I ran, the scent of humans growing ever stronger. I had to protect my foal. I nosed her into a crevice, which any human would pass by without a second glance, and then I too followed her into the crack. We had lost the herd from the very beginning. The humans singled us out, a mare and her hour-old foal. Luckily, I knew more of the mountain than they ever would. As we stood there, breathing heavily through our nostrils, our flanks covered in sweat and heaving, I wondered what happened to the rest of the herd. Would we be able to rejoin them, or did they get captured? I shuddered at the thought. But, for the time being, none of that mattered.
* * *
I put Penny away in her stall and waited for my mom to come home from work. I really wanted a horse of my own; I had wanted one since I was four years old. Ever since then, I had begged my parents to get me one, but to no avail. They always said, “Maybe next year.” They had said that for eight years running, and did I have a horse? But my parents had said that if I was responsible and took care of the horses at our stable, they might actually get me a horse of my own soon. I heard my mom’s car pull in and raced to meet it, greeting my mom with the question I always did: “When can I have a horse?”
* * *
I listened carefully. Although I didn’t sense anything amiss, I wasn’t going to take any chances. I had learned that humans can be tricky when they want to. I stayed in the crevice until I was more than sure that it was safe, then cautiously poked my head out. The coast was clear. I led my foal over to a nearby stream and was just beginning to graze when I heard her whinny. I whipped around, ready to fight the hunters, but was pleasantly surprised to find that my foal was just greeting the herd. I excitedly greeted the herd, and we all headed off to find a place to spend the night.
* * *
As I looked out the window, I saw two lone figures in the distance. Was it…? Yes! It was the mare! And she had a foal! I had been watching the mare for weeks, waiting for her to have her baby. And here it was! Suddenly, I saw a cloud of billowing dust that meant the herd was approaching. I wondered why they had been separated; usually herds stayed together, but I was distracted when I heard a pounding on the stairs that told me my older brother, Daniel, was back from work as a police officer. I flew down the stairs and we nearly collided as I asked excitedly, “Did you catch those mustangers yet?”
* * *
We finally settled down in a place all but hidden from those human hunters. As we rested and ate, a calming peace fell over us, and we settled down for the night.
* * *
No, not yet, cowgirl,” Daniel replied sadly. “We almost caught up with them at Miller’s place, but his dog ran in front of us and we had to stop so that we didn’t run him over.”
“Dang!” I exclaimed vehemently. “Oh, guess what! I saw that mare that looked like she was about to foal.”
“So did she have it yet?”
“Yup, she had it. I think it’s a filly, but I can’t tell from this far away.”
“How do you know it’s a filly?”
“Just a guess.”
“Well, I bet it’s a colt.”
Just then our dad stuck his head in the door. “Dinner time, you guys! Hey, what’re you arguing about?”
“First of all, we aren’t arguing. We’re debating whether the new foal in the mustang herd is a colt or a filly,” Daniel said.
“Yeah, I think it’s a filly.”
“Nope. It’s a colt. Definitely.”
“Oh, stop bickering, you two,” our dad reprimanded us.
Suddenly Daniel’s phone started ringing. “ Hang on.” Daniel fumbled for his phone.
He answered it and his face lit up like a child’s on Christmas.
“Really? That’s great! Be right there!” He hung up.
“That was my boss. He said they have a tip on those mustangers.”
“Really? Awesome! I hope you catch them!”
“Me too, cowgirl.”
* * *
The lead mare suddenly called out a shrill cry of warning, and we had a split second of knowledge before the mustangers whipped us and lashed us into a tiny pen. All of a sudden, we were blinded by blue and red lights, and more men came. They moved the mustangers into a waiting car, and we snorted with anticipation. Then a man moved forward. He started talking to us, and his voice was soothing. We calmed down (minimally). He started to move to the gate. He put his hand down and fiddled with the latch until Pop! We were free! The herd galloped past me and my foal. But my foal refused to get up. Instead she just lay there, ignoring my pleading whinnies. The man closed the gate and said, “I’m very sorry.” Then he took something out of his pocket and took aim. Suddenly, everything was black.
* * *
I raced toward the cars parked outside. I had to know what was going on, I had to. When I opened the door and raced to the trailer, what I saw nearly took my breath away. It was the mare and her filly. It was a filly. Just then I saw Daniel and raced over to him, bombarding him with questions.
“How come you have them here? Did you catch the mustangers? What’s wrong with the filly?”
“Later, cowgirl!” said Daniel. “Look, why don’t you take the mare to a stall?”
“OK!” I said, eager to be part of the excitement.
I grabbed a rope halter and went over to the stirring mare. Gently, I put on the halter, worried she would fight it. But all she did was sigh, as if she knew there was no way to resist.
* * *
I knew there was no way to fight. I didn’t particularly feel the need to anyhow. The girl was gentle and I was tired. There was something missing though, something I needed. My foal! I started whinnying worriedly. Had the man done something to her?
* * *
The mare suddenly started whinnying crazily. I soothed her. “Don’t worry, we won’t hurt your baby,” I said. Then I put her in her stall and went to see what happened to the filly. The filly had been injured by the mustangers. We had to keep her here for a few days.
“Honey, can you take this little girl back to her momma?” my mom asked.
“Sure can!” I said.
As I walked back, I had a thought. Maybe Mom and Dad will let me keep them. Now that I had to see. I put the filly back with her mother and raced down the aisle.
“Hey, Mom, I was wondering if…” I trailed off.
“Let me see. You want to keep the mare and her filly,” my dad guessed shrewdly.
“Yes, I do,” I answered defiantly.
“Well, your father and I were thinking it was about time you had your own horse. You’ve been asking us for pretty much your whole life. We were thinking of going to a ranch to buy one for you.”
“Can’t I have this one?” I asked.
“Honey,” my dad said gently, “this is a horse that has been wild her whole life. It would be cruel to keep her locked in a barn. Plus, she has a foal. That’s more than we are willing to get into, for the time being.”
My mom nodded her head in agreement.
“But I really want her. Who knows, more mustangers could come and round her and her foal up. Then they would be lost forever!” I held back a sob.
“You know, she has a point,” said Daniel, “and she has been working very hard with all the other horses. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she could handle the mother and the foal and train them at the same time. It would take some hard work and effort, but she’s more than up to the task.”
I almost ran up to Daniel and hugged him.
“I suppose Rachel can have them,” said my dad slowly and hesitantly, “if Daniel helps her and supervises her when she takes them out.”
“I will, I will, don’t worry, cowgirl!” exclaimed Daniel as I looked at him fiercely.
“YES!” I shouted for the whole world to hear.
* * *
The girl ran up to us. She let herself in the wooden box and ran over to me. She threw her arms around my neck. A small part of me said, “Yipes, run!” but I didn’t listen to it. I trusted this girl. She said, “You’re mine. You’re really mine.” I nickered softly in her ear and she giggled.
* * *
I named the mare in my head. Sweet Prairie Rose. I said it over and over again to myself. Finally, I had to try it out on her.
“Here girl. Here Rose.”
She came! Now I had to think of a name for her filly. Ingy. I don’t know why, but that is what I thought of, and that was her name from then on.
* * *
As the weeks went on, I noticed Rose sometimes staring out onto the prairie. One day, I made a decision. Although it was going to be hard saying goodbye, I just couldn’t stand her being so depressed. So one day, early in the morning, I got up and let them out. I did it without telling anyone; they would just try to talk me out of it, and that I could not stand. But my mom was always telling me that if you let something go and it comes back, it’s yours. If you let it go and you never see it again, it was never yours. So now was the moment of truth. Rose looked back once, and then she took her foal and galloped off into the distance.
“That was the right thing to do.” I whirled around and found Daniel leaning on the fence.
“When’d you get here?” I shot at him.
“I heard someone outside and had to see what was going on.”
“Oh. Don’t tell Mom and Dad.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t,” he reassured me.
I went inside slowly, secretly hoping that Rose and Ingy would come back, even though I knew in my heart that they belonged out there.
* * *
I galloped away with my foal. I would miss the girl, but I didn’t miss her enough to give up the prairies to go live in what they called a barn. Now we had to find the herd.
* * *
RACHEL, SIX MONTHS LATER
I look out my window, thinking about Rose and Ingy. Suddenly, two figures appear next to our pasture. Rose and Ingy! I race down the stairs and outside. There they are! I reach over and hug Rose.
“You came back! You came back!”