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The Peppermint Candy

The moon was high … the indigo/night air smelled like water and the air sizzled its arms around you . . . that’s how it felt, as we waited . . . .

She hadn’t been born on the farm. Unlike the rest of the mares, she had been the expensive gift from a man to his wife. Already a champion in the fierce and competitive discipline of English riding, she was to be the wife’s special horse in the rise to horse show stardom. And that’s how it was, until the fateful day when — cross tied and being saddled for her class at a national show — the mare reared up and fell backwards, fracturing her withers and ruining her life as a show girl forever.

No more was she the National-level champion, excelling in performance competition where her flashy markings and athletic ability made her a stand-out, but where her plain head and thick legs made her less than a beauty. No more would she look forward to the other horses and interesting people she would see on weekends away from home. Ahead, in her life as a valuable broodmare, lay green pastures and fresh bedding in a spacious box stall. Ahead, lay endless carrot treats and the peppermint candies she liked so much.

As a treasured daughter of one of the finest stallions in her breed, only the greatest sires were considered for the mare. Only the best chances of bringing a new star into the world were attempted. With great anticipation, everyone looked forward to the first foal. It would be great! It would be a champion among champions! Would it be a filly? Would it be a colt? Grooms, friends, owners and veterinarian crossed their fingers.

It was an easy birth as such things go; uneventful in terms of difficulty or drama. In fact, it was about as “un-anything” as the faces of those who still remember that night … or, have long-since forgotten it. The foal was cute. Unfortunately, it was cute just because it was a foal. The highly anticipated breeding, itself, was a disaster. The foal did not match the mare’s quality; nor did the next foal, or the next, or the next.

And so it was that the old champion made her way to her new home. If she had ever read the story of “Black Beauty,” she might have known how the lives of horses, men and women are so very much alike. The promise of Life doesn’t always become our reality, on the twists and turns of its path. But, destiny has a way of sneaking up on us … as we stand like riders before a judge, wondering if a blue ribbon is ever to be ours. Sometimes, Destiny can surprise us. The brave and loving mare was happy at her new home, though she missed the woman who rode her, and talked to her, and she missed the peppermint candies, too.

Once again, she was in foal. Day after day … month after month …. through the savage beauty of Autumn, the white and wicked treachery of Winter, and the sigh of relief that is Spring, she wondered. This time, would her life continue as Nature promised … into another generation meant to live far beyond her own? Would this time be any different?

As it always did, the moon rose that night, blowing kisses of silvery light to the barn where the mare grew restless. Pacing her stall, as if searching for an answer to the greatest mystery of life, she gazed through the shadows around her, and to the depths of her own heart, within. Remembering other times such as this, she drifted into the waters of herself, understanding the ritual that other mares had known since the beginning of her own kind. Something would be here, she knew. Something would be here soon.

Horse lovers far and wide know the almost-secret ceremony bonding them to their mares in what is called “a foal watch.” Deep into the early morning hours, their veins surging with strong, black coffee, they laugh and tell stories . . . hoping for the best, but dreading the worst, and standing by their mares.

As dawn broke, and rays of the morning sun touched the golden straw of her stall, the mare nuzzled her wobbly, and wide-awake, daughter. The keen eyes of a barn cat took in a blaze, white socks and little ears, as we helped the foal to stand and nurse. A mystical aura encompassed mare and foal as they communed in the ancient bond of love at its most elemental stage. Wars had come, and wars had gone. The price of gasoline had risen and it had fallen. Jobs had been created and they had been lost. Presidents, Kings, Princes and Queens of countries, industry and movies had tasted their power and seen their day.

Twenty years, the mare had waited for this moment; waited to be the mother of one whose spirit, like her own, was proud and dancing and free …. Twenty years, she had waited to give the world a champion as great as she, herself, had once been. As the mirror of Life reflected the little princess by her side, and barn swallows heralded the birth, the mare paused …. Footsteps! Rushing toward her; hurrying to catch the magic of Nature’s immortality.

Did she recognize those footsteps? Did she remember the voice calling out her name as if she was the greatest treasure in the world? If she did, the old mare never let us know. Instead, she seemed to hold out; dangling the heart of one who came to her now … as if commanding the strings in a delicious switch of marionette mastery.

Look at the woman’s tears, she must have thought. Look how she croons and fusses over my special filly. I should never forgive her for giving up on me. I should not love her. But, after all this time, how can I not love the one who still remembers to bring me such a delicious peppermint candy?