Hard as diamonds, Fall sunlight poured over a headful of brown curls that reflected the light back in golden highlights. Similar highlights lightened the red of a gelding’s hide as he stood amongst the weeds and dirt of the roundpen. The young girl’s brown curls mingled with the gold of the gelding’s mane as the two watched events unfold.
Under the changing leaves of Fall, oak saplings and pine tree cones, two other horses stood watchful. Both sets of ears pointed northward, past bare earth and rocks, fallen leaves and rapidly browning Bermuda grass. The normal sounds of wind sighing through thinning tree boughs and chickens clucking calmly as they picked through piles of manure – spreading it out as they had done all summer – were interrupted by the cawing of indignant crows. A trailer idled just past the small arena. The elder likely knew what a trailer meant; the younger took her cues from him.
As the trailer maneuvered itself into position, the red gelding blew and stomped. The child at his side spoke softly, patting his neck for reassurance. Whether it was the gelding or the girl who received the most comfort mattered little. As events unfolded, both fought increasing anxiety.
The engine stopped and a rescuer stepped from the cab.
“They look a little thin,” she told the small dark woman, the owner, as she arrived at the paddock gate. The horses, reassured by her presence and the cessation of the trailer’s noisy engine, stepped slowly toward them.
“I know. It’s been a tough month.” This the owner said without defensiveness, but with a steady, straightforward demeanor.
The rescuer, a woman of short stature and even shorter, dark hair, nodded with understanding. “Yes, it’s common now. Too many people are hit hard in this economy. Their horses suffer for it.”
She hesitated, looking around the weed choked path between paddock and field, squinting against the harsh noon sunlight. The horse owner followed her glance, remembering a time when she’d been free to keep the weeds from choking out the sand of the arena, to keep the roundpen free of invading greenery and the paddock clear of stones. She looked to the child in the roundpen. She was watching, hoping that her favored friend was indeed safe from whatever awaited the two in the paddock.
“Yeah. That’s why we’re letting these two go. We just can’t feed them anymore. I have to work now just to keep the one we have left, not to mention food for the humans here.”
The other woman nodded again. “Are you sure you don’t want to let the other go too?”
The child heard the question, and shook her head rapidly, long hair flying so that her companion snorted.
The owner smiled in her direction, shaking her head in return. “We’ll just consider him another mouth to feed. I think we can, with the other two gone.”
The rescuer, also looking at the child, grinned. “I understand. Thanks again for donating these two – I’ll see that they go to good homes.”
Nodding, the owner looked to the horses arriving at the gate and flicked the power button on the box attached to the rail. The fence’s power down, she reached to pet the filly now poking her head over for attention.
“Which do you think we should load first?” the rescuer asked.
“Let’s put the gelding in first, the filly can follow.”
The two loaded both horses with no trouble, save for a slight hesitation from the filly, who looked back toward the child and red horse in the adjacent round pen. After a reassuring cluck, she stepped into the trailer behind her elder.
As soon as the doors closed behind them, the gelding inside uttered long, loud neighs. The red horse in the roundpen stepped away from the child and began trotting in circles around the pen, changing directions rapidly and stopping each time he reached the gate. Here he poked his head over for protracted answering neighs.
As the trailer pulled away, both horses within called repeatedly. They were heard all the way down the leaf and acorn studded drive. Crisp Fall air amplified their calls so that they could be heard far down the street now dressed in red, orange, and yellow leaves. Even when they passed out of earshot, the red gelding called for the better part of the next hour, and would stop and start again for days after. Over time, his calls took on a mournful sound.
He spoke for all.