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Killer Buyer chapter: Lady Gold

It was Nov. 7, 1992. The cottonwoods that formed a backdrop to the Cattleman's Livestock Auction blazed with gold. A raven circled overhead.

My teen daughters, Valerie and Virginia began climbing the steps to the catwalk that ran above the horse pens. Below us, a Holstein cow stood impassively. The right side of her face was shattered. A bloody eyeball hung out. Tiny male Holstein calves with umbilical cords hanging pink from their bellies crowded around her udder. Three at once were trying to suckle something from her shrunken teats. I glanced west at the parking lot. A truck with the logo "Your Used Cow Dealer of New Mexico" waited nearby. They were the outfit that hauled away dead livestock. The used cow dealer would probably get her, I thought.

Cattlemen's Livestock Auction, Belen, NM, on a pleasant November morning.

We were there today because a friend of Marcie's wanted to raise an orphan foal and wanted help negotiating the auction scene. My daughters and I volunteered.

I shook off thoughts of the cow and headed south along the catwalk. Soon we sighted two foals. A little pinto, in a pen by herself, was lying on her side, all four feet resting on top of the lower bar of the pen.

Marcie's friend cried out, "Is it dead? Should we go down and help?" Suddenly the pinto untangled her legs, jumped up and shook manure from her coat.

In the pen beside her, a tiny pinto colt lay on his side. It is rare to see a small foal in November. Usually mares foal no later than mid-summer. His markings were as rare as his probable birth date. His head was dun roan with a white blaze and black forelock. (Roan is a mixture of colored and white hairs.) The rest of him was white except for a spot on his rump and a streak of black in his tail. Around here, we call this pattern "medicine hat." Native Americans say that medicine hat horses have magical powers.

Two palomino mares and a paint stallion stood around the colt as if fencing him in from the inhabitants of the adjoining pens. One of the mares was so thin that we could count her ribs. After a few minutes, the foal raised his head and shook it, then lurched to his feet. He began nursing from one of the mares. He was so small that his back was just about even with the underside of her chest.

A man with a weatherbeaten face the color of old saddle leather hobbled up the corridor outside the pen. I cupped my hands so my voice would carry. "Whose horses are those?"

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© 2004 Carolyn M. Bertin. All rights reserved.