I am Jane. I am not a significant figure in this story, but I am the only one who can tell it. I am a voice for a creature who didn't have one. His name was Max.
I remember the first day I saw him as if it were yesterday. The sun beat down hot that August day as my mother and I drove the distance from our house to the small dilapidated "house" in the woods of our small town. The sight of broken down cars and the rusting travel trailer made me blush with embarrassment. How did I end up working in such a place? I suppose it was my love of horses that drove me to take the first job that presented itself. It helped that as payment I got a horse out of it. That was the summer I spent working my butt off clearing a small sand pit and building a fence.
It had been several weeks since finishing the fence and 3 of the 5 horses that would end up here were all settled in. As we got out of the car two of the three horses came running to the fence nickering.
"Go ahead I've got to give something to Marge." My mom said to me, heading up the garbage strewn and rickety stairs that led to a large porch which was also covered in bags of garbage flowing over the sides like a river of paper and alcohol bottles. I turned away from the porch and went smiling into the poorly built paddock. I picked up a lead rope that was wrapped around a weak looking sapling in the pasture. The largest and most pushy of the three horses was already following me around pushing his large head into my hip looking for a treat.
"Get outta here you silly horse." I said, pushing his white streaked head away from me. His name was Prince and he lived up to his name. His fine head and slender legs were the text book of a Tennessee Walker. He simply swung his head back around and lipped the sleeve of my tee shirt. I retaliated by grabbing his halter and clipping the lead to it. As I led him over to the one part of the fence that was not electric and tied him in a loose quick release. I turned my attention to the other horse, like his brother Blaze was big headed and overly friendly. Though he was stocky and big backed, unlike his brother. He was part quarter horse and it showed. He eagerly accepted the halter and led easily being tied next to his brother. I admired the two horses standing side by side. While Blaze was the shorter of the two he was strong and willing while Prince was stubborn and had a wild side. They both had a deep bay coat that shined in the afternoon sun, Blazes a darker shade. Patting both horses on the flank and walking between them I turned my attention to the horse I liked least though felt a strange draw too. The palomino mare stood solitary at the top of the ridge that the fence was built upon, looking down at me as if to say "I dare you."
She was the only horse that constantly had a halter on because she was so hard to catch. Little did I know that is would be my first horse, that I still have today. My concentration on the mare called Awesome was broken as the sound of a trailer bumping down the road startled me. I watched curiously as the half rusted out trailer parked along the road, the sounds of an impatient horse stomping could be heard. A scrawny looking guy with a stained shirt and tousled hair got out of the beat up truck. He spit his chew on the ground and walked around the trailer. He slammed his hand against it laughing slightly as the horse inside shied and skited around the trailer more. He then proceeded to the house, leering at me as he passed the paddock. I merely turned away to catch the palomino. She was surprisingly easy to catch that day, for her curiosity about the new arrival ran high. I walked to the gate switching off the electric fence so I could tie the mare to a post as I turned away. The overall small woman that owned the place came strutting out of the house, an air of ignorant superiority about her. She was in her mid 40s though her appearance would suggest late 50s. She wore an overly large tee shirt and too-tight jeans. Her boots were lazily thrown on and the laces tucked into them. Her shoulder length straight hair was a mousy brown heavily streaked with Grey. Excited blue eyes shown from under a fringe of bangs, and were laced with premature wrinkles that lined the rest of her sun tanned face.
"Jane, untie them horses from the fence and get them back." she said to me. Her voice like that of someone who yelled constantly. I obeyed quickly and led the three horses to a far corner of the paddock occasionally popping the ropes of one of the geldings to keep them from biting the mare. There was a great ruckus that I couldn't see because of the numerous cars and the hideous orange travel trailer. Then, one of most beautiful horses I have ever seen, even to this day, came prancing around the cars.
Silken in the summer sun the Arabian gelding, head held high, came prancing through the cars, the skinny man hanging on the lead rope as if it were a life line.
Marge was waiting at the gate and opened it, letting the man and horse pass through. The man spit again nearly marring the black coat of the gelding. I glared at the sneering man as he unclipped the lead and roughly smacked it across the geldings back. The gelding kicked up his heels in a buck narrowly missing the mans head, who swore and threw the lead the the gelding again. He seemed the laugh with glee as he raced around the all too small paddock sand flying out behind him. I stared in awe as he raced up the crest hill prancing, head and tail held high in the wind. Black as the night that would soon fall. His soft brown eyes shimmering in the sun. He was a bit on the skinny side but nothing compared to what I would see the coming months.
"Alright girl, tie them other horses and catch the gelding. I want to work the mare today." Marge called to me. I shook my head and tied the horses again. I took the lead from the man who was leaning against the fence, that I truly wished would magically turn on and give him a zap. The gelding was standing on top of the crest the wind was tossing his fine black mane and tail around him. I looked up at him and clucked, he turned his lovely head to me and climbed down the steep crest he approached me cautiously sniffing my pockets for a treat. I clipped the Lead on and lead him over to the proportion of fence that wasn't occupied. I subconsciously gave the rope to my mom, who was as well awe stricken at the magnificent Arabian. Not bothering to tie him and not noticing that my mother was on the wrong side of the fence I untied the mare and snapped the chain shanked lunge line to her halter. I took to the middle of the small paddock knowing already that the paddock was even too small to let her out completely. I clicked my tongue pushing the mare away from me. She trotting in a smooth circle picking her feet up in the high manner of the Missouri Fox-trotter.
"Get her into a canter!" Called Marge who was coming back from seeing the man off. I clucked and swung the rope at the mare who merely quickened her trot. I tried again to no avail. As we rounded the outside corned a blur from caught my attention, but too late. Marge was standing in the mares path a lung whip in hand. The mare came to sliding stop her blond mane whipping into her big brown eyes. She turned on her haunches and cantered the other way. I stopped her and brought her to me in the center of the paddock. Marge came to me muttering something about the stupid mare. She handed me the whip and stalked away. I sent the mare out again this time cracking the whip on her heels she flung her head up and moved into a canter. A scream and the sound of wood cracking stopped both the mare and myself in our tracks. The Arabian had reared up pulling my mother into the fence and had crashed back down and went up again. This time my mom let go of the lead.
"Mom!" I called pulling the mare into me and handing the lunge to Marge. I didn't drop the whip and as I ran over the gelding reared again his eyes rolling. He came back down and tore across the paddock to the crest again shaking.
"Ma are you alright?" I asked her throwing the stick away.
"Yeah I'm fine." She said rubbing her chest and stomach where the electric wire had cut in. I went to catch the Arabian as it alluded Marge.
"Jane don't you dare go near that horse!" She warned me. I went to argue but she cut me off. "Absolutely not! He's too big!"
I sighed and left Marge to the job. I unwound the mares lead and let her go. I knew we wouldn't be staying much longer.
"I wonder if he's broke..." I thought aloud on the way home.
"Even if he was you wouldn't be riding him." My mom said casting a side ways glance at me.
"But ma.." I tried to argue again.
"No is no." She said. "Your lucky I let you ride the other ones."
Days went by of not going out to work with the horses and those days turned to weeks weeks to months. Finally 8 months from the day that the great Arabian arrived at Marge's I had finally begged my mum into going out there if it was only to see them. I had heard news that the woman had gotten hold of an old pony mare and I wanted to see her. What we saw when we got there was something so appalling thinking about it now flushes anger from the deepest thicket of my mine. There was an extra horse in the Paddock that had become bog-like in appearance from the urine and feces that had become a stew. I choked at the smell and appearance of the animals.
The mare in her once golden glory was now a sickly pale Grey-yellow her eyes were listless and her mane twisted and matted. Her halter was tightened so badly around her head that at the bridge of her nose, the backs of her ears and her cheeks were raw and hairless. The two young geldings were in relatively good condition save there matted and muddy coats. But the sight that shook me was the great black Arabian gelding was standing with the mare in one corner of the pasture. His head was lowered he was partially obscured by the mare but she moved forward reviling the starved gelding. Completely emaciated the gelding (and all the horses) stood in feces and Urine soaked mud up to his hocks. His once Brilliant black coat was a grimy and listless chestnut. His mane and tail was twisted into dread-lock-like mats and his skin was stretched across bone making him look like a creature from a horror movie. How he survived that long was a mystery to me and still is. The new arrival, a small dark bay pony with sway back and clearly emaciated form stood as a solitary figure near the no roofed wall they called a shelter.
I entered the paddock cautiously approaching the small and timid gelding my mother had deemed "far too big" for me to even get near. The gelding stretched out his neck looking for a hand out. I pulled the treat from my pocket and get gobbled it and eagerly approached for more. The mare even nudged eagerly at my coat pockets. I noticed that in this time of little growth that there were but 2 bales of hay sitting hap hazardously against the house. It was nearing dusk and the young geldings were waiting patiently at the gate for there food. My mother had gone inside so I decided to throw a bale over into the pen. The horses were upon it in such ferocity that I was shocked at first then just plane angered. The large and obnoxious Prince would bite and kick at the Mare and Arabian when they got near. I hurriedly got into the pen and threw half of the bale to the other side, swatting Prince as he went to bite at me. That night I went so in such a rage that I couldn't sleep. The next day as we cleaned out house, I was still in a tizzy about the situation.
"Listen, she is trying to sell him..." My mother told me. I had found out a while back that the Arabians name was Maxamas(a fitting name for the triumphant horse that stood on the crest wind flying his mane about) he was the meager age of 14 and that he was being boarded at Marge's.
"He is not hers to sell!" I said in outrage taking my anger out on the helpless frying pan I was washing.
"What do you mean?" My ma looked up from the kitchen floor.
"That guy is just boarding him at Marge's... he's not hers!" I threw the sponge in the sink. My ma just shook her head.
"well. She's saying she's going to send him to the slaughter house..."
Anger welled up in me. At that time I knew what slaughter meant for horses but I was ignorant as to why. I never imagined that I would feel they way I do about it now.
Another week went by with nothing changing much save the fact that the old pony mare had died. It wasn't a big shock for me, and I found it a blessing in disguise for the poor old mare. I found as well, that I was going to receive the palomino mare for my Christmas present. I was so relived to be able to get her out of the situation that she was in. But I still worried constantly about the Arabian, my ma and I had come to the conclusion that he wouldn't make the winter. Soon it was December once again. My ma myself and our neighbors who had offered to board the mare until we could take her home, went out to the house to get her. If it was possible the desecrated gelding looked even more emaciated than before. He was lethargic, but he let out a gut wrenching scream as we led my mare into the trailer. I begged my mom to take him. She said no, that it would only make things for us more difficult. I had so many mixed emotions that day that I barely remember it. What I do remember happened nearly a week later. After several calls to the local sheriffs department finally an officer and a vet tech from MSU went to the woman's house. The vet tech declared that the weak and emaciated horse was in absolute fine condition and that he had sway back from old age... old age at 14. How preposterous.
The cold sleet chilled him to the bone, he was alone, hungry and tired. Just plane tired. He took a weak step forward every movement labored and painful. The lack of fat and muscle rendering him defenseless against cold an biting winds. He tried moving into the shelter with the other horses but they pinned there ears and kicked at him, pushing him away from the three sided and no roofed building. He moved to a slightly sheltered part of the small muddy paddock. Exhaustion over came the Gelding that was once deemed, "To dangerous" and "Too big" but most of all he was deemed "Magnificent". He shuttered slightly and fell to his knees wondering how he, the "Beautiful Arabian Gelding that's just too big" had come to ends in a manure strewn sand pit. Suddenly the hatted scent he had learned to stay away from reached his nose. Feebly he raised his head as the woman came near him lead rope in hand. She clipped it on his halter. That hated halter that was slowly growing into his delicately dished nose. She gave a yank at it saying; "Get up you stupid horse!"
He merely stuck one of his long slender legs in front of him then collapsed back down. The woman left him, for what he hoped was good. But all to soon she returned with another, a man. The gelding tried to get up, but the cold and fatigue was too much. The man saying little and with gentle hands tried to help him. The woman was on the side on the gelding that was about to go down. She gave a last push and the gelding gave a last breath, seeing that fabled rainbow bridge and a nickering little pony mare called Dolly. With a bone shattering (literally) crash the gelding fell upon the woman crushing her beneath what was left of his emaciated body. The woman suffered 2 broken ribs, nothing compared to what that gelding suffered.
I reflect upon this story and think... there was an option, this horse could have not suffered for so long, He couldn't have met the pony mare on the bridge sooner and with less pain. He could have been Free. But the ignorance of one person cost him his life. One decision to turn down an offer from a Kill Buyer.
Maxamus the Brave, Maxamus the "too big", Maxamus the "dangerous"... His name was Max.
This is a story based on true events. Names, dates, and places may have been changed to conceal the identity of serveral parties
You can also find this at Thestoryofmax.bogspot.com