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I’ve always loved spring with the awakening of sleeping trees and plants and the flowers they bring.  But mostly the flowers!! And with the arrival of spring comes Mother’s Day.  However, ever since 1984, Mother’s Day has taken on a whole new meaning for me.  It has just become another day.  That year I lost my mother to cancer.

I have always loved horses as well, ever since I can remember.  Country car rides with my parents would find me pressed up against the car window, drawing in my breath audibly whenever I saw a horse standing in a field as we drove by.  Sometimes I was lucky enough to get near them.  The highlight of my young life was pony rides at a nearby amusement center.  I know I inherited this fascination, this attraction, from my mother.  

As a young woman, my mother would ride through a nearby park where she lived.  When they were dating, my father would sometimes join her.  My mom would tell me of my grandmother and her kinship to all kinds of animals: dogs, chickens, etc.  My uncle, my mother’s brother, served in WWII in the cavalry, and was stationed in the Pacific.  There, they used mules to haul equipment through the tropics.  So obviously, my love of horses and animals was written in my genes.  

When I got older, I finally got my chance to start riding, renting out hack horses near where I was attending college.  I literally learned how to ride by the seat of my pants.  One day I found a pair of old breeches in a forgotten trunk in the basement of our house.  They were my mother’s: rust colored wool and had the flared sides that were fashionable back in the 1940s.  Although I hated wool, I used them anyway as they matched my new boots and I wore them each time I went for a trail ride.

A few years later saw me buying my first horse.  Although I asked my mother a number of times to get on and ride, she had injured her back long before and could no longer do so.  When I lost my first horse in 1992, I started a search for a new horse.  I eventually came across a cute and talented Quarter Horse and after a month’s lease I decided to buy him.  When I read his registration papers, imagine my surprise when I saw he was born in 1984.  Although my mother passed away in June of that year, and he was born in April, I felt this was some sort of sign that I made a good decision.  

I set about getting acquainted with this lovely fellow, whom I nicknamed “Maxx”.  I always felt close to my mother whenever I was around him.  I also feel that although we are two different species, man and horse can understand each other, especially when we “listen” properly.  In many ways I felt I understood what Maxx was telling me, something I proved once or twice to some friends.  

One day some barn buddies brought in an animal communicator to “speak” to their horses.  I was curious and asked if I could get in on the visit.  Maxx had recently gotten injured and I wanted to know if he had anything he wished to share with me.  After reading several horses at the barn, the woman came over to my horse’s stall.  What is his name? she asked.  I was puzzled.  If she could communicate, wouldn’t she know his name?  We ran through the obvious questions: Is he feeling better (yes), will I ride him again (yes- and I did!) does he love me (you have to ask??) but then she went silent for a few moments.  Finally she turned to me and asked “How is your relationship with your mother?”

I stood and stared at her.  What?  I stammered that she was gone, had passed away a number of years before.  Well, she said, she is looking down and watching over him.  I could believe that.  Ever since my mother passed away, I missed her terribly and always felt that she was watching over me.  She hesitated once more and then added “Along with someone named Marie”.  I wasn’t sure who she meant until it dawned on me.  

A few months prior, my father-in-law passed away.  In going through the process of gathering up his important papers, I came across my mother-in-law’s birth certificate.  Now unfortunately, she also passed away in 1984.  I always knew her as “Elyse” but saw on her birth certificate her given name was “Marie Elyse”.  This had to be who the communicator was referring to.  

She hesitated once more and said they call him “Little Red”.  Kind of odd, but he’s a chestnut, so I guessed that was why.  Seemingly drained, she was done and I was left to mull over what she told me.  

Several days later, I was relating the story to my husband’s family.  They were intrigued about the reference to both my mother and theirs.  However, when I got to the part about “Little Red”, there was an eerie silence.  Do you know what they called my mother when she was younger and had red hair? asked my sister-in-law.  

“Little Red”.

Many years later saw me fulfilling my dream of having my own horse farm.  By then, Maxx was into his late 20s.  I was concerned about the long trailer ride he needed to take, but he did fine in a large box stall on the van.  After he survived a series of unfortunate injuries, I no longer rode him.  He was plagued with Cushing’s disease, and developed cataracts.  He spent his retirement days lying in the sun, and enjoying life with his buddy, my other horse he traveled with to his new home.  

At 33, he developed what appeared to be yet another abscess in his foot, and eventually it turned into mechanical laminitis in his other foot.  Although we tried our best to help him with antibiotics and pain medication, there came the day I knew I had to let him go.  Before he was laid to rest, I told him I loved him and that he would no longer be in pain. 

He is still with me after 25 years together, buried on my farm, but I still feel a huge emptiness now that he is gone.

I’m not sure if it was luck or fate that led me to the barn where I found Maxx standing on cross ties that day.  But when that soft muzzle touched the palm of my hand, I knew.  I felt the connection.  I miss you Mom.  And I miss you Maxx.

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By Pat Van Nostrand