I struggle to my feet. My knees wobble. What's wrong with me, with this solid body on such fragile legs? I can barely stand, but as a brown colt gallops towards me I realise I can run, and head towards my mother, but an enormous white mare, who warns me to stay away, blocks me off. A foal is thrashing around in her great stomach, which looks like it could burst. Even though I am hungry, I do as I am told.
The colt who charged me has turned his attentions to my mother. I want him to stop. I do not like his smell. My mother is grazing but he is trying to mount her while the placenta still hangs down with her soiled, straw-coloured tail. She wants to move away but her movements are exhausted. The great white mare rears almightily at him and he dances insolently away, blowing raspberries over his foolish shoulder. This opens a path to my mother, so I point my nose and run, only to be hustled away by the great white mare, whose giant hooves hang in the air, ready to drop down on me, but I am small and quick and new, and get out of the way easily.
Another pregnant mare, a brown one with a black tail, comes across and joins the colt and great white mare in surrounding my mother, who is still grazing, such that I can no longer see her, except for two or three patchy grey-and-white legs amongst the others'. They are staring down. I try to run around them but they have my mother impenetrably surrounded. When I attempt to crawl beneath their legs the great white mare frightens me away with a snort. I am very hungry now. They won't let my mother feed me. They don't want to feed me either.
Eventually the brown mare bows her head to graze, and in doing so, leaves a gap. I try to run in but the colt pounces and buffets me hard in the flank with his snout. I don't know if he wants to trample me or just play with me but he chases me round and round, and before I know it I choke on a length of cord that I didn't see, and tumble on my back into a ditch, but I recover quickly - I am getting stronger - and climb out of the ditch. I find myself on a dirt track. I don't know what to do. I am waiting for something to happen.
There is a horrible growling sound that gets louder, then stops. I can hear steps, and see something approach, but they are not the frequent trots of a horse, and it is walking upright on its hind legs, and has a very short neck and small head. It is blue and white and pink and green but has the same mane colour as my mother and the great white mare. I consider running away but it wraps its two strangely short forelegs around me, and although I am scared, I am also tired and hungry. It rubs my neck dexterously and with strange little legs on the ends of its foreleg, opens my eyes wider in turn to stare intently in, and pats me on the back, and with its foreleg around my body, leads me back into the paddock, letting out a loud noise to frighten the other horses away. I walk by its side as it reaches out for my mother and leads us both to a different part of the paddock, where there is water and hay, and where we can finally be reunited. The colt is behaving wildly but the new creature barks and chases him away.
My mother's great lips kiss mine. My poor mother! I am so pleased to see her, but want to feed. She nuzzles my head. I lick her nipples. The warm milk fills my mouth. I can't get enough. I hear the growling noise again, fading into the distance, then the gaining sound of a gallop. It is the colt, followed by the great white mare and the brown mare! My mother is too weak, so I have to run. But I can't run fast enough - the colt is so quick and powerful and, oh! For a moment I stumble and he is almost on top of me with his tough hooves but bash! The great white mare has muscled him out of the way, and warned the brown mare whose son she has chastised, to keep him under control, allowing me to slip quietly back to my mother, the sheepish colt retreating. The brown mare skulks away dumbly.
I lick my mother's nipples again and the lactate gushes through, but I am still afraid, because the great white mare is coming towards us, massively.
'Maman,' I say.
'It's alright,' she croaks. I freeze as the great white mare's tremendous shadow covers me.
'I will allow you to survive,' says the great white mare, 'although it is clear that you are sick, and it is not normal for us to keep you. But you are my grandchild, and I suppose I must give you a chance. Stay with your mother. I will make sure no harm comes to you.'
'What's wrong with me?' I ask.
'You were born too early,' my grandmother replies. 'My foal is not yet due but should have been born first, as your mother fell pregnant after me. You are premature and weak, and of no use to anybody. You will not grow.' And she bows her enormous head down to graze. The veins in her neck, coursing through her body to nourish her unborn foal, are thicker than my legs. I look across at the colt, an ugly, wiry thing, and have a terrible thought.
'Maman,' I say.
'Is the colt my father?'
She snorts. 'I don't know who your father is, but it's not him.'
'But he keeps trying to...'
'That's what they do.'
The colt continues to jog about between mouthfuls, as if waiting for another opportunity to attack while my grandmother's back is turned.
'Maman,' I say. 'What was that other creature that saved me?'
'That was a human man. He's nice. He comes over now and then to feed us bread and carrots.'
'What are bread and carrots?'
'Rich food for grown-ups.'
'Oh. And what is a human man?'
'A man is like a stallion, but with a much smaller penis,' my grandmother interrupts. 'A human woman has breasts to suckle her young, just like your mother does. Humans themselves, however, are just another species of animal, like cows, dogs and pigs. But they are different. They are immensely powerful and own everything. They control the lives of almost every animal in the world; even those said to be wild are contained in enclosures. Us horses have worked as their slaves for millennia, pulling all their weight, building their great palaces and stadia, fighting their wars and glorifying them. And then they invented motorcars and tractors and reduced our numbers, rendering most of us that do exist largely redundant. But if you're a fine horse, pretty and strong, they'll dress you up in nice shoes and feed you delicate food and brush you every day and plait your hair and enter you for races. If you can run fast, or are supremely elegant, they love you. But us normal folk? We're here simply to graze, process what we eat so their vegetables will grow better, and give birth incessantly. If they like the look of you, they'll breed you. If not, they'll eat you.'
I gasp. 'Are they going to eat me?'
'This is France, they eat anything that moves,' my grandmother says, as my mother follows her lips to a more succulent tuft of grass. 'Don't you worry yourself though. You're too small and weak, with no sinew to strip from the bone. Now, run along and let your mother build her strength back. You might be small, but you're hardly a kitten.'
Knowing my grandmother to be so strong and wise gives me the freedom to discover the world around me, unthreatened, for the first time since I left my mother's womb. My home is green and blue, and flowers of all colours are blooming, with little bees and butterflies passing sweet love messages between them. Baby birds and mammals sing and cavort and feed. The grass is sweet and fragrant in the air and on my mother's breath, and in her milk. It is as if nature itself is celebrating my birth, but oh! The colt is running around again, and this time won't be stopped by my immobile grandmother, whose foal is moving around heavily inside her. He leaps up onto my mother's back - should I run, or try to protect her? She is grazing, and moves forward, but his hind footsteps follow her. And he can't quite get his penis to point in the right place before she moves, and he is nodding his head up and down and neighing and pulling funny faces, and I laugh because he is so ugly and pathetic, but he sees me and jumps down from my mother's back to chase me, right into the bushes as the bottom of the paddock and oh! That wire had thorns in, and I have torn my neck and fallen into a ditch, this one deeper than the first, and hurt my leg.
Well, that is it, I thought. Who will find me here? None of the human men will see me here, the ditch is too deep and their motorcars won't pass. I can hear the neighing lips of the colt above me, discouraged by the barbed wire but guarding against my re-entrance regardless, if only I could. But I am safer here than there, at least; the horses are scared of the wires, and now I know why.
A short time ago I was still inside my mother's womb. It was warm and cosy, and she was very careful not to shake me or bounce me off anything. I was never hungry and always felt safe and comfortable. Now she has expelled me into this jungle of violent colts and thorny wire. I am her foal and she should care for me, but she seems to be more interested in chewing tons of grass and teasing the stupid colt with her smelly, open vulva. Maybe I should stay here and stay hungry. Perhaps that will be better.
When I wake up I can hear the growling noise again and the voices of humans. I don't know if I'm happy about this but then I feel my empty stomach. I do not understand their language but think that if I let out a little snort they will come and rescue me like the man did earlier. Their motorcar is still growling but seems stationary, a little further away. All of a sudden some branches move out of the way and more light comes in, and then there is a human standing there, who looks different to the man who saved me earlier, and must therefore be a woman. She has a black coat and long hair, almost as long as my mother's tail, but it is a bit like the colour of the colt's coat, so I don't know if I can trust her.
A second woman follows her, who has hair the same colour as my mother and grandmother's tails, and looks like she has her own young inside her. They point and giggle a little when they see me, and start to talk to me in high-pitched voices. I don't know what they are saying, but the woman with the reddish hair climbs down into the ditch and gently strokes my nose, and noticing the wound in my neck, rubs the skin around it. Then she rubs my legs, and of my own accord, I stand up in the ditch, and feel that my leg isn't as hurt as I first feared. But still I need help to get out of the ditch, so the woman with the straw coloured hair lifts me from under my forelegs and the woman with the reddish hair pushes my rump up from behind. It is a bit humiliating but I am very impressed with how easily humans can use their forelegs for such complicated tasks. This must be how they conquered the world.
When I am out of the ditch I see that I am standing in a field of beautiful long grass, waving gently in the breeze, surrounded by a stadium of forest. My mother would love all this grass. Perhaps she and I can come and live here, with my grandmother and her foal, and let that horrible other family eat all the scratchy tufts in the paddock until their hearts are content.
The first human woman strokes my mane gently, and I trust her now. She has a nice smell too. Then she puts a cord around my neck, which worries me as I don't like wires, but she continues to stroke me gently, which I like, and leads me out of the field of long grass, past their motorcar, which has stopped growling, and back out onto the dirt track, where there are now lots of humans, men and women, with their motorcars, none of which are growling. When they see me the humans all start pointing and waving, and talking and calling, and some have funny black things with which to cover their eyes, that make clicking sounds, and they are saying something like, 'Bonjour, Paulette!' I don't know what they are saying.
Two of the human men have entered the paddock, where the woman with the reddish hair is leading me back to my mother, having released the cord from my neck. The woman with the straw-coloured hair is checking on my mother. The colt rears as he sees me rejoin my mother, so one of the men chases him into the far corner of the paddock. But as soon as the man's back is turned the colt comes tearing back down the sloping paddock, with terrifying speed and determination, dodging the challenges of the humans, and before I can get out of the way he knocks me over, and all the humans gasp, and now everyone is chasing him, two of the men with sticks, followed by his mother, and my poor grandmother, but my mother has turned away to the end of the paddock where the forest is, to keep out of it all, and I follow her, having got up immediately, more shocked than hurt by the shoulder-barging colt.
A large number of humans have now entered the paddock, and have formed a sort of human barrier between my mother and I, and the colt, while one of the human men ties a cord to the wire, and wheels out more of the cord as he strides across the paddock.
'Maman, what is he doing?'
'He is creating an enclosure for us so that the colt can't get to us anymore.'
When he has finished the same human man gets into his motorcar and gallops away, kicking up lots of dust on the dirt track, to the consternation of some of the humans. The colt, in the distance, is circling around angrily, conscious of the presence of the humans who will chase and beat him if he makes one false move. His mother gently nuzzles him in a half-hearted attempt to calm him down, but he skips away and rebukes her and rears and snorts and neighs and shakes his head, and here he comes again, this time without fear of human or switch, he just wants me dead! He has even crossed the wire, that most feared of barriers! I run, and I am now being chased by the colt, his mother, my grandmother, and all the humans, who are shouting and screaming, some of the women putting themselves in between us while the men give chase, and behind me I can hear and see the whipping of a long switch through the air, and thwacking across the colt's back, and eventually, the subsidence of his chase, as he gives up on trying to kill me, for now. While the humans surround the colt I sneak back to the enclosure, and my mother.
'Maman, why can't you stop him?'
'Because I've just given birth,' she says. 'You don't understand. I'm tired and weak. Really I'm too young to foal but our human master insisted, you know, the one who created the enclosure. He doesn't care. I'm barely older than you and he's started me already. I'm sorry. For now, you'll have to fend for yourself. Let's just hope he makes the wire buzz so the colt won't come back, because he will kill you when it's dark and the humans go home. You've made him very frustrated. Anyway, look after yourself. I'm sorry that you have to suffer.'
And with that she falls asleep, standing. Regardless, I lick her nipples and the milk once again gushes out. Before long I am in ecstasy and only the cheering of the humans as I feed reminds me of the tenuous situation I am in, and my mother wakes up and turns around, and the milk I am suckling squirts into my face.
'Look,' she says.
The human men, including the one who owns us, have returned with a bigger motorcar. They get out and one of them opens the back. Although it is quite far away I can see and smell the mixture of hay and manure inside. One of the human men comes into the paddock and confronts the colt, skillfully putting a cord around his head and snout despite his bucking and thrashing. 'It's a harness,' my mother says. The human men use the harness to lead the colt, somewhat forcefully, out of the paddock. His mother seems to panic and gives chase, but is warned away by one of the human men, who waves his long switch and roars. The colt is bucking and rearing and digging his heels stubbornly, but eventually, they drag him out of the paddock, having temporarily removed the wire, and force him into the back of their motorcar, closing the door behind him before galloping away.
'I've a feeling we won't be seeing him again,' my mother says.
'Where are they taking him?' I ask.
'To the butchers, I suppose,' she says.
'They're going to eat him?' I shudder.
'There's not much else he's good for,' she sighs, and bows her snout down to graze. The brown mare, usually so stoical, is pining already, staring blankly at the part of the hedge behind which she last saw her son being stuffed into the back of a motorcar, poised for his unlikely return. My grandmother, awaiting her foal, is staring down.