The little girl saw him first.
A dirty, yellow little horse with knock knees and ribs
sticking out was standing dejectedly in the corner of the
"Dad- what's wrong with that horse?" She asked while
peering through the rails at him.
"Don't touch him, honey- you might get something- see how
his nose is running? He's got a lot of problems, and would
be better off dogmeat."
The horse did have a snotty nose. His eyes were half
closed, his ears were bedraggled, and carelessly lax. He
looked more tired than anything else.
Sally stole a quick pat on his fuzzy, goaty face. The horse
was so startled that his eyes widened, his head jerked up,
and he snorted. Succeeding in alarming them both, she
jerked her hand back, and looked around to find her dad
looking straight at her. "Honey, what did I tell you? We
can't help an animal like that. See? He's even crazy.
That's probably why he's in this pen. He wouldn't settle
down and obey someone. Now come on."
But the horse had settled down now, and his dark, curious
eye was focused on the family. He stretched out his muzzle
to smell the tall, lanky man with the stern face, and the
girl held her breath. He could hardly resist the dainty
muzzle. Risking whatever worries he had in his mind, the
man gently grasped the horse's mouth as countless others
had done, and tried to determine the horse's age.
"He's actually not so old- only barely seven or so, from
the way his tushes are just barely up- whaddya think,
Mandy was the family doctor of sorts. She, if anyone would
know how old the horse was, because she happened to be a
vet. "He's about five, dear- see, they're still bruising
the gums there. Also, he's only got a mild cold, a case of
worms, and he just needs to be fed." Mandi had a soft spot
for the underdog. She had taken in countless strays, nursed
abandoned animals at her clinic, and contributed relentless
hours arguing with Dale, her husband, about the alley cat
population around the restaurant he owned downtown.
"Daddy- see? Even Mom said he's not so bad- why can't we
use him for my 4-H project? His number's 222. Let's watch
him come through the ring!"
Hating to be the bad guy after the scene in the petshop
over the bright-eyed malamut pup earlier, he relented. "Ok,
gang- let's go get our seats. I need to bid on a jug of
that neatsfoot oil- it makes my shoes shine up so nice..."
The arena was dimly lit, and a nasty grey fog of cigarette
smoke hung in the still, hot air. Voices, some loud and
foul, others rationalizing a new halter or shiny saddle
added to the noisome cacophony of the whole auction
atmosphere. The family had acquired a jug of oil, three
pails for goatfeed, and a small halter for the foal that
Mandi had just helped rescue down at the HSUS farm. The
horses were just starting to come through.
The arena cleared of all the old men with canes, poking
into this trunk of tack here, that bucket of junk there. A
large sorrel darted in, unmanned, and his eyes were wide in
confusion, as if he didn't expect so many people to sit on
the other side of the door he'd just been goaded through.
The auctioneer's annoying voice rattled on, pushing his
price up from five hundred to fifteen hundred dollars,
solely on the wing and the prayer that his heritage might
prove him to be a winner in some show ring somewhere.
An appaloosa, a small pony, and an unruly black filly came
through, and the Wells family had just about worked up an
appetite for auction restaurant burgers and cokes, when the
door opened, and out came the shabby little sick horse.
DADDY, Dad, hey! There he is!! That's him!! see?
222, "right on his hip!!" the girl was sputtering. She was
out of her seat and pointing at the horse. Others around
smiled at her childish enthusiasm, and reminisced about
their first horse, and the circumstances about how they got
"Fiteen dollah for this fiiine an-ee-mule right hyah,
folks! Can I ha' fiteen dollah? c'mon, gimme fiteen
dollah", the auctioneer started, before he eased fluently
into Auctioneerish, the incoherent jumble of words that
excited the compulsive, repulsed the conservative.
"Dad, DO Something!! He's going to get killed for
dogmeat!!", Sally was up and tugging on his sleeve as the
pony stood dazedly in the center of the ring, totally
oblivious to the prods and waving arms of the handler.
Then, it happened. Maybe he heard her voice, now rising
above even the auctioneer's, very close to little girl
tears, or maybe it was her animated gesturing, or maybe it
was just that he happened to spot the glittery Western Gal
shirt her Grandma made her, that she wore to every "horse
function", as her mother called them, but it was there.
He raised his little head, just as she looked down at him.
Dark, wise, soulful eyes met youthful, pleading blue ones.
There was a tanigible sensation, a line drawn right in
between the two, that Dad could not mistake.
"I'll regret this..." he said, as he, as if under the same
spell that twined horse and girl together, raised his hand
at twenty five dollars.
It was achingly slow. The moment took forever. Sally was
oblivious to the crowd, the smoke. She didn't hear the
auctioneer, the other bidders- killers, she didn't see
anything, feel anything, know anything, but THAT moment-
those shiny black eyes, those ratty little ears, that goaty
little pony face.
"SOLD! One hunnerd fitty dollah to Mr. Wells. Suh, ye
gotter fahn hoss heyuh. Take this here halder, too- so you
kin load'im up"
Bought. For the first time, they both meant the same thing-
Sally had a HORSE!!!
"But DALE- we're not really "horse people, dear".. Mandi
wailed as they walked back to see their new prize.
Ugh, breaking ice in the winter, shoveling horse poop all
seasons, farrier bills, tack, broken bones, tack, riding
for once Mandi was the practical voice of reason. She had
helped her father raise horses as a girl back in
Massachusetts. The whole countryside was "horse people"
back then, and anyone who wasn't, wasn't much.
"Don't worry, honey- I can take the four-wheeler out of
that one old stall in the barn, my brother can make some
tack boxes, and you can see that the horse gets fixed up
and in good health. It'll be a family project, and Sally
here has a 4-H project now, to boot!"
But they knew NOTHING about horsedom. Nothing could prepare
the enthusiastic team for a life with a horse, Mandi knew.
They didn't know how to ride, how to tack a horse up, how
to make sure he had nutrition...
"Snowflake. His name's Snowflake, Mom!"- Sally had
interrupted Mandi's thoughts by reading the bill of sale
aloud. "He's a .. pa- pay, pah... what's that word?
What was that? "Dad, what's a Paso Fino? Is that one of
those horses they ride on the beach?" Sally asked.
"I don't know, hon. Sounds Italian or something. Snowflake
definately is an American name though" Dad replied,
arriving at the horse's pen first.
Somebody was already there, waiting for them, though. A
tall, haggard man who smelled like skoal and cheap after
shave smiled out from under his hat and said "Name's Slim.
Congratulations on buyin' this here Pace-O Feener. He's
built real good and can cover grou-" but Mandi had already
cut him a look, silencing him.
"He'll do no such thing. He's a starved bag of worms with a
cold. His coat hasn't even come in enough to keep him warm
this winter, and he needs shoes. What were you thinking?"
she railed on "You beat him into a drafty horse trailer,
and hoped to drag him through this auction and pound him
off on some softhearted suckers like my family, or the
killers, whoever had the fattest checkbook. Your kind
should be shot." she spat, and turned on her heels, jerking
up her purchases.
Sally slid the gate open and crept inside the smelly stall,
careful not to step in the nasty stuff with her Real
Leather boots she'd bought with her honor roll
money. "Mister, how come, if he's Italian, he has an
American name like Snowflake? He's not even white like
Slim laughed, and took a chaw from a can in his
pocket. "Honey, that's cause he was borned in the biggest
snowstorm of the year, and they fount 'im out in the
pasture, with all the other snowflakes blowin' around him.
He was a real fancy showhorse in his day- they gave him
some kinda fancy-soundin' name, I don' recall what."
"Well, how come he got so sad lookin'?" Sally asked, caught
up with visions of a bright, creamy-pale horse with
billowing mane and tail, soaring around an arena with a
neck ribbon of roses, the crowd cheering. She just couldn't
believe that this grubby little horse was ever anything
"Ah, he got too old, too slow to do anything for this big
ole farm. They had a ton o' ponies where he came from, so
they just got rid of 'im to make room for all the other
winners they had. I had too many horses to feed, so I
let 'im and that other old paint you saw tonight go cheap."
She returned to his knotted dark mane, his half-closed
eyes, and patted his cheek. Snowflake sighed and leaned
against her. "But he's only five-?" she queried, but Slim
was already gone, the halter made of knots in a single
strand of rope dangled on the gatelatch.
They had little trouble getting Snowflake into the borrowed
horse trailer. It was a big, open-style slantload horse
trailer, and their neighbor Jim hadn't found the horse he
was looking for tonight, so Snowflake rode the twenty
minutes by himself, nibbling on the fresh straw used for
It was past midnight when the truck slowed, and Snowflake
heard the crunch of gravel, instead of pavement under the
tires. A new scent caught his nostrils, and he
halfheartedly peered out of the sides of the trailer. In
the darkness, he could make out a brightly-lit, comfortable
brown house, but they stopped in front of a large, old barn
instead. Dogs barked, cats miaoed, and he heard what he
thought was some kind of honking bird. The door opened, and
Sally was beside him, untying his rope, leading him down
the "BigStep" out of the trailer, and carefully across the
crunchy gravel that aggravated his crumbling feet.
The inside of the barn smelled old, but it was well-lit,
and full of curious faces. All the barn cats had come out
to welcome the new visitor, and they flocked around
Snowflake's and the humans' legs, purring and announcing
their greetings. There was an old stall at the end that
seemed to have only been fixed up minutes ago. A breathless
boy emerged, his face streaked with dust and cobwebs atop
"I just put the fourwheeler around the side of the barn,
and put down a lot of those shavings Mom uses for the
rabbit hutches. I went next door and borrowed some alfalfa
from Jim's cattle, and - ah, I'm glad you bought some
buckets.. he needs water, right?"
Kevon was uncharacteristically thoughtful, Sally thought.
Normally, his good deeds barely exceeded not shaking
rainwater from tree branches if she was waiting under the
big oak for the school bus on Band Day. He went to the high
school just up the hill from her, and his friends often
teased her because she wore pigtails, even in the fifth
"Thanks, Kev..I'm so glad you were here to help out..."
Sally started, speechless, but Kevon had suddenly turned
into Pest again, wry smirk on his face.
"Where'd you get that bag of bones, Sally? Did you go
digging up graves or something?" he jeered, pointing at the
stark bones poking out from under Snowflake's dirty hide.
Once again, as all teenage boys have the tendency to do,
Kevon had been thinking that they'd bought a dapper little
prancing gelding, or a beautiful, fast mare, that he too
could ride, to impress Mary Jo, the neighbor girl with. He
had eagerly hung up the phone, put on a jacket, and lept
outside into the fray of spiders and dust and cats and dogs
to wrestle out the ATV and a few boxes of tools, thinking
that if he'd made a good impression, he might get to ride
the horse, even tomorrow.
He was almost heartbroken, though, to see the crusty,
ratty, ugly old horse totter off the trailer and stare at
him with dull, sleepy eyes. He felt a pang of sadness for
the poor creature, but then he realized- his buds might not
think of it the same way. Ah, but some day, some day, he'd
learn the true meaning of benevolence.
Sally flung her screeching, clawing self at him, howling
every nasty word she could as she scratched his face,
pummeled his shins, and staggered him back. Mom deftly
plucked the writhing girl off of him, however, before he
was bleeding too profusely. "Sally, why don't you make sure
Snowflake gets settled in, while I send Kevon in to make us
some hot chocolate?" Sally bit her lip, acquiesced, but not
before she trod on Kevon's shiny cowboy boots as she shoved
Finally, the lights were all off, save for one naked bulb
some ways above Snowflake's head, all the cats had seated
themselves on the rails of the stall, and one or two dogs
were outside keeping drowsy vigil over him. He had time to
assess his surroundings.
The barn was obviously very old. It was nothing like the
barns he'd seen before. Instead of stall after stall of
shining, prancing horses, all the other stalls had been
filled up with boxes of supplies and things for Mandi's
clinic and the animal shelter. The hallway didn't even have
any concrete or rubber mats, and the entire place didn't
have a single scent of horse. A dusty, but pleasant
countryside smell came in through the hallway though, from
The barn he had last been in was a tiny kind of shed that
he had to fight the cows for, at Slim's place. It smelled
musky, like cow and dung, and he never got to eat that
much, until the cows had licked the troughs clean. He had
gotten to nibble the scrappy meal left on the ground in
their rutted hooftracks.
He wandered over to sniff his hay. It was sweet smelling,
and stirred up old memories. The water was clean, and his
feet felt soft and snug inside the shavings on the ground.
He liked this place. Even when he lay down, a few cats came
and snuggled next to him, as much for warmth, as for
company. Finally, he stretched out and went to sleep, his
ears flicking at unseen things, his hooves sometimes
stirring to memories or dreams.
Uncharacteristically, Sally was the first one awake the
next morning. She sat up, stretched and yawned, and
suddenly became very awake. She had a HORSE outside
awaiting her!! She lept out of bed, pulled on her fuzzy
house slippers, and ran outside in her pajamas to see if it
indeed was a dream or not.
Snowflake had slept peacefully all night, for the first
time in many months. For once, his stomach didn't churn and
clench and ache. For once, the bedding was soft and dry,
smelling fresh, and not of stale urine. For once, he wasn't
ALONE- the gentle rumbly purr of the barncats had lulled
him to sleep.
When the first rays of the morning sun gently ran their
shining fingers through his tattered mane, and tickled his
eyes and ears, he stirred. His eyes opened a shade, he
stretched, and struggled up to his feet. He yawned, and
looked around. Many of the cats were already off on hunting
and pillaging forays, but some were just stretching their
backs and uncurling their claws in the morning sun.
Snowflake mimicked them, arching his back and stretching
his neck out felt good, but he stopped when he heard
Sally had brought a handful of Cheerios out, half for
herself, half for the new horse, taking extra care not to
spill any on the way. She shyly peered over the top of the
door, and her eyes lit up as if she were seeing a shining
show champion for the very first time- THERE was a HORSE in
Snowflake wasn't as enthusiastic. It wasn't that he was
upset or angry, but he was a tired little horse, and he'd
learned years ago not to put much faith in anything that
walked on two feet. However, when the little girl stretched
her hand out to pet his nose, and offered some of her
breakfast to him, he could hardly mistake that for a
welcome effort. He inched closer, lipped the goodies from
her hand, and ...
promptly spilled them onto the ground.
Sally's eyes opened wide in hurt and
astonishment. "Snowflake, why did you do that? I was just
trying to .. t- " She broke off and ran for the house
sniffling. Somehow, she was certain she'd breached some
human-to-horse taboo of greeting. She'd blown it. Her mom
was right, she WASN'T a horseperson.
The backdoor slammed and Mandi turned to offer Sally some
Brown N'Serve, but her smile lines ran together in a
crinkled frown as she saw the puffy red face of the
girl. "What's wrong? Did he bite you? Are you ok?" she
probed, almost expecting the worst.
"N-no.. he-h-he doesn't like meee!!" Sally sobbed as she
plunked down at the table. Everyone stared in an uncertain
silence before Mandi took over, "Oh, honey, now how do you
know that? He didn't try to hurt you, did he? Did he pin
back his ears?"
"No, but when I gave him some cereal, he spit it right back
out at me. He's starving, and he didn't even want to take a
bite from me..." She gushed, threatening to sob again.
Dad caught on then. "Didn't you say he had bad teeth last
night? Couldn't that be why he spit it out?" The wheels in
his mind were already turning- back to that unpleasant time
he'd had a root canal, and could only eat mashed potatoes
for a week. "Yep, that'd definately do it..." he shuddered.
They all journeyed through the backyard, interrupting the
dew-rainbows that had sprouted up to greet the new day and
possibly just to soak their pantlegs good and proper. Upon
reaching the barn, Sally pointed "Look! He's sticking his
head out!" but no sooner than she'd said that, his ears
swiveled, and his head disappeared. So did Sally's
smile. "See? He doesn't even want to SEE me.." her voice
threatened to crack, but her mother was there with
"Sally, you go to my truck and get that white bucket with
the long-handled tools with files on the end. Kevon, go
back to the house, get our bottle of Listerine and a large
pail of warm water. Hon, you put the halter on, and lead
Snowflake out. Be ready for some fireworks, as I don't know
how he's going to take this." Everyone marched off on their
respective tasks, and shortly reassembled in front of a
complacent Snowflake, dozing against Dale. Mandy took hold
of the goaty chin, and gently probed her hand into his
mouth, much to the pony's dislike. He promptly raised his
head, his eye widened, and his breath drew in surprisedly.
Sally was peering around her mother's side to see what it
was she was doing with her hand so far up in the horse's
mouth, when she was sent back by a foul, rank odor. "Phew-
what died up in his mouth, Mom?" Kevon, who was also
curious, but trying not to show it, couldn't be neglected a
minute more. "Yeah, it's like he farted out of the wrong
end!" he sniggered, only to be silenced when Snowflake
struck a front leg in the general vicinity of Kevon's
kneecap. Kevon jumped back with a muffled yelp, then
quickly covered, by arranging the buckets in a different
fashion. Snow was fussing, but Dale had a steady hand on
the shaggy neck. "Rub, don't pat. Never, ever pat," Mandi
said, "Rubbing is similar to the tongue-stroking a mother
does to comfort and groom a foal, but patting is almost
always associated with a reprimand, even if it's light."
"What's a reprimand, Dad?" Sally queried, stepping back.
Her mother had extracted her hand and Sally gasped to find
it clutching a bloody, blackened tooth! Wiping her brow,
and pushing a strand of hair back from her face, Mandi
replied "That's what you do to punish people. For example,
the person that let this horse get into such bad condition
needs to be reprimanded, or", she added as an
afterthought "That's what WE need, for sinking time and
money into this poor creature, when someone equally
softhearted- nay, softheaded- could have taken this
Went and fetched the mouth speculum from the truck, and
then the floating process begun. Mandi inserted the long
file into the horse's mouth, and began grinding the long,
misshapen molars down to the natural level of a healthy
horse. This wasn't easy, since he was squirming
uncomfortably, but she got the distinct impression that he
was trying his very hardest not to be a pest. His eyes
remained wide and white-ringed, but he didn't offer any
retaliation, only an occasional, muted "squeak". Finally,
Dale, Mandi, AND Snowflake were all drenched in sweat, and
the job was done. Mandi didn't commonly use Listerine on a
horse, but in his special health circumstances, a little
extra sterilization and germ-killing definately couldn't
hurt. She swabbed the nasty blue liquid into the hole where
his molar was, and along the gumline, top and bottom. When
she finally removed the speculum, Snowflake gratefully
lowered his head, curled his lips back, and made a special
assortment of facial contortions that clearly said "This
stuff is AWFUL! How do you people STAND this? OWW!!"
Snowflake was returned to his stall for water, a little
hay, and resting. The family went back in the house to
clean up before they went to town for possibly the most
exciting thing in the world- HORSE SUPPLY SHOPPING!!!
Sally chose her traditional uniform- jeans and a t-shirt
with some form or fashion of equidae on it, and stepped
into her tennis shoes. She plucked the wad of folded ones,
fives, and occasionally, tens, from the "secret hiding
place" her mother had accidentally stumbled upon when
looking for stray socks. Checking to make sure her hair was
neatly braided, she gave her reflection the satisfied,
knowing nod all horseowners give the mirror, and started
downstairs. Kevon had opted to stay home, because hanging
around in "some dirty horse store where all the ugly girls
and sweaty old men hung out" wasn't his idea of what
popular kids did on weekends.
Their first stop was the Farm and Fleet, where they bought
a new ne-o-prene padded halter (Sally thought that word
made it sound "futuristic"), matching purple lead, some
brushes, a hoofpick, and a bag of feed. The bag of feed was
purchased under her mother's discretion, because
Snowflake's delicate weight had to be brought back
gradually. On the other aisle, they found hoof creams,
first aid supplies, wormers, and all kinds of things that
Mandi had readily available to her in her office. They
rejoined with Dale at the counter where they paid for their
armload of purchases, and waited for the order of barbless
wire and horse panel to be brought and carefully stacked in
the back of the old Dually crewcab. A stop by the vet
clinic, a quick lunch at McDonald's, and they were back
home. They even brought a Big Mac back for Kevon, who was
mysteriously nowhere to be found. Sally was sent as "the
messenger" to announce their return, but she found him in
none of the usual haunts. He wasn't in his "Bat Cave" on
the internet, he wasn't in the living room watching TV. He
wasn't even busy painting mustaches and buck teeth over her
Backstreet Boys posters in her room.
They all went out to the barn, where Dale and Kevon were in
rapt conversation about something. Kevon kept gesturing in
a distinct stellar pattern, and it was soon evident what
the fuss was about as they drew within earshot. ".. like a
star or Swastika or something. I noticed it when he curled
his lip up, but..." he stopped when the other two
arrived. "What's this about Snowflake being part of a white
supremacist group, Dear?" Mandi quipped drily. Dale
answered, "Kevon was just telling me about a strange
birthmark or something on the inside of Snowflake's lip.
Did you see anything like that when you filed- er, ah..
fixed- um.. did his teeth?" he ended, grappling for the
proper term. Mandi was stumped. "Well, I didn't think to
look at his lip, let's have a look now. Sally, you can
break in that new halter of his."
Snowflake stood in the hall of the barn again, comfortably
settled into new cotton crossties they had strung with a
little effort. Mandi gently peeled his upper lip up, and
sure enough, there was what looked like an asterisk, black
against his pink lip. "Why, it looks like a star, or a..
Wait! It's a Snowflake! See how it branches out? That must
have been a brand or something. I wonder why they didn't
use a number, like other farms do?" she gently lowered his
lip, and patted his nose with a sort of respect. "Sorry
they did that to you boy, if you can stand up to pain like
that, you really ARE a brave little sucker."
Father and son drifted off to start fencing in the bush
hogged two acres behind the barn, and Mandi set to work
showing Sally how to brush a horse. "There's a lot more to
it than just running the bristles over the coat. See here,
how the hair makes this little swirl? Be careful over
things like that, and over the areas where his bones stick
out. A piece of silk can feel like stone if your hands are
harsh, but a piece of barbed wire can feel like cotton if
you know how to be gentle. Always brush with a whisking
motion, and along the grain of the hair. Try it now."
Sally carefully picked what she thought was a good brush to
start with. It was hot pink, and the teeth LOOKED very
large and menacing, but when she gently ran her hands over
them, she was surprised to find they were flexible and
gentle. As she stroked along his shoulder, Snowflake sighed
and leaned on one back foot. She found that he liked it
better when she used her other hand as a "warning"- gently
stroking the area the brush would follow next. Soon,
Snowflake was asleep, his eyes closed, ears lax, lip
Sally had brushed his mane and tail, and even applied some
hair conditioner to his long, thick hair. It seemed to want
to tangle so easily, and it wasn't grey, it was actually
tiny strands of black and white hair together. Much to her
alarm, when she sprayed the fly repellant on him, his coat
whitened. She risked one pat on his back. He wasn't
disturbed in the least, but a monstrous cloud of dust was!
It billowed up with horse dander and dead hair, leaving a
handprint of white! Sally ran for Mandy, who was carefully
drawing up a needle of some liquid.
"Mom! Come look! Snowflake isn't yellow, he's WHITE! he's
just filthy, like that old rug that Jessie used to sleep on
before he ran away." Mandi, smiling inwardly at
Sally's "new" discovery, recapped the needle, sat it next
to the menacing looking rubber hose, and followed her
daughter. Sure enough, there was the dusty little horse,
with various handprints on his sides and shoulders. Mandi
simply smiled, and told Sally to go get "the bath kit"- a
bucket with a sponge, a bottle of Baby Shampoo, and the
special brass nozzle used to massage, not pelt, the horse's
Sally got to soap up the horse's body, but Mandi finished
the legs and face, out of motherly concern. Snowflake
didn't seem to care what anyone did, except when they
doubled his long tail and put it in the bucket to swoosh
around. Mandi felt gently down the bony shank in the tail,
called the dock, and was surprised to find the end of it
grotesquely bent. At that same time, Snowflake sucked his
breath in, raised his head, and cocked a back foot. "Whoa,
easy, boy- I'm not hurting you-" Mandi started, easing the
bucket safely out of the way, and stepping to the horse's
side. She gently parted the hairs and felt as carefully as
she could. Her fingers felt a large, inch-wide indentation
about two inches from the end of the tail, on the bottom.
She stood, uncomprehending, and then her face clouded in
This was no accident. Someone had CUT this horse's tail to
make it bend the way that THEY thought was fashionable.
They had obviously done a very ugly job of it, too. The
show horses she had worked on all had oddly flexible tails
held at odd angles, but none showed any scars from it.
Someone tried to get a quick job done, and made a mistake.
When she calmly translated it into fifth-grader terms,
Sally was equally outraged, but focused on gently rinsing
the soap off the tail, and leaving it alone afterwards.
Time would cure this and many other wounds, still unseen.
Snowflake stood sparkling clean, minutes later. His ribs
stuck out so glaringly that he looked like a very poorly-
contrived furniture throw, where someone had attempted to
throw a sheet over maybe a pointy chair, or xylephone, or..
well, it made no difference. Starved was starved, any way
you looked at it. As Sally bent to clean a forehoof out,
she noticed his blackened tooth in the floor. She pocketed
it, and started on the hoof. As she plucked out accumulated
manure and dirt, a foul odor arose, and a blackish
substance leaked out. Mandi's veterinary nose had already
detected the familiar odor, and before Sally could whine,
she was already off to the house for a bottle of bleach.
Thrush was a nasty enemy to hoof tissue, but worse was the
abscess she found in the other hoof. While she was working
on the feet, she decided to give them a good trimming and
rasping. Finally, Snowflake was standing on presentable
feet- one wrapped in a diaper.
Snowflake was wormed, vaccinated, dried, and put into his
spanking-new pasture by the time Kevon started moaning
about supper. A long, tiresome day this had been, but when
they all stood to watch the newcomer drop to the ground and
roll in the deep grass, grunting as if he was getting a
massage at a spa, they all smiled.
Days slipped into weeks, and never before had the little
white horse been so relaxed and at ease. By nature, horses
were social, herd-bound animals, and given their choice of
flight from predatory animals, the solitary life didn't
suit them. They liked security in numbers. Snowflake was no
such horse. As he stood under the apple tree near the
Wells' backyard, he took an afternoon to remember. He
sighed, cocked a back leg, and let his mind wander back to
At Slim's farm, he had been tossed into a pen with dozens
of strange horses. At first, he'd tried to sniff noses and
introduce himself to some of the horses. He'd succeeded in
making a few friendships, but no sooner than he'd started
to really bond with someone, a human, or group of humans
would come by, lean on the rail, scratch their heads and
select his friend. Crying did no good, either. For days,
after Pete, a smallish brown foxtrotter gelding had gone,
Snowflake had ran up and down the fence, calling Pete's
name, sniffing the air for his scent, nuzzling the crusty
green halter that hung on the gatepost. Finally, he gave up
on him. A week after Pete left, a large, handsome black
gelding came in. His name was Lucifer, and from day one, he
made it very clear that he didn't like shabby little Paso
Finos. He lorded over the herd, wouldn't allow them to eat
until he had finished, but he railed at Snowflake the most.
He would wait until Snowflake lay down to wallow, and then
he would descend upon him with hooves and teeth, squealing
maliciously. Lucifer made Snowflake stand outside the shed
in rain and sleet, made him sleep in the nastiest part of
their waste spot, and when he wasn't paying attention,
Lucifer would sneak up on him, shoulder him down to the
ground, and laugh at him. Snowflake despised Lucifer.
The hulking black monster was Sarah Sue's Favorite Boy
though. Slim's daughter was a hoitytoity thing- strutting
around in her flashy clothes, picking only the biggest,
harshest, shiniest bit and bridle, the flashiest horse her
daddy had, and then ride that horse on trailrides until he
came back sweating, panting, and bleeding from the mouth.
Sarah Sue liked Lucifer because he fought her back. She
looked important as he reared and snorted and pranced
around, tail up like a plume. The boys would hang on the
fence, or ride their quarter horses behind her down the
road as if she were the Queen Mother.
Sarah Sue had once Chosen Snowflake, back at first. Back
when his neck still arched, his coat gleamed, and he
stepped out right smart. Sarah had loaded him down in an
expensive saddle and heavy bridle, lashed the reins across
his rump, and took off down the road to the trail to
Hanson's Lake, the spot where all the teenagers sat and
drank. Halfway down on the trail though, a whipping,
slithering motion, like a winding longe whip popper slid in
front of him. Thinking it was indeed going to lash at his
legs, he reared and struck out at the snake. Sarah Sue
lashed him atop the head with those metal-ended reins,
drawing blood from the top of his neck. He huffed and
stopped- completely taken aback. They proceeded to the lake
where a group of teenagers were sitting on a tailgate,
passing a very strange-looking cigarrette around. A tallish
blonde boy came swaggering up.
"So this is the best thing yer daddy's got fer ye to ride
nowadays? Y'all must hardly be eatin' if ye gotta sell THAT
pile o' sh-" but Sarah cut him off with a string of
expletives, and then straightened in the saddle. "Besides-
THIS horse can out gait all of those hammerheads your uncle
breeds, Kevon. Watch." She wheeled Snowflake and made to
take him down the narrow strip in the middle of the lake-
like all waterski places had. Hanson's Lake hadn't been
used for waterski sports for years- since those teenagers
stole the boat and a pair of skis... and drowned.
Snowflake had been down narrow strips of land before, but
never "over" water. It was disconcerting to see his
reflection on either side of him. He stopped in the middle,
curious about it, and sniffed at the water. Sarah Sue
jerked the reins, and the cathedral port with Silver
Conchos on the side punched into the roof of his mouth so
hard that a squeak of surprised pain escaped his lips. Her
Martha Josey Barrel Spurs dug into his sides until his ribs
felt as though they would crack, and of course, there came
those metal Poco reins, slicing into his flesh. The
curbchain kept his mouth from opening away from the
pressure. The water on either side kept him from wheeling,
and fright kept him from going forwards or backwards.
He went up.
He never thought he could rear so high. He had never WANTED
to rear so high, never had a reason to, but he did. So
high, that when he looked skyward, he saw the sun- and then
the crowd of teenagers... beHIND him?...
He fell backward hard, pinning Sarah Sue under that flashy
saddle, and the muffled crunch of her ribs jolted him back
to his senses. He tried to scramble, to recover and upright
himself, but Sarah was still clinging dumbly to the reins.
He lay there, panting and confused on his side, until Slim
arrived and cut the tack off him. Then, for "screwin' up
s'damn bad", Slim doubled his fist and punched Snowflake in
his tender nose. It was more than the scared, hurt little
horse could bear. Blackness engulfed him.
When he'd awoke, a circle of kids were sitting around him.
One was petting his face, the others were just crosslegged,
heads bowed. One girl was crying, and several boys who had
horses of their own were trying very hard not to. He raised
his blood-encrusted head just as a man in a blue uniform
arrived. His shirt had a shiny gold thing on it. He felt of
the horse's welts, took a few photos of him, and went to
his car to radio someone. Later, a vet arrived. He listened
to the horse's heart, smeared some strange-smelling yellow
grease in his wounds, and urged him up. He put a halter
made of knots on Snowflake's head, and a boy led him the
five miles to Slim's ranch. Snowflake had never noticed it
before, but it had a rancid smell, like carrion or..
Sarah Sue never so much as looked at him again, after her
ribs and arm healed. She almost seemed fearful of the
little dirty horse. Everyone else did, too. No longer was
he fed in his own bucket, as some of the Purtier Horses
were, but he had to eat with the ponies and goats in the
long trough. After a while, people forgot to leer at him
oddly, and by the time Lucifer came, nobody had time to
think much of anything about him. So many horses came and
went, his impression didn't leave much of a stamp afterall.
One day, as Lucifer was wading through a particularly boggy
part of their "pasture", he floundered, and surprisingly,
his hulking frame slapped the muddy ground. Immediately,
some evil force crept up inside Snowflake. Nobody could
have explained it if they'd seen it, and the horses all
kind of huddled in a circle and watched the sickening scene
Snowflake had been drowsing with his butt to a post when
he'd heard the grunt and the SMACK of the muddy ground
kissing the horse. Without rhyme or reason, he flattened
his ears, and lurched at the black horse, pawing and biting
and squealing as if Lucifer was a pony that had snatched
the last bit of good hay. Lucifer managed to stumble to his
feet, but he was already shocked and winded. He lowered his
head and hunched his back. Snowflake hissed through his
nostrils and slapped the ground in front of him with an
Not today. He wasn't a gelding. He wasn't a pony, DAMMIT,
he WAS A HORSE!!!!
He screamed a dreadful scream and tore into Lucifer, first
the knees, then the ankles, then the throat and chest.
Lucifer was at a complete disadvantage. His towering height
was all legs and neck. He had little substantial muscle,
and was very gangly when he wasn't in a stepping pace or
collected canter. Snowflake could dodge and dash and duck
while grabbing mouthfuls of black hair, and Lucifer could
only try to keep his legs out of Snowflakes teeth while
biting hopelessly at his back and neck.
Snowflake gave him a thorough trouncing. Lucifer was
hairless and bleeding from belly down before he gave up and
made a gallop to the end of the pasture, Snowflake
ragefully in hot pursuit. He would not let this hulking
black bully dominate him ever again. His Latin blood was
simmering, and he would burn it out- or burn himself out,
just proving he was All Male.
Lucifer finally managed to get up to the side of the
pasture where the house was. Slim came running out and was
so surprised at seeing Lucifer as the hunted, that
he dropped the beercan he'd just opened.
He grabbed the waterhose and sprayed them both until they
broke away, snorting and wriggling the water from their
Snowflake backed right into something, and when he turned
around, his life changed forever.
The new girl. The next runt, she was. His breath caught,
his ears went up, and his tail arched over his back. Before
him was... was... undescribable...
Cameo. The name played in and out of his head in horsespeak
like windsong through pines. He could only stand and allow
his eyes to drink her sight in.
Dainty, shortish black legs and hooves met golden forearms
and gaskins. A golden, well-muscled body and a slightly
rounded belly. A proud yet friendly arched neck met with a
rounded head with large black eyes. Her dainty ears had
black tips, and her black forelock started a stripe that
ran smack down her back and into her tail. Cameo was a
Snowflake stood speechless, disheveled, and winded. His
ears swiveled, and he clacked his teeth, not knowing what
else to say. Cameo stepped forward and nossed his nose-
offering First Breath. They sniffed noses, and Cameo
squealed the customary flirtatious "Oh, fiddledeedee"
squeal. Snowflake stamped the ground and snorted like a
dragon. He backed away, and offered The Dance.
Snowflake gaited shyly to the center. Snowflake began by
arching his neck and prancing in a circle around her. She
maintained proper courtesy by wheeling her rump to him,
acting indifferent. Snowflake pranced higher, and added a
few gallant kicks.
Cameo then turned, and flattened her ears in mock insult.
Snowflake apologized. They sniffed noses, and began sharing
a knot of hay on the ground. They were in Love. A
beautiful, mutual moment had been shared that muddy
overcast day. A happiness that would carry Snowflake
through many cold bleak winter months.
But, as everyone knows, all happiness is fleeting. Late
that winter, around the important human holiday, many
horses were taken to sale. In fact, all but Cameo,
Snowflake, a stout team of mules and some old half-arabs
were loaded into the large drafty trailer and never came
back. Late that night, however, the truck pulled up,
honked, and Sarah Sue opened the gate so they could unload
the horses inside.
Two painthorses staggered down the ramp in the frozen rain.
Cameo and Snowflake looked on from the comfort of their
spot in the shed, and immediately knew something was wrong.
The mules snorted in disgust, and the Arabs said something
about .. shipping some kind of fever? Snowflake didn't
catch that last part, but soon it would be all too clear
what they meant.
The two paint colts sniffed noses with everyone but the
arabians, who flounced to the end of the pasture and stayed
there. When they sheepishly greeted Snowflake, he noticed
their eyes were feverish, and when they coughed, a greenish
goop came from their noses. Cameo looked alarmed, but
greeted the poor children anyways. She had always wanted a
child, but had never carried to term. This one inside her,
Before the end of the year, things were definately wrong.
Cameo would be talking, and suddenly break off in a fit of
gagging coughs, or while they lay back to back at night,
her hide would go from shivering cold to boiling hot. The
life inside her was becoming more obvious too, and though
Snowflake was delighted, he was also deathly afraid that
Cameo had what all the others did. all but those blasted
Arabians. He himself had a slight cough and fever, but
nothing like Cameo.
One day, as they were standing by the fence awaiting the
grain, Cameo's breath caught. Her muscles gave a ripple,
and she groaned. She gnawed at her side, and then looked
excitedly at Snowflake- it was TIME!!
She whinnied an "I love you" to him as she almost pranced
off to the barn with Slim to have her foal.
All night, Snowflake waited outside the barn behind the big
shed. He could smell Cameo, and they rubbed noses through a
little crack almost eye level in the wall. He paced back
and forth when he finally heard her flop down, and smelled
the effluvium, but when he heard Slim bolt out
yelling "Dammit, we'll lose her, HONEY, call Doc Sams, tell
him to git 'ere QUICK", a cold fear stabbed at him- a stab
worse than spurs or whips. An hour went by, and he could
hear Cameo breathing raggedly. The vet came, he heard some
tugging and pushing, and "This one's breech." He could bear
no more. He tore around the side of the barn as fast as his
skinny carcass could take him. he reared and struck at the
door with his hooves, until it gave way, and ran to Cameo,
prostrate in the middle of some dusty straw. A black foal
was being dragged off to the side to feed to the pigs. He
screamed, and she answered weakly. Before anyone could stop
him, he strode up and nosed her. She tried to rise, but
fell back down. Then he felt a rope around his neck, and he
was yanked around and shooed out. Later that night, he
heard a shot.
His heart ached, and continued to ache. He didn't eat,
didn't sleep, messed on himself, and his insides turned to
stone. He wept for weeks. In the rain, in the snow, and in
time, finally, he stopped, but he always felt hollow. All
that spring, no other horse would approach him. Summer
crowd came in and out, and the foals started to taunt him
and pull on his ears and tail as he just stood there, his
feet curling up from lack of wear. Finally, that fall, he
sighed resignedly, and followed the half-arabs, a grey
quarter horse, and an Appaloosa mare onto the horse trailer
to auction. He stood there in the corner of that nasty pen
as he had at "home" so often, just hoping someone would
shoot him, until...
a round-faced girl with pigtails brushed his face.