Excerpt from Chapter 1:
“We’d better call Dad,” Lily said, “just to make sure everything’s all right.” My daughter Lily and I were headed for a gospel concert. We were already in the spirit, clapping and laughing as we drove through the twilight in our lovely valley.
I pulled out my cell phone and dialed home. Things weren’t all right––I could tell the instant I heard Barry’s voice.
“I need you,” he said. “Rosie had her baby. He’s early. He can’t stand up. I need help.”
“We’ll be right there.” We whipped the car around, all thoughts gospel and joy gone.
We had bred horses for almost twenty years. We knew that baby horses need all the time they can get inside their mommies. A baby horse that’s born just two weeks early probably won’t make it. His little lungs may not be able to give him the air that he needs. He’ll be too weak to stand or nurse.
Rosie’s baby was ten days early. He could die.
The little horse came so fast that Barry didn’t have time to catch Rosie and put her in a warm stall. She was in the pasture where she’d lived with Avispa, another mare who was expecting a baby. (Avispa name means “bumblebee” in Spanish.) The mares were best friends.
Avispa had never seen a baby horse. She was curious and excited. She wanted to take a look. Avispa moved closer to the new baby, her ears pricked forward. She nickered to the foal.
Avispa wanted to see the baby.
“Who are you? What’s your name?” she said in horse talk.
The closer Avispa got to the baby, the angrier Rosie became. She ran at Avispa and then dashed back to her baby. She did it again and again. Rosie was so angry at the other horse that she almost stepped on her foal. She thought her friend was going to hurt her little one, but she was the danger.
“Help me, Lily! Let’s get Avispa out of here,” Barry shouted. The two of them caught Avispa and put her somewhere safe where Rosie couldn’t see her.
We turned to the new mama and the tiny shape laying in the grass.
“He’s a boy,” Barry called. The foal moved, but just barely. He couldn’t stand; he could hardly raise his head. He was a pale beige little thing with a black mane and tail. A buckskin. We could see that he was a beauty, even lying down in the almost dark.
Rosie and Barry had been friends for years. Not any more! Rosie pinned her ears back and charged him. Her teeth snapped. She spun around to kick.
Barry jumped away. Rosie wouldn’t let him close. The more he tried to help the baby stand, the more upset she got. She didn’t watch for her baby and she didn’t notice where she put her hooves.
Chasing Barry, she accidentally stepped on her foal. She didn’t step on him enough to hurt him, but it was hard enough that we knew Rosie might kill her baby if we stayed.
Lily and I left the field and stood outside, watching. Rosie guarded her foal, pacing restlessly, looking as though she’d try to kill us if we came in again.
Rosie Guarded her Foal
The pasture was a green meadow studded with oak trees whose trunks were wider than my arms could reach. They arched high overhead, home to birds and squirrels. The meadow was a beautiful home for two fine mares, but it was so cold that night. The wind shook the trees and we buttoned our coats.
It was May. Why was it so cold? Southern California isn’t cold in May. Our breath formed puffs in front of us. We could see it in the evening light.
Barry stood near Rosie. The baby horse lay on his side, raising his head from time to time, trying to pull himself on to his tummy so he could try to stand up. He couldn’t.
We knew how bad things were from our years of raising other horses. The baby needed to stand and drink his mother’s milk. Human children have shots to protect them from getting sick, but baby horses get their protection from their mother’s first milk. That milk gives them what they need to stay well until they’re big enough to have shots like children and bigger horses.
If a baby horse doesn’t get that first milk, it can get very sick. Rosie stood glaring at us. She put back her ears and showed us her teeth. She turned and lifted her back feet as though she was going to kick us.
How was the baby going to get the milk he needed? How was he going to stand up?
How was he going to live through the cold night? It was supposed to get down to thirty degrees that night––that’s freezing.