Chapter 19 - Horses
Up ahead there is something on the side of the road. Neewa sees them, too. She is pacing from side to side in the back of the van.
About a hundred feet in front of us is a herd of about ten horses. They don’t look like they belong. Whose horses are they? Are we near a ranch? I don’t see any.
The horses that make up this group are all different sizes and colors. Some are large, a few are small and one appears to be a donkey.
As we drive closer, I see their long tails and manes are knotted, frayed and have burrs stuck in them.
The leader of the group is a black stallion, and he’s watching us and stirring to alert the herd. He’s a beautiful horse with a gray patch across his right back leg and another small swatch on his forehead.
His long black tail hangs down to the ground, while half his mane hangs on either side of his muscular neck. He looks skinny, but his coat shines on his powerfully built body.
I can tell he’s the leader because he puts himself between his herd and us to protect them, turning sideways to block our view of his family.
Neewa is getting more excited, jumping from seat to seat. She wants to run and play with the big dogs.
“They are not dogs,” I tell her.
She is making a high-pitched whining sound as if to say, “Let me out, let me out.”
Jackie is getting trampled, and is quite annoyed with Neewa as she jumps from front seat to back, and then to the front again.
“Let her out Dad, she has to go,” she exclaims.
Dad stops and opens the door. Neewa jumps out and runs up the road.
Dad pulls onto the shoulder. “Neewa is running right at the herd. I hope she knows what she’s doing.”
At that moment dread shoots from my brain down to my toes. The thought of losing Neewa had never occurred to me until that second.
“Dad, drive, drive, hurry up, catch her!” I cry out hitting his seat back with my hands.
At that moment the herd spooks. Snorting a warning, the stallion and his family rumble into the desert. He’s following his family, urging them into a full gallop.
Neewa is following them, running from one side of the herd to the other. As quickly as the horses appeared in front of us, they are gone over the hill. Then she disappears, gone into the miles and miles of sagebrush and sand.
My heart drops out of my chest. Neewa is gone and I don’t know if I will ever see her again. I feel my stomach in my throat.
Dad pulls over and I jump out.
Jackie yells, “Call her before she gets too far!”
“Neewa, Neewa, Neewa!” I yell, hoping she will hear me.
Dad whistles his loudest two-finger whistle, “Whistle! Whistle.”
I form my lips to whistle, but nothing comes out. I can’t whistle.
“Listen, stop!” I shout.
I never should have let her run out into the desert. She may never come back.
We all start yelling, “Neewa come! Neewa! Neewa!”
Again, we are silent. I listen for her to bark, or yelp, or something. Seconds pass like minutes. You can hear a pin drop.
“I hear something.” I’m not sure what it is in the distance, is that her?
I cry out, “It sounds like Neewa barking, I hear her.”
I call out, “Neewa, Neewa!”
I look at Dad, then Jackie. “I hear a jingling sound.”
Jackie exclaims, “It’s more like a jingle ding, jingle ding.”
That jingle ding sound is coming from Neewa’s charm, the one Chester put on her collar.
At that moment Neewa’s head appears to pop up out of the sand dune.
She is sprinting for us. Sand kicks up into the air behind her as she makes her way down the soft sand. Then she jumps right up on me, pushing me backwards onto the ground. She licks my face and walks all over me.
Jackie and Dad come to my rescue, picking me up off the ground by my arms.
Neewa jumps up on me with her front paws stretching all the way up onto my shoulders while standing on her hind legs.
She pushes off me and her paws hit the ground as she wags her tail.
Hugging her, I stroke her neck and side and scratch her behind the ears.
“I thought I lost you, Neewa,” I exclaim.
“You came back,” Jacqueline exclaims as she cuddles her.
She wags her tail, whines and lets out a “Yelp.”
We all jump in the car and off we go.
“They are wild horses and they run free on the desert. They belong to no one,” Dad speaks.
“Where did they all come from? How do they live? What do they eat?”
Dad answers my bombardment of questions, one after the other. “They live out on the desert and they eat whatever vegetation they can find. Many years ago wild horses were rounded up and shipped to slaughterhouses. Hundreds of thousands of them were killed. Some were kept for work horses on ranches.”
Dad describes, “Wild horses were indigenous to North America, populating this continent before the Ice Age. They moved north across the Bering land bridge, fanned out from Siberia to the rest of Asia, Europe and the Middle East, and then became extinct here. When Europeans reintroduced horses to the Americas in the 16th century, some escaped and formed wild herds. By 1900, there were two million wild horses in America. Their major predators, such as the mountain lion, were all but wiped out, and for more than a century their biggest enemy has been man. Horse roundups and massacres went unchecked for decades until Wild Horse Annie came along.”