“Fuerte Esperanza” by Felix A.

Age 15, Grade 10
Magdalena, New Mexico
Read by Sascha Nastasi

My name is Esperanza. I live amongst the small trees, dry grasses and sands of the desert. A land considered baren by humans and often ignored, left to the wild… home to the mustangs, my family. I am what the humans call a lead mare, that is, after they realized that we horses are not led by a stallion. I know where and when to find the best grass, the water sources, and shelter for my herd. However, as modern humans need more space for their cattle, we are forced into less abundant areas and away from water. They chase us and capture our weakest, then eventually even our strongest.

When I was a filly, I lost my mother, most of my sisters, my aunts and my cousins. I was only a month old when it happened, we were chased for so long that my young body couldn’t take it. I fell down and my mother tried to wait for me, but was pushed forwards by my panicked herd. I saw their massive bodies galloping around me, jumping over me, I was so afraid. Then I felt a searing pain as my fathers pounding hoof wasn’t able to avoid me. The pain was more than I could bear and then everything went black. When I woke up, my family was gone. I was all alone. Weakly, I called for my mother but was met with only silence. Panic overtook me, I began to sweat and shake, my injured leg still throbbing with pain. I called and called, I tried to stand, but nothing. I thought that this was the end for me, I knew I’d never see my mother again and didn’t think I would survive alone. I began to give up, I laid down in the dust and clenched my eyes shut… hoping I could wish it all away. Then I heard soft hoofbeats coming towards me. I tried to open my eyes, but couldn’t. I heard a voice in a tongue I could not understand, but it was kind and soft, and slowly my fear subsided.

I don’t remember what happened next, I only remember waking up in a strange place. I was resting on a soft bed of odd fluffy tree pieces in some sort of cave. My leg had a white thing around it and hurt a bit less. I heard another horse but couldn’t see it, it sounded like it was on the other side of the wall. I nickered softly and got a quiet reply. I learned from her that I was in the home of Juan Hernadez, a human. I’d never heard of a human before. She told me that her name was Corazon and she lived here with him. She said she’d seen many other orphans like myself thanks to the round ups, but at the time I didn’t know what she was talking about. She told me that Juan was kind and that I could trust him. She promised that everything would be ok now. To this day I can’t tell you how I knew I could trust Corazon and that I was safe, but I did. I rested well that night.

I was roused the next morning by the strangest sound I’d ever heard. It was like a cross between a neigh, a howl, and two rocks being dragged against each other. I later learned that it came from a creature called a rooster. I was starving! A few minutes later, I met Juan. I learned that day that humans are a tall animal that walk on their hind legs and have the most frightening ears I had ever seen, pressed right up against their heads. But he had a quiet way about him that told me he wouldn’t harm me. I let him approach me and he kneeled down in front of me. In his hand was an odd contraption that smelled like milk. I was so hungry that I poked it with my nose. He seemed pleased with me so I did it again and eventually figured out that if I sucked on it’s single deformed teat, I could drink my fill. When my belly was taught with milk he smiled at me and said “good girl.” I didn’t know what that was, but I liked when he said it.

Juan brought me the milk contraption a few times a day and changed the wrapping on my leg too. I started to understand some of the things he said to me, I liked to hear him talk. After a few days I was able to stand and then I started to slowly gain my strength back. Once I could stand without falling, Juan opened the door of my ‘cave’ (which I now know to be called a stall) so that I could go into a bigger area outside. The things that Corazon called fences took a little while to understand though! Soon I was walking again, then I could almost trot, and then finally I could RUN! It was different then before, my back leg moved differently and sometimes it would hurt if I ran too hard, but I was free again.

My favorite part of each day was when Juan came, fed me and then let me outside. When I went outside, I could finally see Corazon. She was a tall bay mare with a long tail that touched the ground… she looked like my mother. And in time, she became more and more like a mother to me, she answered my questions, told me stories, and was always there to soothe my fears. I spent a long time living contentedly here, the moon waxed and waned, I grew stronger and bigger, and my feedings from Juan grew fewer and further between. Corazon taught me how to eat grass and drink water. It tasted awful at first, but I came to like it.
When about a year had gone by, I was very independent. I got to go into the biggest field now with Corazon, and I didn’t rely on Juan for food at all now. Every day he would come out, put a big contraption onto Corazon’s back and something on her head too. Then he would sit on her like a bird and somehow would tell her what to do! It was amazing to me. They would leave for a couple of hours and then return, both beaming with joy. I was so curious where they went, and all Corazon would say was that I’d find out soon…. Sure enough, one day Juan let me out and they called me to follow them! I was thrilled and trotted after them. It was so strange to see my old home, the mountains and plains where I was born… free with my family. I felt a pang of grief and nuzzled Corazon for comfort.

From then on they let me come with them every time. One day we went out and Juan took us to the meadow where I used to live. He got off Corazon and pulled a bag off her back, he rolled a blanket out of it and put it on the ground. He told Corazon to stay close, he said it was time – “time for what?” I wondered. As the sun set, Juan laid down on the blanket and went to sleep. I understood then that we were spending the night. I laid down close to Corazon because she made me feel safe. She said everything would be fine, but I heard a hint of sadness in her voice. It worried me, yet I knew this wasn’t the time to question her. She looked at me like a proud, loving mother and said softly “goodnight little one, tomorrow brings great things for you Esperanza!” I waited for my worry to settle and then snuggled in to sleep, it would be alright. Whatever was making her sad, it would be ok. She said it would be great.

The dawn broke early and just as the sunlight started to shine, I heard a loud commanding whiny. I know that voice. I leapt up and looked around frantically. I saw that Juan and Corazon were awake and looking at a nearby hill top – when I looked I saw something I couldn’t even believe. My father stood there, tall and proud… His crested neck and pointed ears framing the early morning clouds. I called. His head turned my way and he started to walk towards me, hesitant but eager. Confused, I looked at Corazon. She stepped up to me and explained that he was wary of her and Juan. She said that I had to go to him. I asked if she would come with me but she said “No little one, it is time for you to go home and I cannot go with you. I am already home, my home is with Juan. But you belong here, free. Go, go. It is time sweet spirit – go home.” I understood now why she had been sad the night before. I didn’t want to leave her, but deep down I knew she was right. We shared a breath, as horses do, and then I turned to my father. Corazon nudged me forwards, I walked. I could still feel the warmth of her breath in my whiskers as I walked slowly to meet my father in the meadow. He lowered his great head to meet my own small muzzle in greeting. He nickered his thanks to Corazon, for he knew it was thanks to her that I was still alive and well. But when I turned back to say goodbye, she and Juan were gone. I felt an ache in my heart that to this day I still know. I owe my life to these two kind souls and I will always be grateful. I still hope that one day, I will see my friends again – in this world or the next, it matters not. I learned that day from my father that he had escaped after being captured, but hadn’t been able to find my mother and most of the other mares. Somehow I had known that all along, and though I was devastated to have it confirmed, I had come to accept that reality. From this experience I learned to be grateful for everything I do have, because it could all change at any moment. I learn from the past and live in the present, what else is there to be done? I lived with my lucky father and remaining family for a long time and eventually began a new family. I have 9 daughters and 5 sons and we live in the most remote area I could find. So far we have been safe, and though I never know what tomorrow may bring, I must continue to be grateful for everything I do have… For my very life, and pray that someday things will change.