What fun! I galloped down the slope, near the river. My best friend, Amarganth, the red colt, was already splashing in the cool water. I’ve known Amarganth since I was a newborn foal. Mother, Father, Amarganth, my sisters Mom and Embrea, and my cousin Exanthion all belong to the same herd of wild horses. The prairie sun was hot, so I joined Amarganth in the cool river. “Ginger,” whinnied Amarganth, “I wonder what the world is really like.”
“Why, Amarganth! Can’t you see the prairie and the river? Surely that is the world!” I neighed.
“Mother has told me stories of faraway lands,” said Amarganth.
Two of the herd’s leader stallions came to drive us back to our mothers. It had been a nice day. Tomorrow I planned to race Exanthion. I sighed and went to sleep, next to my mother’s side.
Next day Mother woke me up with a sharp nudge. She shoved me up, and I was surprised to see the rest of the herd galloping away, like the wind. Thinking this was a game, I galloped too. But from the warning neighs of the leader stallions, I knew that danger was coming. A swift lion bounded after us. I was getting tired. The lion’s sharp eyes looked around the herd, and spotted me. I was the last horse, plus I was only half-grown. My mother tried to hurry me, when I slowed to a canter. The lion focused on me, and came sprinting toward me. I gave a whinny of shock when I felt the lion’s claw scrape across my back. Luckily I was able to run fast enough to catch up with the herd. But that lion stayed in my dreams for weeks.
Some time later I was a full-grown chestnut mare. I was quiet and sedate enough, but I still had a way of turning up my tail, rearing, and galloping away at full speed. I was a little distance away from the herd when it happened. I saw something I had never seen before. It looked like a big green box on wheels. Later I learned it was a truck. It came closer and closer to me. I tried to run, but it came too fast. Something hit me, and that was all I remember until I woke up.
I was on board a ship, going to Maine, far away from my African homelands. To get me on board, strong straps were tied onto me, and I was lifted up off my feet. It was very unpleasant. Then I was kept in a cramped, tight stall with other wild horses. I often whinnied to them, but they were scared stiff, as though paralyzed with fear.
The ship finally came to land, and I was lifted off the ship. But then a man shoved me into the back of a large truck, which I learned was a horse trailer. I had to ride around in it for some time, but then the doors opened onto a fenced place, with three other horses inside it, all old palominos. I was shoved out into that place. All I could do was gallop a few yards up, and a few yards back. I kicked at the fence, and tried to jump over it. It was too high. Suddenly, I felt hungry. So I grazed along with the other horses on the lush, crisp grass.
Three men came, with a strange-looking kind of rope thing. They came running after me. I was frightened, so I neighed, held up my tail, and galloped away at full speed. But the little grassy yard was too small. I was cornered. One of the men held my neck, the second held my head, and the third fitted the rope thing around my head. It felt terrible to have a cold piece of hard metal pushed over my tongue. For many days I lived in fear that I would swallow it when I ate or drank. But I soon found out that the leather straps around my head held it in place, so there was no possible way to get the metal (which is properly called a bit) out of my mouth. I learned the leather straps were a bridle. I had to grow used to lots of things: a saddle, a halter, a harness, and a cart being dragged behind me.
I was soon tamed by coaxing, and wheedling, and good food, and an airy stable. What more could I want? Freedom! Of course my groom sometimes let me out in the cow pasture or the fenced meadow. But an African wild horse still has her spirit, even if she is tamed. I knew I should be grateful for the good food and stable, but no. I got into a habit of bucking and rearing and kicking. My master tried to tame me more. “Be good, Joy,” he kept saying. I wanted to tell him my name was Ginger, but he didn’t understand. I gave him a good kick, and that was the last straw. I was sold.
I was sold to a riding school. And I was made to carry child after child after child on my back. Some were shy, some were gentle, but most felt as if a horse is a truck, and can go on as fast and as long as the rider likes. The instructors called me different things. Brownie, Babe, Minto, Beauty, Patty, Cookie, Misty, Susan, Skippy, Willow, Penelope, Rosemary, and Sally were just a few. Some riders didn’t even know I was a mare! They called me Hector, and Eric, and other such things. I got irritated and aggravated, and started rearing and bucking. So I was shut up in a hot stall, day after day, making me angry and upset. I stamped and fretted. But one day a man came to look over all the horses and ride them in turn. He rode all the palominos, pinto ponies, Shetland ponies, Morgans, Arabians, Western mustangs, and Clydesdales. When he came to me, the groom said, “You want to be careful with that one. She’s a wild mare from Africa.”
The man got on my back and rode me at a walk, then a trot, then a canter, then a gallop. We bounded across the pasture and back. “This horse is clearly a racehorse!” the man said to my master. And again, I was sold.
I went to a big, airy stable, with a big stall and healthy food. Outside was a big field with hedges and pools and obstacles. I tried talking to the horses in the stalls next to me. One was a slender, lean, black stallion with a white star on his forehead. His name, I learned, was Ebony Star. The other was a flashy, white mare named Moonlight. Both were very stuck-up. Ebony Star thought that the best thing in the world was winning a race. Moonlight said the best thing in the world was getting her mane braided. They don’t know how wonderful it is to gallop across miles of grass stretching far into the distance. Or to bathe in the cool river on a very hot day. Or to watch the sunrise, which shines on the river, and fills the lands with blazing sunlight. Or to listen to the grass, bowing and rustling and whispering before the breeze. Or to look up at the sky, which stretches like a blue carpet. They don’t know. They never will. They’ve been born in captivity, and have never known freedom, and liberty, and a wild horse’s spirit, which can’t be trapped in any stall, or field. While my body is stuck in this stall, listening to the boasting and bragging of Ebony Star and Moonlight, my mind is grazing in the sunlight on the African plains, and galloping through the cool waters of the river.
One day me and Moonlight were let outside in a small yard. I learned that she had been a show horse, and she bragged and boasted and strutted around. I told her about the lion and Amarganth, my sisters, Exanthion, and how I was captured. “You wild horses are so . . . disgusting!” said Moonlight. She said “wild horses” as someone might say the word “manure.” She kept on throwing out dark hints about what she thought made me such an unsatisfactory horse. When she said that my mother was a hag, I couldn’t bear it any longer. I reared up and we started a fight. I kicked at her, but she defended herself with her hoof. She aimed a blow at my head, but I bucked, with my head between my forelegs. She tried to pound me down with her hooves, but I reared up, swishing my tail like a whiplash. Then we both reared up and tried to pound each other with our front hooves. But Moonlight had not had the experience that I had, when Exanthion and me started fights. I gave her a hard kick in the ribs, and would have gone on, but our masters came back and separated us.
Next day my new master, Jack Manly, took me out. He put a saddle and bridle on me. Then he brought me to the big field with all the obstacles. He mounted me and started me off at a gallop. I tore down the track and cleared bushes, and pools, and fences. Jack made me go around the track seven times, all at full speed. Then he gave me a good grooming and some oats and shut me up in my stall, where I tried to ignore Ebony Star, who was telling a very boring story for the forty-seventh time.
Jack practiced with me on the field every day. Finally he mounted me and walked me over to a line of other horses, side by side. A whistle blew, and every horse was off!
I galloped too, clearing hedges behind everyone else. Jack took his riding whip out of his belt, and I felt a searing pain go through my back. I knew perfectly well it was Jack’s whip, but in my mind I pictured myself scared, tired, and running as fast as I could, with the lion close behind me. I again felt the lion’s claw on my back as the whip struck me. I forced my body to gallop. Front left hoof, front right hoof, back hooves together. I repeated this in my head over and over again as my hooves churned. I soared over the bushes like a bird, and jumped over the water without getting my legs wet. I was moving up toward the front of the horses. Mother always told me that the safest place, when a herd is being chased by predators, is the middle. At the back you are usually killed, but at the front you are vulnerable and alone. In the middle you are protected by the leader stallions, who gallop around the sides. But this time I felt an urge to be galloping across the African plains. I ran past the other horses, and leaped into the front, where I passed Ebony Star. He looked bewildered and tried to run faster, but had to slacken his pace in order not to be kicked by my flailing hooves. The whip was now in Jack’s belt. I crossed a white line of grass in the field of green, and suddenly there was an explosion of clapping and cheers. I had won the horse race when I thought I was escaping a lion! Ebony Star looked quiet and sullen, and Moonlight sulked and pouted.
After I had won the horse race, I was sold to a group of men who made natural geographical wildlife videos. They were filming wild horses, and I was to be brought to Africa and filmed running over the plains. I was again put on a ship, and when I stepped off I smelled the wild African air. The director thought I was much more tame than I really was. Finally the cameramen went into a small car. I was to be pulling a tiny cart, which would be edited out. A man went into the cart, and my legs were tied down while everyone got organized. I wanted to be free! I wanted to roll and jump and run and graze. I stamped and pulled. Finally, I twisted my feet around more, and jerked. Then I put my teeth to work. I chewed through the ones on my front legs. Then I stamped the ones on my back legs until they broke. The man in the cart rushed to my head and tried to stop me, but I knocked his head away with a savage blow. I took to my heels, and I was free!
I trotted and walked and cooled off in the river I remembered so well. I lay down and rested. I galloped and stretched my head, and looked at the huge sky. At last I could feel the warm air and the sweet breezes. And hear the grass rustling and the river flowing. I could taste the lush grass, and the crisp wildflowers. “Of course there are lions, and I could get sick . . .” I told myself, sternly. But then, I stopped. After you’ve made a strike for liberty is no time for worries.