This book is dedicated to my family and my best friend June

By Joan Arlittle.
























One day, feeling in a creative mood,  I sat down at my desk and began to write a story. Being a horse-lover it naturally turned out to be about a herd of horses, or perhaps I should  say one horse in particular.

I named him Rocket, as I needed a name which suggested speed and grace, and I felt that that name suited him admirably. I coloured him black with a white blaze and socks giving him a distinctive air.

America was the obvious choice of country in which to put a herd of wild horses, so there they went to roam the Prairies. Along with America there came the Cowboys, wolves, Prairie fires, blizzards, storms and everything that people connect with that great country. Then pressures of life took over and the book was put away in a drawer for many years, till I started to learn how to use a Word Processor and decided to bring it out and tidy it up, so finally it has seen the light of day again and I hope it will give at least a  few people the same pleasure to read it, as I did on writing it. Thanks must go to my best friend June, who used to play “horses” with me and some other friends in Primary school, and who got into trouble with the rest of us when we got so absorbed in our play we failed to hear the end of playtime bell!!.  Thanks also  to my Husband Clive, who first suggested resurrecting the story, and,  very patiently came in answer to my frequent  anguished cries of “ where’s it gone now”, or “why won’t it do what I want it to do?” and sorted it out.

                                                      Joan Arlittle                                                   







This story starts and finishes in America, where roams a herd of wild horses numbering around six hundred or so, presided over by an old stallion; old it is true but by virtue of his age, immensely wise.

This stallion, “Sharp-Hoof” came from a long line of Arab thoroughbreds, brought over to the New World by the early Settlers to improve their own tamed  herds of “scrubs” or “bushy-tails” or whatever they chose to call the half-wild horses which roamed in huge herds, the descendants of horses taken over by the Conquistadors, and which had spread northward ever since, and from which they obtained their animals.  Some of these thoroughbreds had escaped and run wild and joined up with the true wild Brumbies and had bred and inter-bred with these Brumbies so much that the original Arab strain had  almost entirely disappeared. However, Sharp-Hoof the leader still retained traces of his noble ancestry, as did one of his mares in the herd who was at this time in foal by him.

The mare “Blue-Fire” also came from almost the same line as the stallion  and the foal she was then expecting was to be her first and was due any day. This was to be Rocket, the main figure (or horse) in the story, with everything revolving around his life.

Now, having given the background to the story , let us meet the herd on their own pastures.






Rocket was born on a clear, starry night in early spring. His mother Blue-Fire licked him clean and dry.  After a few minutes he stopped shivering and Blue-Fire gently tried to nose him to his feet, he tried to stand up on his long spindly legs and after a few tries , managed to stand. “Come little one”   his mother  whinnied  to him quietly and reassuringly “let us get back to the safety of the herd”. Rocket could  just see in the distance, the dim black forms of the herd to which his mother, and now he, belonged. She gently and carefully guided the tiny,  stumbling form of her new son through the darkness. Suddenly, in front of them, barring their  way , stood the huge silhouette  of a magnificent stallion. He had a long sweeping  mane and tail, and a wild,  beautiful head held proudly on a curving neck. He was a deep, burnished chestnut in colour except for a star of white on his forehead and three  white “socks” He was also very scarred, each scar proclaiming hard-won fights to keep his leadership over the years from brash young colts who thought to take over his role and the herd. Though he must then have been very old he stepped lightly towards them. “This is your sire” whickered   Blue-Fire to Rocket, “ His name is Sharp- Hoof, because of those sharp hooves that he uses to defeat his opponents and defend the herd”  The old stallion regarded them with pride for a moment then whinnied “he looks as though those legs will take him far and fast, I think his name should be Rocket” then turned and led them to the fine herd of colts, fillies and mares  who he ruled over. When they reached them, the herd quietly  surrounded them and congratulated Blue-Fire on the safe birth of a fine foal, then the two of them joined the inner ring of the herd which consisted of very young foals and their mothers. Now they were reasonably safe Blue-Fire fed Rocket with milk and then they  lay down amongst the others with Rocket warmly tucked against his mothers side, and very quickly the two of them fell fast asleep, safe and contented.

In the morning Rocket awoke and looked about him in amazement; as far as he could see, there were mares with their skittish foals and young colts and fillies playing games with each other.

Slowly, grazing as they went, the herd moved off the sleeping grounds, taking it easy so the very young and new-born would have no difficulty keeping up and not get separated, which was a very dangerous thing to happen. About noon they reached a large pool, which was fed by several streams. There the older animals quenched their thirst, the foals having fed as they travelled. They rested there for a while then they were off again, Rocket had found his legs by the end of the day but by the evening it was all the young ones could do to keep going even in the shelter of their mothers flanks. Soon realising that the young ones could really travel no further Sharp-Hoof called a halt and Rocket thankfully sank down, curled himself up by his mother and soon was fast asleep.   

So Rockets first day drew to a close. Many more were to follow, exactly like the first, but to Rocket that day always stood in his memory as his first taste of the Big World.                                           After a week or so he stopped hugging his mothers side and, in the company of four of five other colts he played, pretending to kick, plunging and squealing in fun, sometimes even snapping  playfully at each other, although he would quickly return to the safety of his mothers flank when anything frightened or upset him and she would nuzzle him gently, and lick his face to make him feel better.

So three years passed peacefully enough for him, he was now an independent fine young stallion, his mane and tail as long as his Sires and his head the small delicate shape of his Arab ancestors, although he had a white blaze instead of a star and all four legs sported a white sock and he took his mothers jet black colouring as well. When he was two years old his mother gave birth to another foal, a small chestnut filly, and a gradual change came between them. She no longer took so much notice of him and soon, when ever he approached her, she would charge at him, snapping at him to drive him away, so that he began to avoid her. However, he rarely missed her company nowadays, or felt lonely without her, as he had made friends with three other lively, mischievous young stallions and had formed a fast and close friendship with them.







It was summer and the four animals; “Patch”, a Skewbald, “Golden Boy”, a Palomino, “Smoke”, a mouse coloured horse and Rocket, lay dozing in the hot sunlight, in a forest clearing,  their outstretched bodies soaking up every ounce of the  warmth, their  stomachs full of summer grass gurgling contentedly.

The rest of the herd were either grazing the long dry grass, or had followed the four companions example and lay asleep, their skins twitching every few minutes to discourage the flies that wanted to settle on them. It was a sultry, close heat that day and many of the mares moved restlessly and uneasily sensing impending danger, but not sure as to where it would come from.

Suddenly, one animal sniffed the breeze and laid his ears back flat against his skull in alarm. Rocket also leapt to his feet in alarm as an acrid smell was wafted on the breeze to his keen nostrils. He had smelt it once before when , early one morning they had passed by a Ranch-house and his primitive instincts had made him extremely uneasy even then.  

From his look-out post,  nearby, Sharp-Hoof  stamped an imperative warning, with a forefoot,   to his herd and then neighed shrilly. Instantly, there was pandemonium and Rockets group caught the fear from the older, more experienced animals in the herd who had known and experienced this danger before. FIRE!!……a bush fire, rapidly sweeping through the dry grasses and trees toward the herd!. Bodies of terrified horses began to hurtle past Rocket driven by the urge to put as much distance between the fire and themselves, then he was swept by an uncontrollable fear and he started to canter which rapidly changed to a headlong gallop.

Head up, eyes glazed with fear, nostrils distended, not really knowing why he was running or where he was running to, he kept going. Soon he burst through the margin of the forest and there in front of him, spread a wide blue lake, sparkling in the sun. Rocket glanced behind him, and seeing the huge clouds of smoke boiling up out of the forest behind him, kept galloping and without faltering or stumbling in his stride, galloped straight into the water until the increasing depth brought him to an abrupt standstill, with his head just above the water, He could see many other animals in the water, their habitual enmity forgotten in the general panic caused  by the danger in which they were now placed. A wolf stood side by side with a young filly and snakes lay quietly nearby,  half-submerged.

As the fire swept nearer, hot ash and cinders began to rain down upon their defenceless heads and Rocket was forced more than once to duck under the water to soothe the searing pain of a burn from one of these.  The fire growled like an angry animal as it progressed, the trees exploding with tremendous bangs and then turning into fire-balls, which carried the flames onto the neighbouring trees.

At last, when the fire was more like a raging inferno than anything else it reached the waters edge, and with a terrifying hisssssss, the flames flickered then died and more clouds of smoke and steam rose up blanketing the sky. For at least three hours or more after the last flicker of flame had died, they remained motionless in the water, then one by one, they slowly crept out. The general truce was at once broken and the filly realising who its companion had been, scuttled out of the water and fled in terror.

As Rocket came out of the water, he was aware of the heat still in the ground making it extremely uncomfortable to walk on. Gradually the remnants of the herd came together, shocked and dazed by what had happened to them. Of the six hundred fine beasts there had been before the fire, there were  left only five hundred and fifty, thirty had perished in the conflagration and twenty had been trampled to death by their own companions in the first crazed stampede, Patch among them.

The herd moved quickly away from the scene of terror, death and distruction. There was nothing left but burnt foliage all around and nothing but cinders underfoot, staying would have meant certain starvation for  them all. That night, Rocket, Smoke and Golden Boy huddled together for reassurance and comfort.




 Rocket was now five years old. The intervening years had brought their own excitement, wolves had attacked,  and once, some men had ridden up and picked out a small part of the herd and driven them away never to be seen again. There had been blizzards without number, but despite all these difficulties  Rocket was happy. He was never seen around except in the company of his close companions, Golden Boy and Smoke.

The three companions were  now becoming a  danger as far as Sharp-Hoof was concerned, to  his claim of leadership. One day, coming within range of them, Sharp-Hoof , neighing shrilly in rage, galloped towards them and delivered a hefty thump on each of their ribs with his hind feet. Startled out of their wits they cantered away from the vicinity of the herd.

That night and for the next two or three days they did try to creep quietly back into the herd but each time, squealing with rage, Sharp-Hoof drove them away with bites and kicks and each time they returned, the punishment was more severe and the bites more vicious. Around dawn on the fourth day the trio realised that it was no use and they trotted dejectedly  away together, ears down and heads hanging.

For a week the three dismally wandered at random. By then they had travelled approximately fifty miles from the herd, then one day quenching their thirst at a gully spring, they heard the sound of drumming hooves and, looking up, they saw a herd with a leader almost  as young and brash  as themselves ,coming to drink at the spring. About a hundred yards away the leader stopped uncertainly, and immediately the herd stood to one side, eager to see the entertainment which they knew would be offered in the form of a fight to establish who would be leader.                                           






Golden- Boy pricked up his ears and trotted forwards, at the same time neighing  a challenge to the buckskin stallion. The stallion, whose name was Fire-Brand, tossed his head and nickered  a defiant challenge in return, then came towards Golden-Boy. The two horses circled each other, weighing each other up, then as if propelled by an unseen force  they leapt forward and swung round as they did so and their heels thudded against each others rib-cages. Hooves thudded into solid flesh and teeth snapped shut on empty air, or, quite frequently, into bruised flesh. After about twenty minutes of strenuous fighting, both horses were bruised and battered, and both were thoroughly lathered with foamy sweat which was tinged pink with the blood that flowed from the savage bites which each had bestowed on the other. There was a nasty bite on Golden-Boys flank and he was limping from a kick that he had received on one of his forelegs, but he had had his revenge and both Fire-Brands ears were split and torn. After a short, cautious interval, in which the two stallions regained their wind, the two circled again and then Golden-Boy, seizing his chance, rushed in and as he reached the bewildered leader he whipped round and played a hard tattoo on the others ribs. Fire-Brand decided that he’d had enough and with a startled snort swung round and fled away. Golden-Boy chased him for a while helping him on his way with bites and kicks, then turned and came cantering back triumphantly. However , when he reached the other two horses they discovered that since the fight, Golden-Boys attitude towards them had changed dramatically, and to their dismay he charged them with the obvious intention of dealing with them as he had with Fire-Brand. It was quite obvious that trying to tell him they were friends would be a waste of time, and also useless to try to stop and argue with him so, as one, the two turned and tore away as fast as they could gallop, followed by a derisory whinny from the new leader of the herd, Golden-Boy as he rounded up the mares and foals and trotted sedately away in the opposite direction to them.




Another year passed and still the two roamed the prairies together, never out of one anothers sight. But although they didn’t know it their peace was soon to be rudely shattered. Resting by a muddy pool, close to a cottonwood ,Rocket glanced up and saw a cloud of dust coming their way. Startled by the unaccustomed sight they then heard hoofbeats and saw a group of men on horseback. Although they weren’t unduly worried by this, they thought that it would be better to keep out of the way so they began leisurely to move off. At once the riders closed the gap and drove them before them. The two broke into a trot but after a hundred yards two more lots of riders appeared on their left and one on their right, leaving the only one way out,….. the cottonwoods. Thoroughly panicky by now the two cantered fast towards the woods, but just on the edge the two paused and stood uncertainly, not sure what was wrong, but with their sixth sense telling them that something was not right and that the woods were dangerous. They tried to turn away but it was too late, they were surrounded. Turning  again, they dashed into the woods between two large trees which unknown to them, marked the gate of a corral, cleverly hidden amongst the foliage and undergrowth. When they were well inside there was a Thud! Thud! As two poles on the gate of the camouflaged corral were dropped into place.  Squealing in fear and anger, with his ears laid flat against his skull and his eyes rolling until the whites showed, and teeth snapping, Rocket lunged at the man who was closing his way to freedom. Just in the nick of  time the man threw himself backwards, rolling out of range of those wicked yellow teeth which closed with a snap on empty air. The gate was closed, but the next second all thirty hundredweight of thoroughly enraged horse-flesh hurtled against the gate-poles making them shudder and crack. Frustrated by missing his human target, Rocket reared and his front hooves came down Wham! on the poles. Again and again he reared, towering over the men who had dared to imprison him, and then crashing down onto the poles which withheld the precious freedom from him. Screaming with rage all the while, he continued to attack them until suddenly, with a rending noise the bars splintered and gave. Whipping  round, Rocket completed the damage with his hind feet until the bars broke off with a sound like pistol-shots. At once Rocket cleared the wreckage like a bird, with the cowering Smoke following close behind. Almost immediately, lariats  whistled through the air with the sound of a drone of a bee. Although they missed Rocket, two lariats snaked down and pulled tight over Smokes neck bringing him to an abrupt halt.  Rocket, racing to freedom, looked back in dismay, to see his friend being tied up securely, although he was still struggling valiantly. However there was no way that Rocket could help, except to stay free himself, but all the same the next night he cautiously circled  the corral, calling to Smoke and being answered by him which brought him to the attention of the men and again he only just escaped by the skin of his teeth. 

In the morning he set off, and noon found him miles away, tired and dejected by the loss of both  his friends  and his sleep. Dispirited, he sought the lonely security of some great Redwood trees where he spent the rest of that week completely and utterly alone. He never saw or heard Smoke again even though he travelled many miles during his lifetime.





At the end of that first week the weather changed quite suddenly, and, as if in sympathy with his feelings the sky darkened and the wind swirled and moaned amongst the tossing branches of the trees . Then it started to rain. At first it came softly, falling pit-a-pat  through the leaves onto the parched earth below, which drank it gratefully, and Rocket also  enjoyed the fresh feeling it brought. Then it came faster, hissing onto the earth, spurting up mud around him. It was a hard, cutting rain too, and it beat painfully against his hide. Then thunder rumbled across the sky and it was rent in two with vivid lightening flashes. Never in all the six years of  his life had he seen such violence from Mother Nature and he found it terrifying.

Rocket pawed the earth with his front feet then bucked violently. Above the howl of the wind came an eerie creaking then a cracking sound, and a large cotton-wood tree, smaller than the mighty Red-wood but still a huge tree, split right through the middle and came crashing to earth within a few feet of him, the broken branches flailing his rump and flanks.

He reared, half crazed with terror of the unknown thing which groped and clawed at him and losing his footing on the muddy, slippery ground, fell to his knees, his nose grazing the mud, rubbing off the tender skin. When he stumbled to his feet again, a sharp, sickening pain flashed through his right fore-leg ,making him give a little  grunt of pain and surprise and he sank down again. He was shivering and shaking all over from the pain and the coldness of the rain, and still it streamed down, running off his coat and forming muddy swirling rivulets around him.

At the end of five hours the wind was still moaning and fretting at the tree-tops, but the rain had stopped suddenly and an hour later the wind blew itself away to play havoc somewhere else, chasing the clouds before it, leaving a watery sun struggling out behind it and a great jewelled arc of a rainbow that hung in the sky.

The throbbing pain in his leg had slackened off by then and he cautiously put his good fore foot against a stump and pushed himself onto three legs. Hopping and hobbling painfully along on three legs,  he came, after half a mile or so, to a place where the rocks reared their craggy heads all around, leaving a convoluted   passage through to  a small natural shelter, and there, as if by a freak of Nature it had escaped the dust and heat, was a small patch of green, sweet, grass and a clear stream bubbling and chattering over its pebbly bed. There he collapsed, thankfully, onto the grass exhausted by his efforts, his coat shiny with sweat, and fell fast asleep. In the afternoon he awoke slightly refreshed, and pulled himself awkwardly over  to the spring and drank thirstily and gratefully, putting his poor sore nose under the surface of the water to ease its aching. He had enough of an appetite to chew a few stems of grass but still felt listless and had no real urge to eat, so he dragged himself under a projection of rock which would shelter him from any wind or rain and quickly fell asleep again. He stayed in the enclosure  for several weeks, gradually regaining his strength and letting his severely strained muscle heal. When he at last  had recovered his strength, he left the “bench” and threading his way through the maze of passages, found himself back on the foot-hills above the plains which stretched for fifty miles or more, and , giving a long snort of contentment and bucking with sheer joy, he cantered down the slope, mane and tail flowing in the wind, the very picture of speed, grace, and freedom.








Six months passed; One evening at sunset, watching from an outcrop of rock, he heard the savage howling of a wolf pack on the trail of a kill. As the eerie howling drew nearer, with a sudden leap of his heart Rocket realised that the animals scent they were following must be HIS. 

Instinctively, knowing that the place where he now was would be no good as a defensive position he plunged down the steep slope to where the foothills gently sloped away. Here, a slab of rock had been worn away by wind and weather. Half-way up the rock face was a ledge, narrow it’s true but comparatively safe, as there was only one way to reach it, and that was by fording a swiftly running stream and then scrambling up the steep, slippery slope. Rocket made it in safety however and stood blowing hard, waiting. After a few more minutes the wolves swept round an outcrop of granite and stood on the far side of the stream, their tongues lolling out of their mouths with the effort of running.

There were seven animals all together in the pack and an old, grizzled, snarling, dog-wolf seemed to be in charge of them. Rocket knew they would attack very soon and he faced the entrance to his defensive position.

The wolves, having worked themselves up into a frenzy of blood-lust, moved as if one body toward the stream and swam strongly across it, then, scrambling up the rock-face, they stood on the far end of the ledge.  When they had regained their wind they started to slither, like snakes, on their bellies towards him. As the first wolf crouched ready to spring, Rocket reared and stuck out heavily. The wolf howled in pain and leapt away, then the old grey  leader jumped towards Rockets throat but Rocket had anticipated this and moved and the wolf hurtled past and struck the rock below instantly killing him. Another wolf came too close and regretted it as Rockets wicked head snaked out and caught the wolf by the loose skin of his back and then proceeded to shake him hard, as a terrier does a rat, and , although the wolf howled desperately, Rocket kept shaking it till it went limp and was tossed away in contempt.

The other wolves, seeing the fate of the other three, cowered and kept close together. Three of them sprang together, and two managed to get a grip on Rockets neck and flank, the third was knocked over the edge into the river by a well aimed hoof. Then Rocket swung his head, banging the wolf on his neck against the rock. The wolf battered and bruised, let go and dropped to the ground where he staggered away. To rid himself of the other one Rocket simply collapsed and lay over on his side crushing the wolf instantly under his weight.

The remaining wolves lost their courage and turned tail as Rocket, his brain afire with hate, turned towards them,  one of them  limping heavily from his encounter with the stallion, and, scrambling down the slope, they both  disappeared in double-quick time across the stream

Rocket stood swaying tiredly, his head down, then shambled uncertainly down  to the shallows and lay down, the water washing his wounds clean, but making them smart and burn. After a while he got to his feet and slowly waded through the water to the further bank where, scrambling out he trotted away from the scene of the fight, without looking round once, leaving the wolves to crawl away as best they could to lick their wounds.






Another year passed peacefully enough for Rocket. His seventh birthday came and went  and then one fresh spring morning as he grazed quietly he heard the thunder of many hooves, and saw coming towards him a huge herd numbering about six hundred.

Then he recognised the familiar outline of the lead stallion, old and scarred it is true but still very much in command. Sharp-Hoof!!!…….. Rocket felt anger welling up inside of him as he thought of the day he and his companions had been driven out of the herd and determined to have his revenge.

The herd, as if by a signal, parted, leaving a space in the middle of them, the older foals spreading out to graze and the younger ones huddled against the mares who were alert and waiting for the fight they knew would be taking place shortly.

The two powerful stallions were well-matched. Although Sharp-Hoof was extremely old, he had been the victor of many fights and he was very cunning  whereas although in comparison Rocket was an amateur, his youth was on his side. The two horses came near to each other and circled warily, Sharp-Hoof waiting for Rocket to make the first move. Rocket moved in and tried to get hold of Sharp-Hoofs  neck, however he was fully ready for this and, swinging round, he snapped out with his teeth, making Rockets ear bleed.

After that first initial move the two horses fairly hammered each other. Both Sharp-Hoofs ears were tattered and bleeding freely and Rockets left foreleg was swelling from a vicious kick. Then the two moved apart and stood  watching each other for a few minutes, their flanks heaving and sweat darkening their coats and caking the dust onto their hides. The earth was dug up and ploughed about by their hooves and stained with their blood. Then they attacked again. Both their bodies were covered in bites and bruises, Sharp-Hoof was beginning to tire and Rockets injured leg was swelling, and beginning to bother him Then Rocket made a feinting movement towards the other horse and as Sharp-Hoof rushed past, Rocket whipped round and battered at Sharp-Hoofs ribs, throwing him off balance. Immediately Rocket took advantage of this and closed in biting and kicking furiously bringing Sharp-Hoof to his knees. Sharp-Hoof, bewildered and beaten scrambled to his feet, turned and fled for his life, Rocket  following for a little way helping him on with sly nips to his rump, then he shook his magnificent head and neighed  triumphantly, turned round and trotted back to the herd.

Looking at them he realised that, being the victor, he was  now in full charge of the herd. He gave a sharp commanding call and the errant foals rejoined their mothers, and the herd surged forward  following their new leader without  a backward glance to where the vanquished ex leader disappeared into the distance.






After a few weeks of aimless wandering  the mares were seized with a sudden urge to travel in one particular direction, so, following their instincts they drifted northwards, until after three weeks they reached the edge of their summer grazing ground, originally chosen by Sharp-Hoof as the safest possible place in which to pass the summer months.

To the east and west mountains swept down onto the highland meadows, and to the north a huge thickly grown pine forest gave safety and shade. It was however open enough on the grass and far enough away from the trees to discourage any hungry timberwolf  who thought that they would like a foal for their supper!. There was also a  pool of sweet water fed by a spring that rose in the eastern mountains and was always there however hot the weather became although because of the altitude there was always a faint breeze which took the edge off the heat. The mares and foals grew fat and glossy like conkers with legs, and the summer passed pleasantly into early autumn. The herd turned its head southwards again as the swallows gathered and the mornings turned cool and misty with a hint of the frost yet to come. They reached the winter quarters on the lowlands just as the first real frosts blackened the grass on the higher grounds and turned the foliage to an imitation bush-fire. By this time Rocket had mated with several of the younger mares , but his favourite was a young filly of about three years old, her small, dish-shaped head, and tail held proudly as she flew along the ground showed she had the same proud Arab ancestry as himself. Her coat was the purest glossiest black without a mark and she was called “Midnight Dancer”. All winter long as Rocket kept watch for enemies of any shape or size, keeping the herd together, the two stayed side by side, occasionally taking turns to stay on the outside of the rest in snowy weather breaking the force of the blasts for the others, and then taking their turn in the middle to warm themselves up.  Each month Midnight Dancer became a little rounder and slower in her movements and, in early spring as the first sweet grasses  pushed their way up through the gradually thawing ground, she took herself off away from the rest and gave birth to a colt. His coat was as black as hers but on his forehead blazed the mark which would give him his name…”Star”.

And so we leave Rocket contentedly looking out over his herd and his mate and first born son. He had been through much in his life but he was now at peace to live his life as he wanted, wild and above all, FREE.                


 Joan Arlittle





















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