Sunday, September 18, 2011


So, it was a Sunday.  In fact, the exact week before Easter; Palm Sunday.  And, quite unusually, I’m forced to travel this early morning.  I have to commend my former day-job employer in that the days I must travel on the weekend are few and far between.  However, on that very Sunday I’m up before dawn and boarding a flight to Atlanta.

It’s important to note that our department’s administrative assistant loaded all our personal preferences into the travel agency’s database long before my flight. Things like frequent flier numbers and the like help her to know that I want to sit forward in the aircraft (though, of course, not First Class; I certainly didn’t rate that).  So, despite being assigned seat 10C during ticketing, even though I arrived two hours early, I’m still reassigned to 31D.  Trudging with my small stack of Hollywood gossip magazines, I slide back into my slice of the sardine-can-style space we call an airplane seat in Delta’s Coach Section.  Squeezing in place, I prepare myself for the long flight ahead. 

As I’ve learned since Chelsea came blissfully, serendipitously into my life, there are no mistakes or random events where love is concerned.  Armed with this truth, to learn that my seat was reassigned gave me pause enough to open my eyes and look around.  Maybe in the roulette wheel that is the seat-assignment software program, I simply got shuffled to the back for some reason I will never know?  Maybe not.  I place the magazines in the seat pocket in front of me and settle in, pausing long enough to listen for a moment to the world around me.  Hmmm.  I count to myself…one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand. 

I stare into the seat pocket in front of me and my mind wanders far away from the Hollywood gossip magazine I brought to keep me company on the flight.   I rouse myself from my musings long enough to notice that the woman now sitting on my left is also perusing her own Hollywood gossip magazine.  And, in fact, she has a copy of the one that I didn’t purchase.  We women understand the unwritten rule that one Hollywood rag is a communal item to be shared once we, of course, have finished it cover to cover.  It’s like spreading good karma.

This woman sitting next to me offers a smile and I give one back.  Hi I’m Jacquie, I’m Shannon, and we exchanged polite, brief conversation, each not trying to intrude on the other’s space.  I found out she has children; young, like mine, and gradually we enjoyed swapping stories of juggling motherhood with new jobs.  We both laughed at how we were going to try to enjoy our trip, though it was so hard to leave home on a Sunday. 

 I tell her that I’m just a little worried leaving my son behind because he was sick when I left, and I’m worried about my dog who is also taking medicine.  And, really I’m not sure who I’m more concerned for, the dog or my kid. 

“Yeah,” she agrees.  “Between kids and dogs, it’s a toss up.”

“Oh, do you have a dog, too?”  I ask, making more polite conversation. 

“Well, I have two dogs, but I also own a horse.”

Somewhere in my mind comes the phrase Shut the front door!  Get outta town.  I can’t believe it.  Of course, making polite conversation, I say none of these things. 

“You are the mother of an eighteen month old and a three year old,” I do manage to say with not just the least bit astonishment.  “How do you have time for a horse?”

“Oh, I’m just in love with her,” she blushes back.  “I’m a nut and I know it.  When we moved to Washington State, I brought her with us. She was shipped in one of those horse moving vans.”

“Wow,” I say honestly. I wondered, probably out loud, something along the lines of purebred something-or-other, National Velvet, competitive rider, blah, blah, blah, to which she replied;

“Oh, no, she’s a rescue horse, but I think she rescued me.”

 There was my answer.  It was too perfect. 

The guardian angels let me know that this was to be a story about that magic kismet that happens when we give way to the love in our heart and the compassion to care for and be cared about with reckless abandon. 

Of course, for the next hour I’m entranced by the story she tells me. 

On a beautiful Mother’s day Shannon and her husband took their oldest son, then just a baby, out to a petting farm.  It was their way of introducing him to the farm animals that he was learning about in all the baby books.  As a mom myself, I think that’s a great idea.  I mean, what better way to understand the sound a lamb makes than to hear it first hand?

As they walked around the farm, they saw lots of horses, along with the regular cast of characters that you find in the barn.  The farm, North Wind, is also the home of the Horse Rescue, Relief and Retirement Fund, an organization dedicated to ending the slaughter and abuse of horses.  (

The founder of HRRRF and owner of North Wind Farm, Cheryl Flanagan, showed everyone around the farm as their tour guide and introduced Shannon to Inca.  This was a tiny foal, splotched brown and white, standing there in a stall without a mother by her side.  As Cheryl explained, in the horse racing industry there are nurse mare farms.  Mares, and in particular draft horse mares, are bred specifically for the purpose of fostering a race horse foal so the race horse mare can either return to racing, be bred again, or, as high strung as some race horses are, there are times a racing mare will reject her foal.  So, nurse mares, as they are called, are bred and then their foals are taken away and, literally, dumped. 

Inca was the offspring of a draft horse mare and thoroughbred stallion, also known as a warm blood because of the cross breeding between a draft horse and riding horse.  Inca was immediately discarded after she was delivered and did not receive the essential colostrum, or first milk that a mother gives to her offspring in the initial feedings after birth.  That made her particularly vulnerable to infection and greatly increased her risk of death in those crucial first few weeks.  Cheryl pointed out to Shannon she thought that the wobbly little filly might not make it. 

“Well, that was it,” Shannon told me as she rolled her eyes, smiling.  “I made excuses to stop by a few times to feed her and sit with her in her stall. Being a new mom myself, it bothered me so much that Inca didn’t have her own mother with her.”

Shannon just happened to “drop by” over and over again during the following weeks. Finally, this new mom who was now pregnant with her second baby dropped the bomb.    Shannon got up the nerve to say what she really wanted and she wanted that filly.  The problem was that now Inca was healthy and had just been adopted from HRRRF’s list of available horses.  The new owner was coming to pick her up in a couple of weeks. 

“I started crying and told Cheryl that I wanted Inca,” Shannon described, while making small waving gestures to express that foment of drama surrounding her in the moment. 

And Cheryl Flanagan made a call and the adoption of Inca went to Shannon. 

You just can’t keep a relationship that was meant to be, like Inca’s and Shannon’s, from their happily-ever-after beginning. It just took Shannon some time to get to that point. 

If you are one who is owned by your animal, you understand that at some point you stop yourself from doing what you should do and do what your heart is aching to do.  Your house will always be too (small, no yard, on a busy street), your life is too (full, crazy, obligated).  Or, simply put, you just can’t afford it. 

Whether its motherhood, marriage or one brown and white pinto-coated filly, your heart will tell you long before your head agrees, that there is always room for love. 

I can only imagine what the conversation must have been like back home, though I’m sure it went something along the lines of:  I know we have a baby and another on the way, but I love that foal. And Shannon’s husband, who now ranks somewhere near sainthood-status with me (even though we’ve never met), told her to follow her heart. 

So, Shannon made sure that Inca grew up from a beautiful filly into a well-mannered and capable riding horse.  She’s healthy and happy and loves her “mommy.”  With two kids, two dogs, and one very wonderful husband, Shannon gets up early every Saturday and goes on a trail ride with Inca.  It’s just their time, no one else.  During one summer, Shannon and a small group of women took a few days to ride the forest trails at the base of Mount Rainier here in Washington State.  It is a perfect, picturesque setting for a perfectly suited pair. 


Over time, I've lost track of Shannon and Inca, though I've kept in touch with Cheryl Flannigan and the happenins' @ North Wind Farm.  Cheryl and I played phone tag all summer as she's busy hauling horses and taking care of all the big and small animals at the farm. Right now, she's in the midst of readying for the winter months with her October 22nd "Hay Day" event at the farm, to raise money for feed to ensure her rescue animals are well-fed throughout the winter. As it says on her facebook page..."Carry your ass on over and donate a bale of hay!" I LOVE that!

Just like our Darla Clark, who runs Strawberry Mountain Mustangs rescue in Oregon, Cheryl is dedicated to the rescue and rehab of abused equines, as well as the sucessful retirement of working equines. Learn more about her work at as well as her facebook page of the same name. 

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