By Bob Skelding
Written exclusively for
Beth Sautter, Horsewoman
Copyright August, 2008 by Beth Sautter, all rights reserved.
In the early, still hours of the morning, just before the dew fell, the old gray mare sensed her time was near. Turning away from the herd, she moved off towards the corner of the pasture, her nose to the ground as if searching for a place to roll. Climbing to the top of a small knoll, she paused as her sides heaved and pain racked through her body. Cresting the top of the hill, she dropped onto her chest, awaiting her time.
During the next hour, pain caused her to alternately rise and lay as her cervix stretched, opening a path to the outside world for the foal within her. The eastern sky glowed pink with the promise of a new day when the dark blue sack first appeared. The front hooves and head passed easily into the world, but the large withers refused to clear the crown of the cervical opening. Three times the mare bore down with all the strength of her abdominal muscles. Each time the pain coursed through her body, but the foal refused to budge. Rising to her feet, she gave a final heave with everything her body had to bear. Slowly the bulge behind her began to grow, seemingly reaching for the ground at her feet. As the sack fell to the ground, she swung her hind quarters to the side, the umbilical cord separating, leaving her with a long blue cord, still attached to the placenta in her womb.
The pain and discomfort of the delivery were forgotten as the gray turned her attention to the newly delivered foal. Gently she tore at the surrounding sack. Her tongue and muzzle triggered a reflex within the colt and he gasped his first breath. As the mare continued to clean the colt, his feeble kicks strengthened, finally allowing him to roll over on to his chest, large eyes squinting at the bright light of the new day.
Less then a half hour after arriving in the world, his dark coat already drying, the colt stood on four wobbly legs for the first time. Shortly thereafter, the colt found the mare’s teat and drank deeply. Each gulp of the rich, creamy colostrum added strength to his legs and purpose to his suck.
Two hours later, the gray, now free of placenta, rejoined the large herd of broodmares, the colt seemingly glued to her side. Protective of her newborn, the position of her interposing body and laid back ears, signaled her desire for the other mares to not approach to closely. In spite of this, each herd member managed, in the next few hours to catch and remember the scent of the newborn.
A week later, a couple of strange, two legged horses came to observe the herd. As they approached, the small cluster of newborn foals left their play and hurried to their mothers’ side. The watchers remained still and the mares seemed unconcerned, so the foals soon resumed their play.
The older woman turned to the younger, beautiful woman with the auburn hair and said, “Look at Lady Gray’s foal. Isn’t he the most gorgeous colt you’ve ever seen?”
“He sure is something. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such long legs”, she replied as the colt began to dance around his older playmates. “Do you think he’s going to be a gray?”
“No doubt about it”, the older woman said as the group of colts streaked off to one side, prancing and bucking.
Suddenly, Lady Gray’s colt broke from the group and began running at full speed for the group of mares. Flying towards a bay mare lying on her chest, he gathered himself at the last moment and soared completely over the startled mare. He could almost be heard to laugh as he recovered his landing, did a couple of crow hops and ran off to rejoin his playmates.
“My god, what a leap, what a leaper”, gasped the younger woman.
“That’s your new champion”, said the older woman. “Mark my words, you’ll take him to the Olympics one day”.
The next few years seemed to fly by for both Leaper and his partner with the auburn hair. Each day was a day of growth and learning. Leaper moved easily from the halter to the round pen. When the woman first sat on his back, he looked back at her and seemed to say, ‘It’s about time. Can we get going now?’ He learned how to control his gait and carefully gather himself before each jump. He mastered how to quickly recover his pace on landing and prepare himself for the next obstacle. There was however, one thing that Leaper never had to learn, and that was how to jump.
When Leaper took his last stride before an obstacle, his front legs came off the ground like coiled spring, reaching up and over the jump as the tremendous force of his hindquarters launched him over any barrier. In all the time she jumped him, he never waivered or balked at a jump. No jump was too high or too long. This fact scared the woman. She didn’t know what he could not do. More importantly, she realized, Leaper didn’t know what he couldn’t do.
The road to the Olympics was a long one, full of travel and competition. Now part of the US Equestrian Team, Leaper and his partner waited for their turn in the final competition. As long as Leaper completed the round with few faults, the US was assured of a bronze medal. No one had yet completed the difficult course without faults, but the German rider had had almost certainly clinched the gold medal with the best performance of the day.
Waiting her turn, the auburn haired woman sat quietly on Leaper while the New Zealand rider spun her mount between obstacles. A commotion in the stands in front of her caused the woman to glance up just as a bearded man, carrying a large white sign leapt from the stands and started crazily across the field towards them. Shying away from the strange sight, Leaper backed into a line of folding metal chairs, placed their for the ground keepers. Stepping through a chair, Leaper momentarily panicked as he tried to rid himself of the ensnaring obstacle, finally freeing himself with a sideways jump.
The woman was only partially aware of the police leading away the deranged man, her concern primarily for her mount. At first she thought Leaper had come through the ordeal without injury, until she noticed the bright streak of blood running down the inside of his hock. The next few minutes were a blur, as she dismounted and trainers and teammates came to her assistance. She remembered a man with a Scottish accent and a shirt printed with the word ‘veterinarian’ saying, “I’m afraid you’re going to have to sit this one out, Lassie. That’s a pretty deep cut”, he said, point to a three inch gouge above Leaper’s hock.
Looking up at Leaper, he had the same look on his face she saw when she sat in his saddle for the first time – ‘Can we get going now?’
“Can’t you patch him up for my ride?” she suddenly asked.
“I might be able to close it with some butterflies”, he said. “But you know the rules - I can’t be using any drugs”.
Ten minutes later, the injury expertly closed and covered with vet wrap, Leaper was at the starting gate, ready to a go. She hesitated for a moment when she felt a quiver run down his flank. At first she thought it was the pain from his injury, but then she realized it was only excitement. Leaper was quivering with anticipation at doing what he loved above all else in this world – he was going leap over everything that got in his path!
With a slackening of rein pressure Leaper burst threw the gate and started his run with a measured, quick canter towards the first jump. The women’s concern began to abate when he sailed expertly over the rails. A quick turn to the right and a dozen ground eating strides and he was before, then over the second obstacles, double six foot walls, a short distance apart.
Normally quiet, a murmur of excitement ran through the crowd as Leaper and his mount skillfully ran through the course. Passing the halfway point, a man was heard to say, “Look at the time. They’re five seconds off the best time for the day!”
Sensing the growing excitement, Leaper’s pace seemed to quicken, his jumps were higher, his recovery faster.
Recovering from the second to the last jump, the woman glanced under her arm to see a bright red streak pouring down Leaper’s leg. Her concern for her mount instantly outweighed her desire to win and she hauled back on the reins.
Ignoring her command to stop, the big gray horse grabbed the bit in his teeth and sped off towards the last obstacle, a wicked triple that required a partial turn between the second and third jumps. Seeing that he wasn’t going to stop, the rider leaned forward in the saddle and said, “Do it Leaper”.
Flawlessly, he cleared each obstacle. Pivoting on his forequarters, he sprinted towards and through the finish line. Steering her mount directly to the veterinarian, she impatiently awaited his diagnosis. “He’s going to be alright lass.”
Just then, the announcer said, “Winner of the gold medal with a new course record, is team USA”.
Somehow the woman failed to hear the announcement. Her mind was in a far away pasture, filled with the sight of a long legged colt sailing over a bay mare.