Hoofbeats In Heaven
In Praise Of The Horse

Tribute To The Human/Equine Bond

The No More Night Mares
A Dream Of Freedom

Dawn Van Zant

In the swirling mists and shadows of light and time live ancient memories, long forgotten dreams and legends. This is the legend of the "Night Mares." It begins with tiny Eohippus, the Dawn Horse, from whom all horses descend, and unravels with the evolution of modern Equus. A magical descendent, erased from history, and who can only be found in the legends of the night. If you look far beyond the Big Dipper, past Polaris to the Pegasus Constellation, you will find the missing horses shining brightly. The luminous mares of a once noble herd prance across a blanket of black sky. They are the "Night Mares", strong, wild and free; a distant reminder of a fight for freedom. They dream at night that the horses below are free to run wild with their herd. Their stars light up wishes for all companion horses living with man to be free from harm and danger. Share their dream and help it come true. Then the Night Mares can leave the dark sky to run free with the herds below, free to bring the legend to life.

Eclipse's Pledge

Long ago, when horses were free to roam the land, lived a majestic stallion. His glistening coat was painted entirely black. He had a long tangled mane and tail that curled and danced in the wind. He was born on a night when the moon passed through the earth's shadow. At that moment fate sealed his name, Eclipse. The legend tells us that the moon itself shone in his wild eyes.

Eclipse was the fastest, strongest stallion in his territory. With devotion and courage he kept his herd of mares and foals safe and well fed. They faced hunger, cold, and dangers like all wild horses, but they always felt safe with Eclipse. He led them past any danger in the shadows of nightfall, guided safely by the moon and the stars. In the light of day their thundering hooves and clouds of dust challenged even the fastest wind. Nothing could catch them by night or by day.

One of the greatest dangers the herd faced was man. Chasing the dream of taming the wild herds, man had domesticated dogs, sheep and cattle. Now the chase was for the large, beautiful wild animals that ran like the wind. A rush of excitement would fill their hearts at the idea of riding the animal that ran faster than their imagination. Man longed to feel the freedom and the power that the horse could give him.

Men were worthy opponents for Eclipse, but so far he had managed to outsmart them. He watched over his herd with tireless vigilance. With great skill he avoided the two legged animals that hunted the herds and drove away some of the best mares and foals. He knew all too well the fate of the capture.

He remembered as a young colt being stolen from his herd along with his mother, Moonglow, and three other mares. Even his father, the brave and powerful, chestnut stallion Flying Wind, could not save them from capture. After many summers had slipped by under the moon, Flying Wind at last saw his stolen herd from a distance. He found them in small fenced fields where their wild spirits and sense of freedom had slowly faded to distant memories. Moonglow, his misty white mare, was losing her defiant lightning spirit and was becoming a ghost of her former self. He whinnied and pounded the ground calling to their wild hearts. As evening fell and the stars and moon filled the sky , Eclipse heard the cry of freedom. He called to the mighty stallion Flying Wind. Flying Wind's mane rose and his tail arched as if to carry a banner. He galloped to the wooden fence and struck the railings until they split and tumbled below him. Eclipse and the mares were free. They ran swiftly towards their distant herd in a victory gallop, a gallop for freedom.

In the days that followed, Flying Wind taught everything he knew to Eclipse. He believed one day he would replace him as a great stallion, defender of the wild herd. Eclipse vowed to the aging stallion that he would never lose the fight for freedom. The two stallions reared and whinnied their pledge to the wind and the sky above them.

Eclipse listened and learned well from Flying Wind. In time he began to follow his own instincts, using the evening mist and clouds to hide and protect his herd. Man never hunted the wild herds at night, only in the safety of the sunlight. He would pass through the lands of man under a blanket of darkness, leaving a trail of silent hoofprints.

Eclipse's Herd

Brave, cunning and strong, Eclipse had challenged and won one of the most sought after herds in his territory. He had to carefully guard his mares from rogue stallions who coveted the herd that ran through the night as freely as the mist upon the moon. He had his share of battle scars to prove his loyalty and worthiness but he had never been seriously hurt. His greatest opponent was a large, stocky buckskin named Golden Earth.

Golden Earth had a coat the color of a willow, and a black mane and tail streaked with rays of sunshine. He roamed the land with his graceful reddish-brown mare, Earthquake, the last survivor of a once plentiful herd. When she galloped, her powerful hooves sent tremors across the land; and her long black tail and mane following like aftershocks in the air.

Every year Golden Earth galloped to the top of the hill to whinny and stomp, arching his strong neck. He snorted wildly until Eclipse answered his war call. It was always a brutal fight but one that never finished. Golden Earth longed to fill his harem with mares as beautiful as those in Eclipse's band. Although Golden Earth did not share the herd, he shared a need to protect Eclipse's mares and foals from danger. He was always close by, watching and sadly remembering the whinnying and galloping sounds of his own former herd.

A bountiful season of fresh green meadows, cool running waters and warm weather came to Eclipse's herd in the year of his greatest challenge. There were nine mares and seven foals that year, a good size herd for a young stallion. It was a time of great pride for Eclipse. All of the foals were strong and bold like their sire. Some were pintos, others were shades of black like Eclipse and some were spotted and dappled. His lead mare Moonbeam, a pale dusty palomino with a blaze that looked like a slice of the moon, had given him a foal that looked just like him. The young foal, Moonshadow, followed his mother everywhere, shadowing every trot and canter with perfect precision. The small black shadow gained confidence staying close to his mother believing some day he would be as mighty as Eclipse.

Eclipse's mare Comet, a brown paint with a blaze that looked like a streaking comet, was mimicked by a long-legged foal that circled her like a planet orbiting the sun.

Lucky Stars, a strong gentle appaloosa with a spotted coat that looked like stars sprinkled across her backside, quietly groomed and nuzzled her offspring. When the herd went thundering across the fields it was a blur of flying manes, dancing tails, long legs and earthy colors. Golden Earth stood on a cliff and looked down at the herd and could not help but admire the vision of beauty as they galloped past him.

The Arrival of Man

Golden Earth looked all around the land hoping to find a pasture where he could graze in peace. He saw a small herd of strange animals moving slowly in the fields below him. They walked on two legs and carried objects on their backs. He did not know at first what they were but his instincts and his memories pounded a dangerous beat to his heart. Then he saw something that filled him both with fear and amazement. He gazed curiously at two horses following behind the herd of these strange animals, carrying one on each of their backs. The animals legs hung down around the horse's sides and they held onto their manes. The horses walked quietly and calmly and did not carry themselves with the unbridled grace of the wild horses he had seen moments ago in Eclipses' herd. These horses were very different!

Being creatures of habit, Golden Earth knew that the herd would return to graze in the pasture below where this new danger was waiting for them. The buckskin looked for another path down the mountain where he could escape and go to warn Eclipse's herd. A rugged steep trail offered him a safe but slow descent. Earthquake, his faithful mare, waited and stood guard on the hill above. Eclipse had keen eyesight and was always alert, but Golden Earth knew that even his mighty opponent could not sense what was hiding in the long grass. Eclipse had to be warned of the approaching danger.

Golden Earth stepped through the field as quietly as a soft wind towards the herd in the distance. He went unnoticed by man; perhaps the lone stallion was not enough of a prize for them to pursue. These men wanted to capture the mysterious horses that ran through the night like lightening in the sky. This herd had magical power. Anyone who rode on the backs of these horses would be protected by the moon and the stars.

Once out of reach, Golden Earth galloped off to warn Eclipse of the danger. He ran as fast as he could until his coat was covered in sweat and his nostrils flared from his heavy breathing. Eclipse heard Golden Earth's large hooves pounding the ground ahead of him. Golden Earth whinnied a warning of danger that was carried on the wind to the herd. With his ears laid back, Eclipse's put his nose to the wind and smelled the scent of man on Golden Earth's breath. His senses were flooded with memories of his capture and his pledge of freedom.

Eclipse knew that this stallion loved his herd as much as he did, and so, on this day the two mighty stallions united to save the wild mares from man. Freedom meant more than territory today. Golden Earth gathered the foals and the slowest of the mares, while Eclipse called Moonbeam, Comet, and Lucky Stars, his fastest mares, to his side. With Eclipse leading them, they could outrun the men on their tame horses. Golden Earth guided the rest of the herd to safer ground to wait until Eclipse and his lead mares returned.

The Chase

Eclipse stood on his hind legs and whinnied his challenge to man in the distance and he thundered towards him followed by his three mares. Clouds of dust surrounded the four strong horses as they galloped past their would-be captors. The herd ran united as one with the beating rhythm of their hearts and hooves. The wind danced through their manes and tails and sang a song of freedom in their ears.

The two hunters waited anxiously for the moment of chase and galloped behind on their horses. Dust and dirt from the hooves ahead of them flew in their faces; they could barely see the wild herd. Their horses carried them swiftly, following the pace of the stallion. A wild calling rushed through their tamed blood as they chased the herd. It gave them strength and a speed that thrilled the men on their backs. The chase continued as daylight faded and the spirits of the darkness called to Eclipse. He was tired and weak from the pursuit. His will carried him forward when his legs would have chosen to stop. The men, also weary, thought they would have his mares for themselves before the night was over. The pace slowed as the darkness surrounded the men. They were unsure of the ground below them and a heavy mist was starting to rise in their path. This was what Eclipse was hoping for, to vanish into the night air right before their eyes.

Eclipse looked up into the sky above him and whinnied a haunting cry for help. His call was picked up by the fog on the ground and carried by the wind into the night. It found its way to the mist around the full moon that glowed above them. "Free...keep my mares free...wild and free..." it whispered to the moon and the stars.

The horses that carried the men heard the wild call and they felt and understood the sorrow in the stallion's cry. They remembered the days of running free with the herd in a land that seemed to stretch toward eternity. Despite domestication, they would always remain herd animals. They knew what he was calling for, but they had also found a happiness and harmony in their world with man. They were free to love and be loved and had formed a bond with humans. They looked up into the sky above them and gave thanks for their good fortune, knowing that not all horses were treated as well as they were.

Spirits of Freedom

The forces of nature in moon and stars looked down on the sweating, tired, aching stallion who would have run to his death to honor his pledge of freedom. They looked ahead to the looming hills before the wild horses and could see they were heading for the edge of a cliff. The animals would be trapped with no place to run. The sky spirits had always guided Eclipse, and would help him save the Night Mares that galloped faithfully with him through the darkness and fog. The cold mist that circled the moon unraveled itself and stretched down to touch the cliff below. As Eclipse reached the edge, he faced the fear of capture. He heard a soft familiar whisper in the wind. It was the spirit of Flying Wind calling from the mist. "A heart that is brave and true holds special magic. Listen to your heart and your call will be answered."

The magic of the moon and the stars in the sky spoke to him. "Let your mares run. Let them keep running into the night mist beyond the cliff and we will carry them up into the stars. They will live in our sky where man can only dream of their capture."

Eclipse whinnied to his mares to follow the path ahead of them and he turned to face the men who challenged their freedom. The mares galloped across the white mist that lay like new fallen snow up, into the sky above the men. Their hoof prints and their echoing whinnies blazed a pathway to the stars. The men stopped in fear and awe. They were witnessing a magic that they could not understand. They looked at the defiant stallion whose eyes shone with the light of the moon and they lowered their heads to him in respect. He was truly the mightiest stallion that ever lived. He could summon the magic of the moon and stars with his valiant whinny. The men turned their horses slowly and rode away from the prized stallion. Tomorrow they would return to their families and tell a tale of such magic and power that legends are made of.

The stallion looked up into the sky above him and whinnied softly to his mares, Moonbeam, Comet and Lucky Stars. He was filled with both sadness and joy knowing that they had become the freedom fighters for the wild herds below. The Night Mares pranced and gleamed in the sky above him and showed him a safe path back to the herd and Golden Earth. They would watch over their foals, their herd and the generations to come. They promised to be the protectors of the night for all horses, wild and domestic, lighting a safe path. It was Eclipse's destiny to guard the land below. He returned to his herd and told the tale of the mystical night. The horses bowed their heads in silence and vowed to pass on the legend and legacy.

Legend and Legacy - The Night Mares

A long time has passed since the days of Eclipse and his wild herd. Wild horses vanished, then reappeared on the earth, and are now vanishing once again. Man's history has both defied and threatened their extinction. Man has been the horse's best friend as well as his most brutal foe. The Night Mares look down upon us and watch closely. It is their dream that there will always be wild horses and that fate is kind to the captured. The call of their wild hearts and their thundering hooves will be heard forever as a reminder to all of us of what freedom really means. So if you awaken to a storm with lightening and thunder on a dark night, it may be the Night Mares streaking across the sky. The pounding of their hooves and their ancient whinny is a cry for us to save yet another horse.

We don't have to be afraid of the night. It is the keeper of legends and protector of creatures below. Night Mares dance brilliantly against a background of black sky and glowing stars to light our way to a time remembered. Gaze up into their bright lights and they will guide you through the darkest of nights. And if you believe in them, they will give you a magical power to help change the fate of their kind.

Listen to the call of the wild herd and remember...

Reprint authorized by Dawn Van Zant

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