of it through Carol’s tales. By the time I met Lucky
he was an old man, sway backed and dull-coated, losing his teeth and graying.
But I saw how lucky Lucky was to come into another sweet time in his life,
to feel Carol’s gentle hands on his neck as together they faced the sunset.
I rode him only once, ever so briefly, during a wounded time
when I needed a steady old horse to help staunch my leaking confidence.
I knew him better later, from the ground, mixing his warm mash of senior feed,
watching him slurp and gum it with gusto, scratching the itchy places
along the dip of his spine, guiding him from corral to field and back again.
And my mare knew him, Esperanza the young and sassy, bossing Old Man Lucky
around, herding him in front of her with her ears laid back, and biting his butt
if he didn’t move fast enough. Carol said he needed another horse to tell him what for.
He didn’t mind that she was bitchy to him. He was smitten, and they were inseparable.
Esperanza has taken time every day this week to stand in the sandy spot by the fence
where Lucky last laid down, where he tried to rise but couldn’t lift himself further
than sitting on his haunches like a dog. That’s how I found him last Tuesday morning
bringing his breakfast. No telling how long he’d been down and how long he’d been
trying to rise. His breathing was already slow and ragged, his back legs played out.
Our favorite vet shot the euthanasia drug into Lucky’s vein, two shots it took
for Lucky to breathe out his last, and for his big head to finally slump down
on Carol’s lap and for his great heart to cease, her hands smoothing his graying hide
as she cooed her last love song and his spirit flew up from the husk of his body.
We cushioned his head and blanketed his body against the summer flies. All day Carol
kept vigil, even snuggling under the horse blanket as if napping with him, and then
Esperanza joined them, standing over them both, shooing the flies with her tail, lipping
the blanket and pushing it aside to snuffle Lucky’s fading scent as she waited for him to rise.
Esperanza is neighing into the sky, a full throated and plaintive bugling. I wonder if she
still sees Lucky’s last flight the way I did, hoisted into the air with a neighbor’s front end
loader, chains wrapped around his front and back legs, hanging upside down against a cobalt sky,
head thrown back, mane and tail flying in a strange swaying gallop. I wonder if she will
recognize the hollow in the field where we buried his body deep in the sandy earth. I wonder
if she realizes that we’ve saved enough room her to lie down next to him when her time comes.