Magnificent Mary
By Dayton O. Hyde

Illustrations by Kit Wray

Magnificent Mary must have been hiding behind the corral gate when the Creator made the rest of the horses pretty.

I first saw her and named her in a feedlot for captured government mustangs, where I was selecting animals for our wild horse sanctuary in South Dakota.

Shaking my head in disbelief that a horse could be that homely, I put her in an adjoining corral with the mustangs I couldn't use, so I wouldn't have to look at her.

She had a head so long she could have drunk from the bottom of a fifty-five-gallon barrel and still peered out over the lip. Her little pig eyes glinted with meanness, and her Roman nose stuck out so far she could have finished a horse race neck to neck and still won by a yard.

Some draft horse ancestor, escaping into the wild, had bequeathed her the genes for huge. Her hip bones protruded like rafters from her fight-scarred hide, and were white from perching magpies. Her mane and tail had acquired such a collection of cockleburs and tumbleweeds that she rattled with each crooked step. Color? I'm not sure she had any, unless it was the color of dirt.

Rejected time and again from the government's adopt-a-horse program, she'd been around that feedlot for a number of years. In truth, she had learned to rule the feedlot, opening gates at will, traveling about as she pleased, and becoming quite a pest. I'd done my day's work, separating the horses that would do well running wild and free on the sanctuary. I was looking forward to collapsing on a motel bed when Magnificent Mary ambled over to the corral fence and rubbed her tail on a post.

"You cut that out, Old Ugly!" a cowboy shouted at her. But it was too late. I heard the groan of rotten steel as a section of fence disintegrated into rust and dust.

The rest of the wild horses saw the hole and thundered through it so fast that in three seconds my horses had joined Mary and the rest of the rejects, and all my labors were undone.

It was midnight before we got the corral rebuilt and the horses sorted once more for the five- hundred-mile trip. Twice I had to separate the old mare from the keepers. She had a mysterious way of getting through the fence, as though she had made up her mind that she was going to the sanctuary and no gate latch could hold her.

I slammed the truck door shut on the last of the horses and followed the truck's crimson tail- lights into the darkness, feeling confident that I would never have to contend with that ridiculous old baggage again. But I didn't reckon on what a mischievous bunch of cowboys would do when my back was turned.

Hours later, we unloaded the truck at the sanctuary. The first animal to charge down the chute was Magnificent Mary her- self. The truck was heading on to Montana to pick up a load of sheep. There was no way I could send Mary back to the feedlot.

The rest of the wild horses thundered out of the corrals and up over the rimrocks to freedom on the sanctuary, but not Mary. I guess she'd been in captivity for too long to remember freedom. Instead of following the others, she walked calmly to the rail fence separating us, laid it flat with a shove of her massive chest, and headed over to visit me.

Ambling through my vegetable garden, her hoofs left craters the size of birdbaths in the sifted soil as she sampled a youthful cabbage, pulled up several clusters of carrots, sheared off some sprouting corn, razed a row of radishes, and bare-rooted my new raspberry plants.

Garden demolished, she turned her attention to what I was doing, following me just out of reach as though towed by an invisible lead rope. If I turned to look at her, she'd snort an alarm, storm off in violent retreat, then follow again meekly enough as soon as my back was turned.

As I climbed a ladder onto the roof of the pump house to put on new shingles, Mary regarded my ascent with casual interest, studying me with just one of her gimlet eyes. Then, forgetting my presence, she backed up to the pump house to service an itch on her knotty tail.

"Hey!" I cried out as the small building lurched and began dancing a jig beneath me. The ground seemed suddenly a long distance away. Sliding down the slippery roof on my stomach, I groped desperately for the ladder with my toes.

There was a sudden snort as Mary, rubbing her nose on the ladder, stuck her head through the rungs, shied violently away, and stampeded sideways down the meadow, dragging the ladder with her.

It was dark, and a cold wind was blowing in across the prairies from Wyoming when finally a neighbor happened by to return some tools. I was still huddled on the roof.

"What happened?" he asked, flashing a light on me and retrieving the ladder.

"Wind!" I lied as I shivered uncontrollably. "Biggest old tornado you ever did see! Just picked up the ladder and whirled it off over the meadow."

From somewhere nearby in the darkness, I heard a mare whinny. I knew it was Magnificent Mary laughing at me. Grinning to my- self, I borrowed my neighbor's light and went to the shed for a bucket of grain. I knew the old mare and I were going to get along just fine.

found @ Institute of Range and the American Mustang

© Midnight Special Ranch Vacation & WebDesign