It’s the late 1800s. A Lakota boy finds an orphaned mustang foal and brings her back to his family’s camp. Naming her Paint for her black-and-white markings, boy and horse soon become inseparable. Together they learn to hunt buffalo, their fear of the massive beasts tempered by a growing trust in each other. When the U.S. Cavalry attacks the camp, the pair is forced onto separate paths. Paint’s fate becomes entwined with that of settlers who bring irreversible change to the grassland, setting the stage for environmental disaster. Bought and sold several times, Paint finally finds a home with English pioneers on the Canadian Prairie. With a great dust storm looming on the horizon, man and horse will again need to work together if they hope to survive
Her words flow perfectly from page to page and I didn't want to put this book down. The period in history is depicted with a great level of detail, and I felt transported back in time. The varied characters are all believable and I cared about all of them. But mostly I grew to love Paint, the remarkable horse who is the center of this book. Ms. Dance writes with great respect for this horse, and the end result is a very touching novel
— Catherine, Goodreads 5 stars
a book that manages to portray our history with a horse as the main character. The concept is amazing, and the execution of that concept is masterful. As a story about a horse, this is a great book, but there is so much more, and the book goes so much deeper, that it becomes a history lesson and a commentary on what we did (do) to the land and the people on it. Pure genius.
— Katarina Ortmann - Amazon.ca 5 stars.
The details she includes on horse behaviour are accurate – keenly observed over many years as a horsewoman herself. She creates tension, so that the reader becomes engaged and invested in the story and characters. By the tale’s conclusion, we have a new appreciation for the people and the animals that lived and died during this brutal time in history. — Horse Canada Magazine
TRAILER for PAINT
Winds of change are sweeping across the Great Plains of North America. It's the late 1800s. A Lakota boy and a horse called Paint escape with their lives when their village is attacked by U.S. Cavalry. From the slaughter of the buffalo and the threatened existence of the Plains Indians who depend on them, to cattle ranching and pioneer homesteading, horse and boy are forced onto different paths leading to environmental and human catastrophe.
The old mare sensed that something was wrong. She was agitated. In her youth she would have snorted and galloped around the paddock with her tail held high, but with age she had become slower, less excitable. Even so, her body trembled and she couldn’t settle down to graze. Not that there was much to graze on. The grass had gone, and she had eaten most of the weeds in the paddock, except for the thistles. She would have to be starving before risking a pricked lip. And she wasn’t starving, not quite.
She wandered across the field, pawing occasionally at the bare ground, asking it to yield something edible. She dug up some grass roots. Curling back her lips, she grasped the tuft with her front teeth, tossed her head to dislodge the clods of earth, then chewed, thoughtfully, slowly, her few remaining molars grinding against the grit.
The air was changing now. She could feel the hair on her back beginning to rise. She paced back and forth in front of the gate, her agitation building, her heart rate increasing. Everything inside her was responding to a message from that deep and ancient part of her brain that told her to bolt, to escape, because her life was in danger. But she couldn’t get away. She was fenced in. Frantic, she pushed against the gate, then reached to mouth the latch. But even before her damp nose touched the metal, a spark flew across the charged air. It snapped and crackled, biting her as if she’d been stung by wasps. She jumped back, startled and perplexed. There were no wasps. No lightning. No thunder. No rain. Not even a nearby cowhand cracking his whip.
Something hit the ground with a thump, not far from her nose. She jumped sideways and, tucking her hind legs under her, bolted away at full gallop.
After a few strides she realized that the predator wasn’t chasing her, so she stopped to take stock of the situation. It was neither an eagle nor a wolf, just a small bird. It had no markings, nothing to make it out of the ordinary. But the horse knew there was something extraordinary in the way the creature came to be at her feet. Something was wrong, but she didn’t know what. Birds didn’t fall from the sky. They fluttered down, or glided on outstretched wings. They didn’t hit the dirt so hard that they bounced.
From a safe distance the old mare’s curiosity got the better of her fear. She stretched her neck down and sniffed. The aroma of grass and seed made her braver. The creature wasn’t a predator. Predators smelled of meat. Gingerly she walked toward it, snorting and blowing, bobbing her head, the bird’s unusual presence still warning her to be wary. It lay still, dust settling on its unblinking eye. Suddenly it gasped, and the mare spun away. But the downy breast didn’t rise again. After a few seconds the old horse was brave enough to touch a feather with her whiskers. She knew then that the spirit of life had left the creature.
Another bird fell not far from her, hitting the parched earth with an equally alarming thump that sent a puff of dry dust into the air. Again, the horse shied away, dancing for a moment in the shadows that flickered over her back. The moving patterns of light and dark told her that a flock of birds was overhead. Soon they blotted out the burning sun, leaving the horse in total shade. More birds fell from the sky like hailstones. She raised her tail and pranced away from them into the bright sunlight on the edge of the paddock.
Then suddenly the flock was gone.
The air stilled.
But not for long.
The dust storm slammed into her.
There was no shelter for the old horse. She turned her rump to the wind, arched her back, lowered her head, and braced against the onslaught.
Her black and white markings vanished under a coat of sand.
The mustangs were barely visible as they loped across the rolling plain, their multicoloured spots and smudges melding with the earth and rocks, their streaming manes and tails masquerading as tall grasses blowing in the constant prairie breeze.
Despite the vast open grassland around them, the horses were bunched up, pressing into each other, head to flank, nose to tail. Yearlings gambolled, bursting ahead of their mothers, trying to goad them into play, but most of the mares were heavy with foal and couldn’t be provoked. A slow lope was all they could manage.
The boss mare was taking the herd back to the place where most of them had been born, an area of scrubby woodland where mustangs could hold the wolves at bay, a place where the newborns would have a better chance of survival than on the open plain. But something was wrong, and had been for a while. Neither the gentle lope, nor the warm sun, was reason for the leader of the herd to be sweating so profusely. She stopped and flung her head back to nip at her flank. Then she kicked up at her belly with a hind leg. The feelings weren’t new to her, she had foaled many times before, but this time it was different. The feelings were lasting too long.
She groaned and lowered herself to the ground, stretching out on her side, her tail swishing furiously, but it didn’t seem to help, so she heaved herself up, and kicked at her belly again. The other horses stopped and waited with her, anxiously snatching mouthfuls of grass here and there. The labouring mare heaved herself up and down many times, until she wearied and lay quietly in the grass. Still, the herd waited.
The mare’s yearling colt stayed close, nudging and licking her. The others sniffed the air. The scent of birth made them anxious. Countless generations of wild ancestry had taught the horses that birth odour attracted their most feared predator: wolves. All of the horses knew they should be moving on, seeking safety. Their legs itched to run. But their leader still had power over them. She thrashed her head occasionally as if to let them know she was still living, still dominant, still in charge.
Another odour tinged the air, too: humans. It was a smell that demanded the wild horses flee. But the herd was leaderless. Several of the mustangs made brief sorties, trotting boldly away before returning to the herd with wide eyes, anxiety pinching their lips and tightening their nostrils.
Suddenly an older mare walked purposefully away from the herd and didn’t look back. Immediately, many of the horses followed her, but some stayed, remaining loyal to their helpless leader for just a few more minutes. Then survival instinct kicked in, and they loped after the others. The yearling colt was the last to leave, but eventually he, too, spun on his haunches, whisked his half-grown tail over his back and galloped after the herd.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The boy known as Noisy Horse was in his twelfth summer when he found the painted mustang. He had not noticed the wild horses loping across the prairie, nor had he seen the herd anxiously waiting for nature to take its course. He had not even seen the pricked ears of his family’s horses as they stared into the distance, trying to catch a glimpse of their wild cousins. It was the raucous distant cries of ravens that caught his attention. They were circling in the sky, some way off from the tipis. Noisy Horse knew what it meant, so he jogged off to investigate.
The mare was easy to spot, a black-and-white mound in the short grass, directly under the flight path of the big black birds. She was on her side, as if she was sleeping, stretched out in the sun. The boy approached gently, unsure if she was alive or dead, half expecting her to startle and jump to her feet, yet knowing she would not let him get this close if she was still alive. When he saw her eyes, he knew for sure. The light in them had gone.
The wolves had not yet found her, but Noisy Horse suspected that it would not be long. The ravens were calling for them, needing the carnivores to rip open the carcass and serve the scavenging birds their meal.
It was only as he turned to leave that Noisy Horse saw the newborn filly, hidden in a clump of taller grass. She was painted like her mother, but smoky grey and white. And also like her mother, she lay flat on her side. But she was not dead. The boy could see her nostrils twitching. As he moved closer, she tried to scramble up, but her legs didn’t hold her for more than a few seconds and she collapsed to the ground. Noisy Horse wanted to help, to steady her, to stroke his fingers across her soft new coat, but he held back, sensing that he would frighten her. Instead he watched, spellbound. She was mostly grey, but was splattered with white splotches, drips and speckles. Her long ears were solid grey, as was her head, except for a white blaze that dashed around one eye then coursed down her dished nose like a waterfall, splashing her dark nostrils with white spray.
She was the most beautiful foal he had ever seen. But he was also terrified by how fragile she was. All of his life had been spent with horses. His father was the trainer of the band’s herd. Yet the boy didn’t know what to do. However, he knew exactly what his father would say: Son, there’s nothing we can do. She needs her mother’s milk, especially the first milk. Without that, she will die.
In his imagination the boy could see his father’s shoulders rise and fall in a defeated sigh. My son, you must accept that death will soon visit her. It is not wise to get your hopes high.
But the boy’s hopes were high. He hoped that the painted mare had lived long enough for the foal to drink the first milk. And he hoped that if he took the young one home, Swift, his father’s favourite mare, might mother her. He knew that mares, even bereaved ones like Swift, usually turned on orphans, driving them away, refusing to give them life. Yet he hoped.
He wondered if he should leave the filly alone, and run back to the village to fetch his father, but the ravens were starting to attack him, trying to drive him away from the mare’s carcass. They were hungry, and getting more so with every passing moment. They’d been calling the wolves for some time now, and Noisy Horse knew that it wouldn’t be long before the pack arrived. He couldn’t risk leaving the little filly alone. Stooping, he picked her up and settled her across his shoulders, her front legs down one side of his chest, her hind legs down the other. She was heavier than he imagined, but she didn’t struggle and that made it easier. Clutching all four hooves in his hands he started for home.