The Filly

October 20, 2019

The blood was obvious before I noticed she was limping. The filly, perhaps two months old, was hopping around, and whinnying in pain and fear. Once Ixchel and I got closer, we could see the gash up on her left hind leg, and it was obvious the foal had been attacked by dogs.

Often in the mornings, I get up to the sound of the Belgian shepherd dog next door barking at cows or horses in the field outside. There’s lush grazing there, and the animals come to graze where there are noisy dogs, but no seriously vicious ones. The neighbours’ mutts join in the dawn chorus of yapping and growling, proving their macho guard-dog credentials, but nobody gets close to the bigger animals.


Horses grazing outside my living room window. The Belgian shephard dog that lives next door is visible as a silhouette in the gate, as he rears up and barks from the safety of being behind iron bars.

This was a different situation. The filly had presumably been with her mother, wandering through the streets of San Andres and munching on the plants and grass at the sides of the lanes and gardens. But a pack of dogs, presumably, likely with one much bolder than the rest, had gone for them, and they’d panicked. Together, they could have kicked out at their assailants, and driven them back, but isolated, such mutual protection wasn’t so easy. Now the filly was alone and scared, with blood running down her leg, and her mother nowhere in sight.

I’ve tried for years to understand the theory of ranching here, and I can’t. If livestock are allowed to wander around unchecked, they can go for miles, as well as being at risk from errant drivers and aggressive canines. Somehow, the ranchers keep track of their animals, perhaps through the cellphone equivalent of bush telegraph, but it leaves the animals unprotected in emergencies. It seems careless to me.

Neither Ixchel nor I had any idea how to help a wounded foal in distress, and a farmer in a paddock nearby seemed unconcerned by what was happening. He seemed to indicate that somehow, some way, things would be okay … or they wouldn’t. And neither of us could do anything constructive. We continued on our hike for a few miles, finally deciding we were in danger of having to walk for too long to come to a bus route back home, and headed back the way we’d come.

San Andres de la Cal is a little larger than my home village of Amatlan, which has around 1,100 inhabitants. Both are farming communities, Amatlan to the east of Tepoztlan, the main local centre, and San Andres to the west, on the other side of the mountain ridge on which Tepoztlan sits.

Giant roots of amate trees along a hillside trail near San Andres de la Cal.

Neither has a great deal to commend it other than relative peace and rural beauty, with steep hills and cliffs not far away. But the trails are excellent for an afternoon walk, and there are intriguing rock formations to discover as well as amate trees with their exposed roots like massed, connected drainpipes, and at this time of year lots of butterflies. We came back complaining that, as usual, we’d walked too far and were done for the day, and checked with a couple of locals that we were on the right street to get a micro-bus back.

Then Ixchel saw the mare trotting along as we strolled to the correct corner, whinnying constantly, and checking each side-street. It wasn’t hard to guess it was the mother of the filly, searching for her foal, and unable to locate her.

Again, we couldn’t help. We didn’t know where the foal had wandered in the intervening two hours, nor whether someone had caught her and had treated the wound or given her water.

And I don’t have a happy ending. We just had to assume the two would eventually connect with each other, and the foal would, in time, recover from the savage bite. But I’ve been bitten two or three times by dogs this year, and not remotely near as nastily as that.

Mexico is a place of much kindness, and immense beauty. It’s nothing like the violence-ridden hell-hole I read about so often in mass media. But it also has a cruel side, as does any culture based around a rural lifestyle. Dogs are kept to protect property, not because people like furry pets. I was caught on a quiet street at dusk a week ago, and had to use my fists to fend off three aggressive guardians who went for me. My crude technique, drawn more or less from the Bif! Bam! Pow! of the old Batman TV series, did the trick, but the knuckles of my right hand are still a little bruised. Dogs here attack, dogs here bite, and quite often, there’s blood.

So, we can only hope that the persistently whinnying mare found her child, and the child found her mother, and they both live more or less okay ever after. And that’s where we had to leave it.

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