Several months ago, while driving near Santa Paula, I saw an old horse standing silent and stooped in the pasture. He was almost motionless and even as I drove fairly near him he paid no attention. He didn't even lift his head. I remember him because he looked so sad. Was he old? Perhaps he was ill. Was anyone taking care of him? As I drove to my destination, I couldn't get the horse out of my mind. I'm not sure why that was. I'm not a horse-lover particularly, but there was something about this horse that seemed to stick with me.
I got to Santa Paula and finished my business, all the while being reminded of the horse. How pathetic he looked, I thought. Later that day, I decided that when I returned home, I wouldn't take the short cut, but I'd go back the way I came. Something drew me to that horse. I guess I wanted to see if he was still there. Curiosity, I suppose. Maybe it was just early when I saw him and he had not fully awakened.
As I neared the ranch, I didn't see the horse immediately. I slowed down and even got off to the side of the road, but still no horse. Perhaps he had gone into the stall, I thought, and then looking more closely through the slatted fence, I saw him. He was lying down, or so I thought, in one corner of the field near the road. He was so still. His head seemed in an awkward position and his mouth was open. I could see his tongue. He was dead. I was about to get out of my car to go and tell the rancher when I saw some men coming with a large truck. I knew they were coming for the horse. I waited for a moment for one last look, then drove on.
As the miles clicked by on my way home, I kept thinking of the horse. Why? Then my mind flashed back to other dead horses I had seen over forty years before. It was in Germany near the end of the war. The Germans had run out of gasoline during their retreat and were using any horses they could find to pull their guns and equipment. During one particulary heavy shelling and strafing near our sector, the Germans dropped everything and leaving the horses and equipment behind ran for whatever cover they could find. But the shelling went on and the unprotected horses, some still hitched to their wagons and guns, were left to fend for themselves. Some ran into the woods. Sometimes the wagons had overturned and the horses in their frenzy tugged and strained at their harnesses trying to get free, but to no avail. There seemed to be horses everywhere. Some were lying dead on the ground. Some were badly wounded. I saw one that had only two legs and was still trying to run. One had its side ripped open and screamed wildly. One, I was sure, was blinded and just ran in circles. There were so many of them. I saw a colt running wildly in all directions.
Then things quieted down. It was the aftermath. The horses that were still alive, tired and were silent. Others, exhausted, lay down to bleed to death. Some seemed to die for no apparent reason. Many still whinnied and cried. Then the soldiers came, and for what seemed like hours, sporadic rifle and pistol shots could be heard. They were not shooting at the enemy but were mercifully killing the wounded horses. Then everything became quiet. It was evening as it was now over 40 years later, and I was on my way home. That horse near Santa Paula was being hauled away as those countless other horses had been disposed of so long ago. I don't suppose I'll ever forget that day or this one, and the next time I see a horse standing quietly in the field, it will all probably come back again, and the next time and the next.