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The Runaway Mustang

The Runaway Mustang

By Rohini Chandra

(C) 2019. All Written & Photographic Content by All Rights Reserved.

PART 1: the Race

Trumpets rang in triumph, as though celebrating the birth of sound while the sportsman settled himself. He sat on the saddle against the soft loin of his otherwise, unsettled mustang. Their thoughts were wildly asunder. This was about good versus evil, man versus beast, or was it man versus angel?

The horse could not imagine seeing another world, only the vision forward on a dirt path. The blinkers blocked his peripheral sight, a gift he considered heavenly in the wild. On a rainy day when the gravel becomes muck, our mustang remembers the feeling of soil against his calves, just as his mother would allow him to play. There was no course to follow then, just an open field.

Our mustang’s hooves wavered between freedom and triumph. A shrill gunshot unleashed him beyond his gate, bursting with fury, red as the gunpowder smoking from the referee’s pistol. He sprinted in circles without a destination, hurdling over fences as crowds cheered. One man, who wore a pure white suit, jibed with his knuckled fists at the hurdling horse. He was nicknamed “Diablo,” on the contrary to his attire. He had also placed the biggest bet against our hot-headed mustang and was known for winning, but not tonite. Our mustang’s long matted hair rose higher as he stampeded across the finish line. With flexing forearms and flaring nostrils, he slowed to the pace of the panning cameras, prancing as he would on the fields with victory. He was trained to show arrogance at the sight of cheering spectators.

During the night of the race, his jockey patted him in prized expectation, “That’s my boy! Never a day you’ll let me down.” Our mustang could not look into the jockey’s piercing black eyes, which were filled with the smoking glory of a golden trophy. That night, he would instead receive an extra pail of hay and a combing of his neck’s hair as rewards, assuming these were the requests of his victory lap.

Our mustang was deemed a hot blood since he was separated from his family and sold to the horse stable. Known for his great stamina and agility on the course, our mustang did not realize that his fury from this separation continued to chain him to the race. He only knew the agony in his heart and lungs were increasing as he raced more and more. Diablo, who betted against mustang, hoped an ultimate fate of many race horses would one day, surprise the jockey. There he appeared at the stable, puffing a cigar, to share his ill prophecy.

“You’ve got quite a specimen there,” he smiled at the jockey, “A set of calves that’ll keep running till I win.”

The jockey sharply replied, “Keep your money where your mouth is, Diablo, till you run out.”

Diablo’s mischievous grin inflamed the jockey’s will for victory from every race. The jockey had a reputation for the southern mulligrubs in the head. That night, he combed our mustang’s hair with more fervor. Mustang, who was recovering from the pain in his lungs, could tolerate the long edged strokes for a short time. His entire 1,400 pounds of flesh eventually jolted the jockey to the ground, who then quickly pulled a whip from his belt. The jockey pulled the horse’s bridle and jerked his girdle to control him. He then lashed at our mustang’s feral instincts in fearful defense and shouted, “Attention boy! Or else it’s the slaughter house for you!” Our mustang’s ears perched back and his gums and teeth exposed themselves through great agitation.

PART 2: Flashbacks

If only the jockey knew that a horse and human being feel the same pain. As he lay on the thick hay that night, our mustang’s longing for his family gradually eased the agony in his lungs after the race and from the lash of the jockey’s lasso. He remembered his mother, an endearing mare who tenderly nudged him towards standing on his four legs after he was born. Her patience was pure and made him strong while he took a few more struggle-some minutes to stand. A fierce mare, she bulwarked her foals till death while detecting the slightest sound, smell, or movement of a lurking predator in the near woods. They stayed within their turf, away from the spiraling windmills in the far distance where two-legged barbarians (or humans) drove four-wheeled motoring tractors. She would bow her head down to watch over the hilly panorama while her offspring remained virginal, untouched by the aggression from the outer world.

While his mother naturally defended their field’s kingdom, our mustang grew from a yearling to a gentle colt with a kind heart. While the other bachelors were busy running in packs, our mustang would nicker at one lady known as the Amber Filly. His tail would flap in joy at the sight of her in the far distance of the field. She was known as the daughter of the winds, who could fly without wings. Swiftly moving closer, bowing his head, they nuzzled each other.

At times, our mustang would fight playful battles with other stallions to protect his leading lady. While together drinking water from the pond, he once danced with bravado in the water, his head held high, as a show of his affection for his lady. The Amber Filly was not quite amused and walked away until one day she saw him finally resting on his four legs. Our mustang had given up his macho antics. She giggled inside and welcomed his newfound stillness. Her heart became his burrow, where he relaxed in trust, while they spent long summers together. These were the moments that kept the mustang alive after dashing the course’s circular grave.

Our mustang appreciated the ordinary days with all the other horses who grazed fields and scampered together. They enjoyed the mundane galloping until they were struck by the barbaric interruption of two helicopters - almost entranced by the sharp spinning wings of these monstrous machines like the windmills in the distance. Their mothers were no match for these flying beasts in the air. The helicopters edged closer, hovering over the ground, while the horses became horrified and lost in the funnel cloud of confusion and chaos. They were chased in packs through miles of the desert’s dust, exhausting them to their deepest core. The wild horses nevertheless fought back with great might - their hind legs reared in tumultuous hope of fending the flying beasts. They did not realize that they were being misled and herded into a dirt corral instead.

The horses swarmed in the dust of the corral like bees famished for honey. Closing gates and lassos pulled stallions from mares, foals from their mothers, lover from lover. Each one piercingly neighing as human's the hot iron rod branded a number on their hip and neck. Realizing the tragic partition, their heads bowed and comforted each other before they parted towards their destinies into smaller trailers. They knew that their hearts were too strong to be gelded- their will together would not give up though their bodies were separated.

The separation from his mother and Amber Filly, and the thought of his comrades being sold to kill-buyers still enraged our mustang. Their unknown fate was the seed to his fury as he awaited the trailer doors to open. The rays of sunlight blinded his eyes, which had become familiar with the darkness of uncertainty. A lasso caught his neck and he was thrust into a circular patch of dirt with three men, slim creatures whom he immediately repelled while rearing and neighing in fright. Days passed as he continually ran from the males in long circles, with no egress or escape. He understood they wanted him to behave a certain way, as they edged closer to gain his trust, but our mustang would not accept their kinder gestures as he spooked away from them. This is when he recognized his branding as a “hot-blood,” however he did not feel this way in the fields.

There were certainly the perks of disobedience for our clever mustang - extra meals of hay and warm water from the well. On the tenth day, however, our mustang finally stopped running in circles. He was tired. He lost track of what he was running from. The jockey found this as his perfect opportunity to tame the hot-blood, and made his way into the patch while warily moving closer. He was a foot away from a creature he once deemed a beast. The jockey pulled the horse’s neck and head against his own and began to latch the equine gear onto his new race horse. The mustang could not resist from letting the metallic taste of the saddle bit lock into the gap between his back teeth, as the jockey slyly stated, “Look at my boy champing at the bit.” There was no other choice for our mustang but to give into the jockey’s control.

PART 3: Freedom

The lash from the jockey’s whip awakened our mustang’s soul with all the memories and loss that it can bring. He sat against the hay for the remainder of the night as the feeling of peace rekindled within him from the thought of reuniting with his family. As water makes truce with fire, his family could only end the suffering from his resistance, fury, and pain on the circular racecourse.

In the daze of his yearning, our mustang’s eyes slumbered to close. Through the haze of his half-asleep eyes, however, he saw a two legged being appear at the corner of the stable’s entrance. He looked like an angel in a pure white suit under the fluorescent light. It was our righteous gambler, “Diablo,” who expectedly so, hunched with a joker’s grin. Diablo pulled a cigar from his suit’s inner pocket and lit a match. Except, he didn’t put the match out. He lit his own cigar and dropped the burning match onto the hay stacks at the corner of the stable’s entrance. Diablo disappeared like an apparition.

Our mustang may or may not have an understanding of God’s unforeseen ways, but marveled at the magnificent opportunity that would reveal itself in just seconds! A trail of fire immediately erupted like the tail of a firecracker waiting to burst. Our mustang quickly stood on his four legs and his nostrils flared at the miraculous sight of fire that was engulfing one of the entrances to the stable. All of the horses panicked as the fire began to spread to the other side. So they would, our mustang thought, they are thoroughbreds who are not used to the wild surprises. The other horses neighed and awakened the owners who could not enter through the inferno that was overtaking almost half the stable. Our mustang realized he did not have much time. Along with many of the horses, he bolted through the burning gate and dashed out of the other entrance.

At the very taste of the moist air, our mustang darted through the surrounding fields. A couple of stable workers came running towards him, but he spooked and nudged them to the ground with his heavy weight. Turning on a dime, this was the last time he would run the race course, except he would not run in circles. He hurdled right over the course’s wooden gate as his final victory lap. He had successfully escaped the stable.

At this point, there was no way the stable workers nor the jockey could find him in the far darkness of the night. Our mustang was long gone, fiercely galloping through a long field of tall reed grass beyond the stable, as the wind baptized him. Their training taught our mustang one useful lesson- only run forward and do not stop till your gut feels the ultimate relief of passing the finish line. Running his fastest speed ever, he finally made it through to the other side of the field, from where he continued galloping into the deep forest. There he would find respite and hide for the remainder of the night…

In the early morning, our mustang’s nose awoke to the sugar frost on the ground. He smelt the moist air without a spec of gravel in it. The oak tree branches hovered over his awakening body as his heartstrings were tugged by his newfound freedom. This might last for so long, he thought, surely the jockey is going to come and find me. He quickly rose to his four hooves and trotted even deeper into the woodland for miles. As he approached the edge of the forest, the greenest hillsides and boundless valleys warmly greeted him. Our mustang freely ran through the vast range for weeks, as his tall tail swished and matted hair flew with the clear wind. Just as his mother would allow him to be the boy he was, he fell to the ground, rubbing his back against the earth’s fur. While resting, our mustang’s eyes eventually lay sight on some wild horses grazing the grass in the lowlands below.

Our mustang gradually made his way into the deeper valley where he met with the pack of wild horses at a water hole. As he sipped water, the others realized he was a stranger to the group. A couple of the horses snorted in slight arrogance. Days continued as our mustang attempted to assimilate into the group in the hopes of camouflaging or protecting himself against any workers from the stable. However, the other bachelors would not quite accept his new entry. They were a bit intimidated by the mustang’s composed saunter of an aristocratic drum horse. This was a trait the feral ones would not acquire. They realized he had more knowledge of the world beyond their hills.

The next morning at the water hole, our mustang met with another bachelor who was ready to butt heads. Our mustang took two steps backwards realizing that a battle with a potential comrade was not his intention. His Amber Filly had taught him better. But he knew that this would be the way to prove his allegiance to the group. Both the horses stood 7 feet into the air on their hind legs, rearing to see who would prove their more dominating height. The surrounding spectators were inspired by the roughhouse. After pulling back to the ground, the two horses took turns sparring and head-butting. It was very clear that the bachelor was no match for the mustang’s agility, larger size, and robust spirit. The bachelor withdrew his efforts as the all the horses agreed our mustang had passed a great test of leadership. Our mustang had found a new folk and understood the power he held within. He would lead the cult of arrowheads- footloose, cavorting, and snow-gliding with his playmates along the fields for some time …

PART 4: Savior

For months, our mustang regained and enlivened his love for the wild. The free range and pasture were there for him to heal and to come back to the buoyant yearling he grew up as in the open fields. He was only missing his mother and Amber Filly at times when he realized that his pack was not his real family. He would look at the reflection of himself in the waterhole and realized that he was gradually becoming a man - a mare with wisdom and strength deep within his heart. He was exposed to and escaped the aggression of the outer world, which his mother so intently tried protecting him from. His free spirit would never be broken.

One day, our mustang decided to take a detour from his pack’s daily outing towards the upper valley where he had once stood. It was a place where his solitude would serve him peace. The mountaintop was the gateway to his recent freedom and the crossroads of his past and present. He stood there as his matte hair naturally flew with the wind and strolled back into the richly green forest. He walked along the stream where the water reflected the sunlight peaking through the leaves and freshly lustered on the mossy rocks. There was some unforeseen circumstance that our mustang could subtly feel pulling him towards.

Our mustang trotted over the large rocks along the stream into a wide riverbed. For the first time, he saw the wonderful site of a waterfall - the rapid water gushing through the rocky crevice some hundred feet above. The waterfall appeared as the forest’s pantheon - the walls that so naturally formed an arch from the earthquakes and wearing sediment. Our mustang’s hooves moved forward and touched the colorful pebbles in the clear water. How he longed to be with his family.

At the very edge of the riverbed, his eyes were surprised by a two legged creature- a human! The man’s presence gave our mustang such bittersweet pangs. Frozen in his spot, our mustang was alarmed and ready to defend himself with feral instincts. The man looked like he was praying on his two knees with his head hovering and swaying over his chest. Our mustang stood there observing him very intently after which his glare started to soften. Our horse could see from a safe distance that the man had a small blade in his hand, similar to the one the jockey would carry in his pocket. With his ears curiously perched - one forward and the other backward- our mustang could feel that the human was in trouble and so he walked closer.

Our mustang was huffing loudly behind the human being, who was softly crying under his breath with his head bowed down. The man turned around startled and embarrassed at the interruption of his most private meeting with death. He was at the brink of life with a bloody blade in his hand. The man was dressed in a khaki canvas suit, clearly showcasing a number of pins on his right pocket. Our mustang could gage that the man was saddened by a grave experience, though what would could possibly push him to this very moment under the waterfall?

The man whom our mustang was observing was an accomplished army veteran. He was a lieutenant general who served his naval team and was honorably discharged. Surely you know our mustang could never understand the terms of human war, however he felt the man’s desperation for escape to find peace. Mustang tapped his hoof and snorted. The army veteran became more befuddled and agitated by the slightest sound. It would only remind him of what he witnessed and the anguishing sounds of a diving plane and the kinetic projectiles of firearms. The only concern our mustang had was to check if the human was alive, and that he was- with a fresh and shallow scar on his neck.

“How in the living world did a horse get here?!,” screamed the lieutenant. The horse stared at him blankly with his nostrils flared and grunted. “This is absurd! Get away from me!” The horse moved closer to the man, as the man fearfully started to move backwards on his hind legs and palms. As the man pointed, our clever mustang tried to nibble at and bite his index finger. The lieutenant pulled back with alarmed eyes. The horse continued to breath heavily over him - a sign that the horse was warming up to him with a big heart.

The army veteran couldn’t move on his back and was forced to observe the overpowering and hulking size of our mustang. As you may know, our mustang hasn’t been looking his best since his racing days- unkempt like a young boy playing in the mud; the long matte hairs falling from his crest hadn’t been combed in months. The man saw the scars from lashes on the horse’s flank and the number branded on his stifle. The army veteran realized the horse might have run away, was intended for livestock breeding, or possibly racing. He eventually slid under the horse’s four legs and was able to stand. As the man walked, he revealed a limp and the horse followed him.

Still agitated, the army veteran tried shooing our mustang away, cursing and yelling about why he continued to live to meet a horse of all creatures. The horse reacted with a loud grunt in his teasing way and continued trotting at the veteran’s pace. “C’mon, go on now! Get on!,” the man continued waving his hands but our mustang did not obey. Our mustang knew that our man would not have leaving planet earth so easy. The man pulled a long tiny branch from the trees, and tried putting it around the horse as a noose made of the forest’s weed. Our mustang didn’t have it, but still followed. Finally, the veteran turned to him and yelled with the wells of his eyes filling with sorrow, “What do you want from me?!” The mustang stopped with a blank expression, for the first time seeing the sadness of a human being. The veteran realized that he had reached a brink and had no choice but to turn back and face life.

Our mustang accompanied the veteran to his ranch, a home that was missing a family. For the first time after war, our veteran felt a sudden peace. He had a new friend who would start to look after him as his new mate on the farm. Both horse and man had a reason to wake up in the morning, but man would take care of his horse first. Our mustang would never say no to the hair on his crest being combed and the warm baths. Our veteran never said no to riding the saddle on his new mustang. Oh how both were awakened by the wind rushing into their faces while riding! The veteran came to understand the horse’s immense agility in the long fields. It was a new sensation of freedom, that healed their traumatic sense of sound - from the rifle shot of the racecourse and the bombs blasting in the fields. The veteran came to understand the horse’s immense agility as a language of love and peace built between them. They were each other’s spirit guide or symbiotic comrades in adventure- rehabilitating together through the majestic nature around them.

PART 5: A Surprise

The veteran would ride the mustang in the fields encircling his ranch, but felt he was with a stranger at times. Great curiosity astonished him. Who was this mustang? Where did he come from? And how did he appear when he was just about to take his own life? The veteran was not one to believe in miracles, but in mathematics and probability. Given his experience in pinpointing targets with absolute accuracy in the war fields, he needed to research and find proof. The veteran started with capturing a few shots of his mustang galloping. He also wrote the number branded on the horse’s stifle on a piece of paper and neatly folded it into his shirt pocket to take to the nearby town center.

The veteran visited the nearby diner where many of the local ranchers met. He asked over a cup of coffee, “Say, do you know about a mustang on the loose?” With little investigation, the tall tale of this runaway mustang was revealed to the veteran. Surprised to learn that a legal search was continuing to find the horse, the veteran decided to stay hush about his awareness of his location. He was more bewildered by talk about the enormous bets placed on the horse and the abusive force used upon his 1,400 pound body. Our mustang was special, a prodigy of horses of some sort you can say. Fueled by more curiosity, the veteran continued to call auctioneers and the land management forces. There was much more to the mustang’s story than appeared.

After his week’s investigation, the veteran headed home. Peering at the ledge of his stable, he observed his friend, who was eating a large stack of hay, with deep admiration and compassion. They shared a great similarity of having endured aggression in their respective fields. Our mustang held his muzzle on the veteran’s right shoulder as they embraced each other. The veteran whispered, “I’m sorry, my boy,” as the horse’s eyes reflected the history of a champion. He continued, “You saved my life. I’m going to save yours.”

The next day, the veteran took our mustang out for the wildest run. They adventured through various terrain- darting through the rocky forests, the long fields of tall reed grass, and ambling over wide fences. As they neared home, our veteran reminded our mustang, “I’ve got a surprise for you.” From a distance, our mustang could see the mirage of two tractor trailers and a few more two legged beings waiting for them at the ranch. His nostrils opened and both his ears perched forward. A stupendous discovery took over our mustang’s body who reared in great joy. Through the haze of the blowing reed grasses, two mares made their way towards him. They were his mother and Amber Filly.

Both mares seemed lesser in weight and appeared nevertheless, strong and willful. The three horses pranced at the sight of each other as the veteran teared in elation while observing them. Our mustang beckoned his heart forward, with a sniff, and held his body backwards, but parallel to his amber filly. His mother trotted around them in the high meadow, as another appearance took him by surprise. Mustang realized that Amber Filly had brought their child with her. A yearling, half the size as his father, shyly made his way to the center amongst their entire family. Our mustang was overtaken by happiness and whinnied to his heart’s absolute content.

For the remainder of the day, the three adult horses bonded and learnt about each other’s experiences. The two mares were taken to stables, where they were laboring for the farm as they learnt their other family members may have met a worse fate. The family were therefore even more grateful for this day. As father and son shared a hay-net, the two mares snorted. Their reunion was all thanks to our veteran, who dialed a few numbers to reach the right people who would help. A couple of local sanctuaries had managed to find the members of the family and help the veteran to reunite them all on this day.

No helicopter or jockey could possibly interfere in the love that had taken over the veteran’s farm. The horses displayed such an adorable level of affection towards each other as they had missed their presence together for over a year. Our mustang was especially caught in reflection. He was a completely grown man who had charged through much gravel and ultimately triumphed for freedom. “This is my real family,” he thought, “and my sorrows are over.” Our mustang could only wait to share his great journey with his son. And just as all great stories about journeys should end- today, tomorrow, and forever will be for these horses…

(C) 2019. All Written & Photographic Content by All Rights Reserved.

Some Behind the scenes of me finding inspiration for this story- thank you for your help.

Meet Esta- Owner of the Saffyre Sanctuary @saffyresanctuary

Myself- touching a horse for the first time - Horses have such great presence that makes you a bit scared at first... but they're filled with love.

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