This is a work of fiction, although it's based on one of my own ponies.
In a lonely corner of a grass-poor field filled with what should have been stocky cob-type ponies, a heavily pregnant mare stood shivering. Her left side against the worst of the weather, she tried to protect herself and her new foal from the lashing rain.
The dismal corpse of a foal that hadn’t survived birth lay a few feet from her and she tried not to look at it as her new baby began to emerge. She’d done it time after time.
Five foals in her seven years, she was an expert by now.
One last effort, a push and a grunt and the new foal slid from her, onto the cold, wet ground. A sigh of relief and she turned slowly to check her new-born. She looked over the field to the other ponies milling around the feeding station. Mud more than a foot-deep was too much to ask of her at the moment.
A bale of hay delivered once a week didn’t have a hope of nourishing all the mares, and it was consumed or trampled into the mud long before the next bale was due.
Nimbus was born at the end of the foaling season. He dropped onto the ground in the middle of a week-long rainstorm and things did not look promising for him. His mother, Molly looked at him with tired eyes and she nuzzled him and encouraged him as best she could. Nimbus could have been another tragic death on the cold, barren field, but luck was always on his side.
The other ponies in the field had given birth weeks and months before and their foals were mainly surviving. Most of the mares were old-hands at giving birth and surviving against the odds, but there were one or two mares without a miniature shadow by their sides and their mournful expressions had nothing to do with the weather.
Molly cleaned her new baby and encouraged him to stand and to suckle. His instincts were strong and despite the conditions his mother had endured throughout the months of pregnancy, he was a resilient little chap.
She stood over him during the night, trying to protect him from the weather and just before dawn, the rain finally started to abate. The clouds rolled away throughout the morning and the day became a little brighter. Spattered with mud, Nimbus tottered on wobbly legs and stayed close to his mother. She grazed the edges of the field, leaned her head far under the fence, to try to grasp a few wisps of grass. She pushed her head far under the hedgerow to find tasty morsels and she nibbled the last tender shoots of the hawthorn hedges.
At the end of September, Nimbus, the last foal to be born in the field was taking a few tentative steps away from his mother.
One day, she saw humans approaching the field and instinctively placed herself between them and her baby. She continued to graze the ground, but kept an eye on them as they got to the feeding station. The other mares and their foals saw the humans and they flocked to the feeding station in the hopes of food or hay. Their foals struggled through the cloying mud as they tried to follow.
Molly watched from afar as the humans didn’t deliver the hoped-for hay. She steered her foal further away and hoped they wouldn’t notice her.
A mare with one of the early foals was pointed out and she was enticed to the gate with a bucket and taken from the field, her baby in tow. Another and another were taken over the course of the next few hours and soon, the herd had been halved. The older, early foals and their mothers were gone.
An earlier than expected bale of hay arrived at the feeding station and Molly finally managed to get to it before it was trampled into the morass of muck, mud, rain and pee.
The following day another bale arrived and it was set down onto a pallet to keep it off the muddy ground. Molly and the remaining mares ate their fill at last and the foals felt the benefit of the nourishment their mothers received.
Nimbus started to thrive.
The humans came back one day and Molly repeated her behaviour of hiding her foal from the humans. Even though the majority of the other mares went toward them, Molly stayed away from the feeding station and the humans.
Again, one-by-one, the mares were enticed out of the gate and led up the yard and then only Molly and her foal and the mares without foals were left. Molly stayed away from the fence where the humans stood.
“Come on Molly,” one of the humans called to her. She recognised the voice, she’d heard it before. The voice didn’t fill her with hope, despite the gentle cajoling sounds accompanying the words. “Come on, Molly, let’s see your baby.”
At last the humans seemed to give up. They moved from the fence and stood in the yard, talking. Then they returned to the field. One opened the gate and waded through the mud, leaving the other to watch. He held a bucket and the three mares without foals went to the man to see whether they were going to be fed from the bucket. He handed out a few mouthfuls for the mares and scattered some of the bucket’s contents on drier ground so they’d leave him alone and he moved forward towards Molly and her foal.
Molly watched as he approached and then suddenly, she took flight and bolted away from him, her foal following in gangly strides to keep up with her.
He talked to her all the time as he followed her. Gentle words, a calm voice. “Come on, Molly, I’ve got some pony-mix for you. Let me see your baby, you’re going to be all right, come on, girl…”
He crouched down so his height wasn’t such a threat and he threw a few handfuls out in front of him. She sniffed the air but didn’t approach.
He threw a few more handfuls a little further from him and at last, she was tempted.
She bent her head to the morsels scattered on the ground and nibbled the tasty chunks of feed.
He stood slowly and stepped back. She stopped eating and watched him carefully.
When he didn’t make a move toward her, she bent her head to the ground again.
The other mares closed in to share her feast and the man tipped the bucket a little to allow some of the feed to fall onto the ground, putting the mares between himself and Molly.
He moved around the mares slowly and quietly until he stood at the side of Molly. She flinched but didn’t run. He caught hold of the muddy headcollar and led her out of the field. She stopped a few times to make sure her foal was following her but at last, she gave in and the pair left the field where he’d been born.