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So Much Alike!

“A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”- John Shedd

So Much AlikeOne of the things I like most about horses is their emotional honesty. By emotional honesty, I mean a horse’s direct connection to its natural impulses. These can be impulses of physical desire or repulsion; impulses of mental curiosity or joy. They can also be expressions of affection, loss, fear and courage. What, exactly, is courage based upon? Certainly, its ingredients include bravery, self-respect, strength of conviction and a healthy measure of righteous indignation! Courage – standing up against all odds – is intangible, admirable and beyond reasonable logic … whatever the pieces of its puzzle. Let’s take a closer look at what makes courageous people and their horses tick.

Felicia Andrews primped her hair and painted the latest color on her lips. Touching a fingertip to her tongue, she smoothed an eyebrow, straightened her back and ran both hands through wavy brown hair with golden-sun highlights. Life was good, she thought to herself. Life couldn’t be better.

“What do you think?” she asked the horse in the picture framed in gold on her bureau in the bedroom with the canopy bed as she held up two dresses for the evening. “Cotton or silk?”

The horse in the picture, accustomed to such girlie attentions from her mistress, looked straight ahead.

“I knew you’d pick the silk,” Felicia said, leaning close and kissing the photo with the blue ribbon adorning the left upper corner of its frame as she pulled on a nylon stocking. “We’re so much alike!

Alike or not, Felicia and the picture of Tippy-Lou shared a queen-sized apartment of white walls, beige carpet and abstract paintings floor to ceiling, a shrine to Felicia’s passion for art, literature, music and travel. Indeed, it was on one of those travels that Felicia and Tippy Lou’s destinies had merged in the most extraordinary manner. It was several years before, and New York born Felicia was trying on England for size.

“Hey, there! … Boy!” Felicia had called out to the young Londoner pedaling recklessly in front of her on the dirt road. “I almost ran over you!” Frightened, the boy straightened his bike and hurried off. “You dropped something! You dropped something back there along the road!” Felicia called to him.

Pedaling faster, the boy glanced back just once. Was it something he wanted to say? Curious, Felicia checked her rear-view mirror. Yes, the boy had lost something in the near-wreck that could have cost his bike and scratched the car of the lover she was planning to leave. Better to say the scratch marks were from running over a bike rider than from keying his Mercedes with the keys to the house they shared on Park Street. Felicia’s foot, the foot that had just recently kicked her lover in the shin and clad now in a delicate leather Gucci sandal, lifted from one pedal to another, as she eased the car onto a grassy slope.

Did she dare? Did she dare to open her door and step onto the dirt and gravel of the country road she had never taken before? She might ruin her sandals, she thought, but quickly remembered the identical pair she hadn’t been able to resist. She would be late for her appointment – but, she was already late, she rationalized. Unlatching the car door, gripping the handle and lifting it upward, she carefully stepped outside … and into the emotional unknown.

To a casual observer, it was just a kid’s cell phone the boy had lost, but in everyone’s life, there comes a moment of decision – a crossroads, if you will. For some, the choice is clear. For others, saying yes to one thing means saying no to others and decisions affecting one’s future are clouded with fear and uncertainty. Considering the Mercedes, the house, the lover and what lay before her, Felicia reached down and scooped the phone into her hand, just as it rang. Curious, perhaps even reckless, Felicia answered …

“What’s taking you so long!” a gruff and threatening voice hollered. “I want those horses! Well? Say something!”

Shaking, Felicia started to speak, but she was rudely stopped. “Shut up and listen to me, you idiot!” the voice cut her off. “We’re bringing the truck tonight. And those horses had better be ready.”

Hands trembling with a mind of their own, Felicia dropped the phone to the ground. Something – call it a hunch, an instinct, a sixth sense – reached her all the way to her fingernails. Something dishonest was happening. Something dangerous. And, at the very center of it, were horses.

Like many people, Felicia had loved horses – or, at least, the idea of them – her whole life. Like just as many, she had never owned one. Her gut told her some horses were in trouble. But, where? When? How could she find out? How could she do anything about it?

Waiting for the kid to return, looking for his phone, was a “no brainer.” If he bolted again, so be it. If he confronted her, all she had to do was say she had already called for help and given his number. Funny, how phone numbers had become almost as effective for tracing people as if the numbers were tattooed right on their foreheads. And, to think, people paid for it. Maybe the guy on the phone was right: some people were idiots.

Curious, she went back to her car and turned onto the path from which the boy had appeared. Past a patch of woods, she saw a stretch of white board fence and, to both her surprise and concern, a well-kept horse farm. Turning around and pulling off the road again, she faced the direction in which the boy had disappeared … and waited.

Her belly was growling by the time he came into view; just an ordinary-looking kid, if you call dark hair and loose-fitting clothes ordinary. Scuffing his feet in the dirt, and his face lost in concentration, he re-traced his path as Felicia started up her car and slowly drove past him. Rolling down her window, she called out: “Looking for this?”

The boy’s eyes went wide and his face reddened. “That’s mine!” he shouted.

“But, I’m not so sure the horses are,” she said, just guessing.

Was it the way she said it? Was it the way her voice steadied and her eyes stared right through him?

They made me do it!” he blurted out.

Made you do it?” Felicia mocked, with a hint of experience and knowing in her reply. “Dear boy … nobody makes you do something unless there’s no way out.”

He looked down at the dirt.

She took a chance. “Are you mixed up in something you want out of?”

He nodded.

The horses belonged to the stable where he worked. It had all sounded so easy at first. Just knock down part of the fence in the pasture, let horses be their nosey, adventurous, natural, freedom-seeking selves, and the equivalent of fifty bucks would walk right into his hands. No problem!

But, it was a problem. Breaking down the fence meant allowing mares and foals to run off into the nearby woods. Breaking down the fence meant horses possibly being hurt. Breaking down the fence meant … theft and deceit. Hey, he thought. Who cared about that stuff anymore?

“I care,” Felicia said to him. And so do you – in spite of that sticker on your bike about setting animals free from “slavery.”

He glared at her, almost shaking. Ready for a fight.

She stared him down. “Slavery, dear boy, is the entrapment of one’s own species. There’s a difference. And you’re living in a fantasy. You’re a typical animal lover and somebody is using you the wrong way – somebody smarter than you – and you don’t even know it.”

“I believe in what they stand for!”

“You do? … Fascinating,” Felicia said, not convinced. “And sad.”

The young man looked at her, understanding her point, and not knowing what to do about it.

“Tell it to the authorities,” Felicia said. “They’re on their way.”

“Are you crazy?” came the accusation. “How dare you risk your neck over a bunch of horses!”

It wasn’t the welcome Felicia had hoped for, although it was most definitely the reaction she expected.

“I know what’s right and wrong,” Felicia countered. “It’s none of your concern, anyway. Not anymore.”

“So you really are leaving, then? It’s not a bluff this time?”

Felicia had no response to that. “Look,” she said finally. “I’ve loved horses my whole life. That kid was helping steal horses and they were going to be sold off someplace in the name of ‘setting them free’ or some other kind of lame excuse. Don’t you feel anything?”she asked. “Doesn’t that bother you?”

“I see you butting into other peoples’ business. That’s all. And getting you no place.”

No place. Nothing could have sounded more odd in a house where every object, every staged arrangement of furniture, color and flowers, were so well-orchestrated.

“Come with me to the farm and see these horses for yourself,” Felicia said.

“I have a meeting. I don’t have time for your bleeding heart. This is a waste of emotion, Felicia. Forget about it.”

Felicia couldn’t forget. She didn’t want to. Something about the mares and foals, grazing so trustingly in their pasture, made her feel right and sure of herself somehow. Something about warding off their theft, however small her part might have been, stirred an instinct and a knowing deep inside her. Something about the farm and the fields and the fence and the horses transcended the surroundings of a life all-too-perfect and safe.

Answering the questions of local authorities was purely an act of social obligation. It was, after all, what you were supposed to do, right? You found an animal in distress and you went to those in authority. You did the responsible thing, the expected thing, and then you walked away.

Rah, rah! Good for you! Tally-Ho! …. Oh. Better not say Tally-Ho, Felicia thought. “Tally–Ho” was the cry of the hunt. It was the cry of the hounds and horses and running wild across the fields and streams of the countryside. Tally-Ho was the cry of laughter and risk and danger and blood rushing through your veins! It was (Heaven forbid!) the call of taking things into your own hands – taking chances and actually being in charge of your own life.

Was such passion for living only in the movies anymore? Was it only in movies and books and music and paintings? What if books and movies and music and paintings disappeared? What if they faded from society like fading memories, leaving our eyes dull, and our faces blank? What if they … were as lost as a scrawny little filly running loose in a woods during the night and being captured by strangers selling her off to fund their campaign against real animal owners who only wanted to love and be surrounded by their horses?

It was too much to think about, Felicia decided. For now, the only things that mattered were fluffy foals safely grazing in their pasture. She must go to the farm, she decided. She must see and touch the horses she had saved from a fate of uncertainty.

The farm along the country road was beautifully manicured and attended. The breeder’s expression of relief was only exceeded by the excitement of a pack of happy Welsh Corgis surrounding her as she opened the door to an anxious Felicia. “Come in! Come in! Thank you – so much – for finding her. When you told me what happened, I could hardly believe it. I could hardly believe it was our own help about to steal the horses and sell them off like that. Our very own help!”

“I wanted to see where they live,” said Felicia, as they walked among spacious stalls of well-groomed horses, past a special kitchen with clean buckets and health potions, then down a flower-lined path leading to an office adorned with prize ribbons, photographs and trophies. “Thanks for inviting me.”

“You’re welcome. But I had an ulterior motive,” said the breeder.

“Oh? And what could that be?” Felicia asked.

And so it was, that Felicia Andrews returned to her fashionable apartment at 98th & Broadway in New York City with a new sense of purpose and well-being. To some, she had traded the comfort of a Mercedes, a house and a lover for a horse. To others, Felicia had found the courage to make her own choices and leap into the waves of an uncertain future, steadied by the faith of a horse’s simple and true heart. What was ahead? She didn’t know. She only knew, whatever road she took, whatever accident she might encounter, whatever unexpected surprises a stranger’s cell phone might hold, she would feel every sensation, every emotion and every passion of a life that was her own.

The horse in the photograph stared ahead. “I knew you’d pick the silk,” she said, to the one whose life depended on her now. “We’re so much alike!”

– RH