The tired bay horse limped across the landscape. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembered a time without pain, a glorious time, but the memory came harder and harder these days. The pain overshadowed everything. He spared a look around him, but none of his surroundings were familiar. Where were his handlers? Where were the barns, the stalls? There was only this dirt roadway that went on and on.
Gradually, up ahead, the mist began to clear. He began to see trees, and meadows shaded in brilliant green. The sky deepened to a cobalt blue, and far off in the distance were rolling hills. A bridge appeared in the roadway, arching toward the meadows, a strangely beautiful bridge of shifting, shimmering rainbow colors. Confused, the bay horse hesitated, stumbled. Pain shot up his legs.
On the other side, out of the trees, trotted a magnificent chestnut stallion, a beautiful creature in the prime of life and health. His coat gleamed, his long racing muscles slid smoothly under his skin as he moved. He stopped as he saw the tired bay horse standing on the far side of the bridge, and stood expectantly.
The tired horse sidled closer to the bridge, then stopped. He didn’t have the energy to challenge the rival stallion for a place in the meadow. He wondered if the chestnut would allow him to cross, to just cool his agonized feet in the grass. He’d stay by the bridge, he wouldn’t get in the way. He just wanted to rest.
The magnificent stallion lifted his head, and his piercing bugle rang out. “He’s here! He’s here, everyone! Come and see – he’s here!”
From the trees other horses emerged … beautiful animals, each at the peak of health and vitality. The tired bay horse watched them, amazed. He’d been that way, once, not so long ago. He remembered.
The chestnut stallion turned back to him. “Come across!” he bugled. “Come, join us! Come, run with us!”
The bay horse dropped his head, beaten. “I can’t run,” he said. “Not anymore. Once I could – once I ran like the wind. But, I was hurt …”
“We know!” the stallion insisted. “We’ve been waiting for you. Come, cross the bridge. You’ll run with us!”
“Come, run with us!” The other horses joined in, and in amazement, the tired horse began to realize who they were. Names that had been whispered around his stable with reverence. The chestnut stallion was Secretariat. Citation was there. Man O’War. Seabiscuit. Ruffian. All the greats. And others he didn’t recognize … the near-greats, the never-greats. Race horses, riding horses, cart horses, work horses … horses by the thousands, by the hundreds of thousands, all were gathering in the meadow by the bridge of rainbows, horses as far as the eye could see. All waiting for him.
Once again Secretariat arched his neck and bugled. “Come! Cross the bridge! Run with us! We don’t run on tracks anymore, and we don’t run for money. We run because we want to … because we love to run … because we were born to run! Come!”
Hardly daring to hope, the tired bay horse lifted his head and, placing a hoof on the bridge of rainbows, limped forward. As his feet touched the bridge, his pain faded, then vanished completely. He stood for a moment, transfixed, as he felt energy surge through him … energy and joy the like of which he hadn’t felt in many months, not since the last time he’d stepped out onto the racetrack with the roar of the crowd in his ears. He took another step, then another, and suddenly his own bugle rang out, joyous, proud, whole. His muscles bunched, and he sprang forward into a full run.
And as Barbaro swept across the Rainbow Bridge to join them, the herd turned and thundered across the meadow, running for the sheer joy of it, because they were born to run.
(c) 2007 by Dee