A light breeze tousled Natalie’s long auburn hair as she ran through the woods. The canopy of leaves above shielded Natalie from the sun beating down. Natalie loved the outdoors and was thankful that she had finally finished her chores so she could have fun.
“Neigh!” Natalie heard a strange noise. What was a horse doing in the middle of a forest? Cautiously, Natalie walked toward the sound. She peered over a large log that had fallen in a recent storm, and gasped.
A chocolate-brown foal with white markings lay on the forest floor. Its back left leg was bent at an angle that couldn’t be good. The foal was struggling to stand up but collapsed in the dirt every time. Natalie tentatively stretched out her hand. The foal squirmed away and started neighing frantically.
“Shhh… everything’s going to be OK,” Natalie promised the foal.
“Natalie! Where are you? It’s lunchtime!” Natalie’s mother called.
“I’ll be right back,” said Natalie. Then she rushed home, hoping that the foal would be there when she returned.
* * *
The hubbub of normal life at Natalie’s farm made it easy for her to slip outside unnoticed. Quickly stripping a piece of linen from the washing line, Natalie left her home and dashed back to the injured foal. It took her a while to relocate the animal but its distressed wails helped. Once she spotted the horse, Natalie leaned down and wrapped the linen around the foal’s broken leg. The poor creature lashed out with its hooves, trying to dislodge Natalie’s hand from its leg, but Natalie held on tight. She slowly eased the leg back into its right position, then stood back to admire her handiwork.
“There, there, little one. It’ll all be OK,” Natalie murmured, stroking the foal’s head softly. Natalie had experience with animals from working on her farm. Her family made their money by raising foals, then selling them once they were old enough. The cow milk and chickens’ eggs also helped rake in money, but the horses were what Natalie’s family was known for.
It was clear to Natalie that without help the foal would only survive a few more days. Natalie guessed that it had only recently been weaned from its mother’s milk. A gut feeling told Natalie that she was the one who had to take care of this animal. If her parents knew, they would surely make her get rid of it, for the market was only willing to take in purebreds, which the foal most certainly was not. Natalie would have to sneak food out of the house to give to the animal. If she got caught, there was no telling what would happen.
“First things first,” Natalie said aloud. “I have to give you a name.” The trees rustled as the light breeze picked up again. Natalie, of course, had never ridden the foal but could tell by the way it was built that it had a smooth gait.
“How about… Runs Like the Breeze?” Natalie suggested. “Breeze for short.” The foal whinnied and Natalie took that as a good sign.
In her family, they never named the horses. Her father said that if they did they would just become attached and the day when they had to sell would be harder. Natalie didn’t care. She thought that everything should have a name.
Eventually, Natalie walked home. The next morning she would go back to the foal with a blanket and food. That night Natalie dreamt of riding Breeze along the beach, wind whipping through her hair and waves crashing on the shore.
* * *
“Wow! You sure are hungry. Slow down!” Natalie laughed as Breeze inhaled the apples and hay. Breeze paused for a second and looked up with a piece of hay dangling from his mouth. Natalie wiped it away, giggling.
It had been a week since she had found Runs Like the Breeze, and his appetite had really taken off. Natalie loved the horse but a nagging feeling deep inside of her kept on asking, “Won’t they notice the food is disappearing?” Natalie pushed the feeling away and continued talking and laughing with the foal. Finally, Breeze stopped eating and snuggled into the blankets that Natalie had laid out in a hollow log.
Breeze’s leg was healing quickly and Natalie was happy about that. Still, she worried about what she would do once Breeze was all better. Breeze had really grown attached to Natalie and would never run off without her. Natalie was glad but she kept on wondering if it was really fair. Once Breeze became a full-grown horse he shouldn’t have to be cooped up. Just looking at Breeze told Natalie that he was a wild horse. Would he really enjoy having an owner?
Breeze’s breathing became slower and steadier so Natalie knew he was asleep. She sat for a while, stroking Breeze’s flank and listening to the birds. As the dusk shadows fell she stood up and started for home.
“Where have you been?” Natalie’s mother, Mrs. Merriman, exclaimed.
“Mama’s been worried sick,” said Natalie’s sister, Maybel.
“I was just taking a walk,” Natalie replied.
“Well, tell me before you go,” Mrs. Merriman said and walked away.
When she was gone Maybel said, “I know you’re hiding something, Natalie.” Natalie was shocked. Maybel couldn’t find out about Breeze!
“No, I’m not!” Natalie protested.
“Fine, but I’m watching you,” Maybel said and stalked off. Natalie couldn’t believe it. Only a week had passed and she had almost lost Breeze.
* * *
“Come on, Breeze. It’s time to go,” Natalie said, leading Breeze deeper into the forest. His leg was healed completely as if there had never been an injury in the first place. Maybel had followed Natalie one day while she was visiting Breeze. It was only a matter of time before Natalie’s secret leaked out to her whole family. Once they got a hold of Breeze he would be sold for labor or other horrible things. As much as it broke Natalie’s heart, she realized that the only way Runs Like the Breeze could be happy was if she let him go.
“Go on, fellow,” Natalie persuaded with tears streaming down her cheeks. “You don’t need me anymore. Be free.”
Breeze wouldn’t budge. He nuzzled Natalie, looking for food.
“Maybel will be here soon! Leave!” Natalie exclaimed. Breeze seemed to finally get the message. He turned around and started cantering through the forest.
“I’ll miss you, Runs Like the Breeze,” Natalie murmured as Breeze’s brown flank disappeared in a grove of trees. The same wind that had blown Natalie’s hair on the day she found Breeze started up again. It whispered his name as it brought Breeze to a new life—a life where he could run wild and free, just like the wind.