The legend of the Bloody Shoulder


When I first met Amigo, one of the old geldings my husband brought home last week, I knew he was special. Amigo is here to enjoy retirement from the guest ranch where he lived and worked for 20 years and be a part-time kid horse for our 6 and 8-year-olds. He has a regal air about him. He’s seen it all and then some.

My daughter could tell he was special, too, and immediately claimed him as her own.

“He’s the most beautiful horse I’ve ever seen.” she said.

Her dad placed her on Amigo’s broad back, and her smile of delight rivaled the sun’s brightness. Amigo carried her around the circle of the corral with an air of calm dignity, like he knew he was carrying precious cargo, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, he was going to be a great horse for her.

I can’t say I agreed with her assessment of his looks, however. He’s old, and he looks old. Plus, he’s mostly white-gray, but has a large, blotchy marking down his front leg that at first I thought was caked mud, but turned out to simply be his coloration.

I sent a picture to a friend who knows more about horses than me, and she texted back immediately: “He had the legendary Bloody Shoulder marking!”

“What?!” I texted back.

Then she shared the following story:

There is a legend passed down over generations about a renowned Bedouin prince, who rode a milk-white mare of unsurpassed beauty, speed and bravery. The prince was an accomplished warrior, but while journeying through the desert one night, he had the bad luck to encounter a small party led by a rival chieftain.

A battle to the death was inevitable, and the two men circled each other on horseback, drawing their weapons. From the first strike, it was clear they were evenly matched. Neither could get a blow to land on the other. On and on the battle raged, their swords striking with deafening clangs. They were fearless fighters and superb horsemen both.

Finally, as they grew weary, their blades found several marks, and each man was wounded. Both men, though weakened, continued to fight until, at last, the rival prince faltered, and the prince on the milk-white mare broke through his opponent’s guard, his sword piercing his adversary’s heart.

The rival band of warriors silently wrapped their leader’s body in his cloak, draped it across his stallion’s ornate saddle and rode away, leaving the victor swaying on the mare, clutching two terrible wounds. Dark blood flowed steadily from his body, streaming down the mare’s silky shoulder and flank.

The prince felt darkness rushing around him, and he lost his balance, almost falling to the ground. The little mare began to walk home with careful urgency.

Despite being heavily pregnant and exhausted herself, she did not stop for a day and a night, picking her way delicately across the sandy, rocky terrain but with surprising speed, so as not to upset the precarious balance of her rider. Slumped in the saddle, his blood continued oozing down across her shoulder, soaking into her snow-white coat.

When the mare arrived at their camp, the prince was motionless but still seated. His people rushed to greet the pair, but when they lifted him from his horse’s back, discovered he was dead.

That night, resting beside the tent that held the prince’s body, the mare foaled. The next morning, the people were awestruck to find she had given birth to a gray colt with reddish-brown markings that exactly matched the way his dam’s shoulder had been stained by her dying master’s blood.

It was whispered among those who saw the colt that the dead prince must have implored the gods to reward his mare’s dedication and valor so that forever after, any descendant of hers who bore her outstanding courage and ability would also bear the blood stains as a mark of honor.


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Eliza Blue is a shepherd, folk musician and writer residing in western South Dakota. In addition to writing her weekly column, Little Pasture on the Prairie, she writes and produces audio postcards from her ranch and just released her first book, Accidental Rancher. She also has a weekly show, Live from the Home Farm, that broadcasts on social media every Saturday night from her ranch.



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