-By Nikki Sherman

Light pricked on my face, challenging the darkness to retreat into its cave as dawn crawled over the horizon. However, my eyelids remained tightly shut. Thus, I slipped back into a shallow slumber.
Suddenly a shrill sound stabbed at my ears, sending fatigue flying away. I opened my eyes, blinking rapidly in the pale light. The rubber webbing, a barrier at the front of my square bedroom, was being unclipped. As usual, curiosity overtook me, so I headed over to the door. There it was that reality sank in–morning had arrived. No more time for sleep or play; work needed to be done.

The Girl With the Oat-Colored Hair gave me a pat on the neck, then entered my room. She approached my head, whispering quietly in my ear. I noticed the nylon contraption that she held, so when I felt the firm thrust of her thumb along my tongue, I opened my mouth for the metal ring to slide inside. Absent-mindedly, I chewed on the bit, taking note of the repeated cha-ching each time my teeth rubbed across it. I’d heard about toys called pacifiers that human babies use, and as I had never seen one before, I imagine them to be similar to this. Next, the Girl With the Oat-Colored Hair lightly tossed a green and white cloth over my back, followed by two soft pads, and finally by the heavy leather saddle. I knew what was coming, so I inconspicuously sucked in my breath, then blew out as far as I could to enlarge my stomach. When the Girl With the Oat-Colored Hair was finished wrapping the cursed band known as a girth around my body, I was delighted to discover that upon releasing the air from my lungs, I had plenty of room to breathe.

Next I was led into the aisle, where a small human was lifted onto my back. The tight hold on my mouth was released as The Man With the Soft Hands and the Girl With the Oat-Colored Hair exchanged words in their own language, so I headed out of the barn on my own, focusing on reaching the sandy terrain which I knew was on the top of the hill. Suddenly I felt air forced out of my lungs. Ah, shoot, The Man With the Soft Hands had caught me drifting and tightened the girth. Darn it! Oh well, at least I would not have to deal with the feeling of the saddle slipping all over my body.

Together we climbed the hill, finally reaching the racetrack. I gloried in the wonderful feeling of my feet sinking into the soft sand as I trotted along the outside fence. Wind whipped through my mane, sending joyous chills down my spine, and before I knew what I was doing, I lifted myself into the air and threw my hind feet out in a playful buck. The Man With the Soft Hands leaned back in the saddle, pulling gently on my mouth and quietly chastising me. Oh, what does he know? He’s not stuck in a ten by ten foot confinement for twenty-three hours a day! This short hour of time allotted for me to exercise was my favorite period of the day! After a short while, he carefully guided me in a semi-circle, then closer to the inside rail, under we were headed clockwise. I knew what this meant, and upon his urging, I quickened into a gallop. He rose off of me, taking precious weight off my back to make it easier for me to speed up. Ba-ba-ba-boom! Ba-ba-ba-boom! Each one of my hooves hit the ground separately, leaving slightly less than a split second where all four feet actually hung in the air, so not only did it feel like we were flying, we truly were flying. All too soon, The Man With the Soft Hands slowed me to a walk, and we headed off the track.

The next few minutes were a blur, with the saddle and bridle coming off and a halter and lead chain getting snapped onto my head. Events finally slowed down when I was led outside onto the pavement, where cool water was run over my hot body, followed by a gentle lather of soap. I craned my neck around to look at myself, and was not surprised to see my veins enlarged, for they were hard at work, heavily pumping blood to the farthest reaches of my body.

The Girl With the Oat-Colored Hair led me around and around the barn, letting my raspy breathing slow to a gentle whisper. Occasionally a bucket of water was offered to me, and I gladly accepted it, enjoying the feeling of the cool liquid sliding down my dry esophagus. Finally I was taken back outside, where water was used to wash the remaining crust and dirt off my legs and feet, then I was allowed to return to my room.

I was pleased to see a pile of hay and alfalfa lying in the corner, but was absolutely elated to discover that my feed tub was filled with grain. I buried my nose inside, savoring flavor of both sweet and bleeder feed. Occasionally I caught a slight taste of something that was obviously not food, but I realized it was probably some sort of vitamin or medication. I remembered a time when I came back from the racetrack and felt my entire back and hind end cramp up. It hurt so badly that I did not want to move, so I resisted the Girl With the Oat-Colored Hair when she tried to walk me. I was eventually put in my room without receiving a bath. Then a tall man came and stuck me with a needle. I let out a squeal of surprise, but the next thing I knew, the pain was gone. Ever since that day, my food had tasted a bit funny.

After I had finished eating, another girl, the Girl with the Hay-Colored Hair, clipped my halter to the wall, and I was brushed from ears to tail. She even picked up my feet and pulled all of the dirt out from inside my shoes. Then a white clay was placed on my front legs from my knees to my ankles and before it could dry, pieces of cotton and plastic were wrapped around the clay to keep it cool and wet for the night. Fluffy white bandages were then placed around all four of my legs for protection.

Finally I was released, the halter removed, the webbing closed, and the lights switched off. I retreated to the back of my stall, where for a few moments I nibbled on the hay and alfalfa. Eventually, renewed darkness and fatigue returned to my eyes, and before I knew it, the once-mighty light recoiled. My eyelids slipped shut and sleep overtook my mind.

Copyright © 2021 Nikki Sherman