Tribute to the American MustangVantage, WashingtonHigh above the Columbia
River outside Vantage, Washington stands a herd of metal sculptures that were created in honor of the American Mustang.
On a trip through the state several years ago, we spotted the sculptures high on the plateau over the highway.
We had to stop and hike the path to get a better look at the magnificent and artistic creation. Each figure
was meticulously carved out of 1/2 “ steel plates. This is my tribute to the wonderful, valiant, and magnificent
creatures; may they ever roam free in their spirit.
His hooves thunder across the dry parched earth.
His screams of fear and
anger resonate throughout. His nostrils flare
grasping for every ounce of air as he races at full speed across the plateaus of Washington State.
Far below, the Columbia
River spreads for miles glistening in the late afternoon sun. Its inhabitants are unaware of the scene unfolding
on the plateau above. Twin fawns bounce playfully as their mother takes a quick drink from the river. Her
stance alert as she keeps a wary eye on the meadow around them; ever watchful of the many predators that might attack her
and her fawns. Rabbits scurry along hidden trails that meander throughout the brush that runs along this part
of the river. And birds flitter to and fro among the branches eating the many insects that make the bushes their
home. A lazy frog lays half buried in the mud hidden among the reeds along the bank. He croaks softly.
Well overhead, a hawk screeches a warning cry of alarm.
High on the plateau, the mustang, a large, raw boned,
magnificent black stallion, races in an out stretched gallop bringing up the rear of his small herd. He glistens
with sweat. White, sticky, foamy sweat, stained with the brown grit of the plateau soil clings to his inner thigh
where the straining muscles rub against each other; some foam clings to his rough black tail as it flies behind him. A
stem from an old bramble bush is tangled in the long tail. The black of his face is broken only by a small star
on his forehead a few inches below center and a crooked snip on his nose. His body is riddled with the well-earned
scars he has collected over the years in fights with countless young studs battling for his band of mares.
His band of 19
mares and unnumbered foals race along with him now; spread out before him on the plateau; a cloud of dust and grit mark their
paths. Course coats of every color imaginable: a gray, several pintos, a scraggly blue roan, a smutty buckskin
and numerous sorrels and bays. They flee from the unknown terror behind them; to the uncertainty ahead of them.
How long could he keep up this pace? His shoulder and hip muscles strain with exertion.
The sinewy muscles in his hips contract and bulge with each stride. Those scars from previous battles
stand out in white, a sharp contrast to the shiny blue black of his coat. His lungs grasp for air. Still
he must push on.
piebald mare that is in front of him to his right starts to lag. He slows slightly to bite anxiously at her hip.
He presses her on. Her six week old bay filly falters as she attempts to leap over a small fallen tree.
She stumbles, her lungs ache desperately as she tries with the last bit of strength she can muster to keep up with
her mother. Spent to her limit she slows. Her mother glances
back as the filly drops behind. She tries to call; but she has no air. She tries to stop and return
to her filly, but the stallion bites her savagely, pushing her on. She surrenders to his urging and races on
with the herd, leaving her faltering foal behind.
The bay filly staggers to a stop. She
stands straddle legged on trembling legs; sweat runs in brown streaks down the once white socks on her legs; her body heaving
with every desperate breath. She takes one last longing look after her dam as the herd pulls away and is quickly
out of sight. As the grit settles and clears she lowers her head and neck in defeat. She no longer
has the breath to call as her mother and the herd disappear over the knoll. The cloud of dust moves farther away. She
has nothing left. Slowly, on shaky legs she begins to lower herself to the ground. Her legs cannot
support her as she starts to go down. She drops heavy to the parched earth. She lay gasping for
air; the dust barely disturbed with each exhale. Each breath a painful reminder. And finally, taking
her final gasping breath, her body shudders; the ache, the desperation, the fear leave her as the last bit of her short life
fades and is gone. She lay where she’s fallen, her eyes wide open, already glazing, facing the direction
the herd has gone. She has no awareness of the whirling sound
as the helicopter flies over her scattering the fallen dust and grit. The mounted riders barely give her a glance
as they gallop by. She is only one of many they have already seen; fillies and colts left behind, discarded cast
offs of the brutal round up.
Far ahead the herd pushes on. Necks outstretched, nostrils flared, ears back, manes
and tails flying, sprays of white foamy sweat mix with the brown gritty dust of the parched land as the horses are forced
on and on past their physical endurance. Bays, sorrels, duns, a spotted brown and a flea bitten grey; none are
are running now out of pure desperation, determination and fear; the mares, a few yearling colts and fillies, a few surviving
foals, and the stallion.
grueling pace continues to take its toll and one more mare stumbles and groans in pain as her front right leg snaps, breaking
just below the knee. She falls hard to the ground. Sweat pools in the dust around her. She
takes deep gasping breaths. In her desperation to breath, the pain in her broken leg merely a nuisance as the
burning in her lungs and chest threaten to rip her apart.
Another mare slows and stops, ignoring the stallion’s
insistent nips. She quivers and crumples to the ground; her exhausted muscles and trembling legs no longer able
to support her. Her unborn foal writhes in her body; desperate for air and hydration. Her spent
lungs can not provide the oxygen they both need. They die together; the foal never to see the light of day or
experience the wind in his mane while he frolics with other foals around him. He’ll never take that first
breath of fresh air. Moments after he lay still in her womb, she lay still as well. And yet the relentless helicopters push the desperate herd on. They know not where. They
know not why.
Ahead the lead mares converge in a chaotic mass as they reach the pointy edge of the deep ravine.
The drop off is steep. Hundreds of feet below broken rocks and boulders lay at the bottom. Jagged
shards and gnarly tree roots cling to the side of the 500 foot drop. An occasional small ledge here and there
could be seen jutting out from the face of the cliff offering no relief. Bits of dirt and gravel tumble down
into the ravine as one after another the mares reach the drop and spin away from the edge in an attempt to avoid the deadly
fall. The ravine edges extend to the left and to the right offering no escape.
The band spirals in
a frenzied mass of confusion. The stallion thrusts his way into the chaos and forces his way through to the edge.
He peers down into the ravine below. Before him is freedom. Behind him is hell.
The helicopter hovers overhead. The gritty,
brown, swirling cloud it creates adds a surreal haze to the carnage. The whirl of its rotor blades drown out
the anxious and frightened sounds of the herd. A mother calls anxiously for her foal that is lost in the frenzy. Mares
squeal and the remaining foals whinny shrilly in between gulps for air. A small black colt, the youngest son
of the magnificent stallion, trips and falls in the frenzy and is trampled by the dozens of hooves that are pounding the ground
in the fury.
Amidst all the chaos, the swirling, brown, gritty, cloud clears for just a moment. Forever
etched in that crystal of time stands the magnificent black stallion. At the edge of the ravine he stands poised;
all four legs planted solidly on the ground; his head held high; his neck proud and arched; his mane lifts from his neck and
blows around him as if black flames; His nostrils flare; his huge brown eyes clear and almost serene. He only glances back over his shoulder once; for just a moment. The brown gritty cloud again
closes around him just as he takes his final leap for freedom.