Monday, October 25, 2010

Secretariat

I was the original "horse-crazy" girl. Forget playing with dolls. When I wasn't up in my favorite tree with a book in hand (remember Thunderhead? remember The Black Stallion?), I was riding my two-wheeled "horse" with a rope tied to the handlebars for reins. At the state fair, I roamed the stables reveling in the smell of sweaty horses, hay, and manure (it was safe for parents to leave a girl to do that back then).

In Junior High school I wrote a novella set on a place called the Triple Crown Ranch in Wyoming. Never mind that I'd never been to Wyoming, never been on a ranch, never owned a horse. I designed a brand and named the three stallions running with my three herds of wild horses. I
wrote poems about "pounding across the track of life" and "racing across the turf."

Growing up did nothing to change my love of horses. In the wake of the recent film about Secretariat, I hope you don't mind indulging me a personal "footnote from history" as I remember my encounter with Red. What follows is an edited version of the letter I wrote to the editor of the newspaper in Paris, Kentucky, October 4, 1989, when Secretariat died.

Farewell

As an emotional adolescent, I watched Secretariat run his last race on television. Far removed from the horse-racing world, yet caught up in the saga of a great thoroughbred's career, I cried. Tears streamed as I saw him thunder down the stretch with that great, bounding stride. I felt sure I would never see such a horse again, and my love for horses -- specifically for THAT horse -- swelled my heart.

It was not until I married that I found a kindred spirit in my love for Big Red. My husband and I read books about him together. For our most memorable anniversary celebration, he surprised me with the film "Secretariat's Last race." In those pre-video recorder days, it took many long distance phone calls to locate and have the film reel shipped from New York State, and then to locate and rent equipment so we could view it. What a gift of love.

We'd been married twelve years and had two children when a vacation trip to the east brought another surprise and dream-come-true. My husband called Claiborne Farm and, unbeknownst to me, arranged for us to visit Big Red. Watching Secretariat race across his paddock towards us literally took my breath away. Here he was, in the flesh, and I was actually touching, petting, feeding the great one peppermint candy. It was a moment to cherish, and one I've never forgotten. Later, in the barn, our escort pulled a handful of long hairs from a curry comb and gave them to me. "The black ones belong to Riva Ridge, but if you want to divide them out, the red ones are Secretariat's." Others might laugh at my childish happiness, but I didn't care. I still have Secretariat's "tail-feathers," along with framed enlargements of photos we took that day.

And so tonight, when my husband shared today's sad news, I sat at the supper table and wept like a child whose puppy just died.

I am one of those "born-again Christians" who subscribes to a literal interpretation of the Bible. In the New Testament Book of Revelation there is a reference to the armies of heaven being astride white horses. I expect to be among that army of riders, and if heaven is really a place where all our wishes come true, I know one thing for certain -- I may ride a white horse in God's army, but when the war is over I'll ask to make a trade. And then my horse will be Red.

--Stephanie G.

6 comments:

  1. Steph, I LOVED this essay. I could feel your sadness at that news. Wonderful memory.

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  2. I've known you for years and years and never knew you were a horse girl! What a lovely memory.

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  3. Beautiful! And I was much like you as a pre-adolescent. Wanted to be a jockey --until I fell off a horse and broke my wrist!

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  4. I share with you the same love for horses from a very early age. After our children were grown my husband and I took a trip to Lexington Kentucky to the State Horse Park. The horse farms along the way were gorgeous! And at the Park we saw the statues of Man of War and Secretariat. It was a wonderful trip. We live in Canada and I was fortunate enough to visit the stable of Big Ben, a show jumping star, and I now have a picture of him and I. A love of horses is a beautiful thing!

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    1. Thanks for taking time to check in. I haven't visited the STate Horse Park. Will have to check that out next time I'm in Lexington!

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  5. That essay was beaugiful. When I read about Man o' War and Secritariat,I cried myself to sleep. I love horses, I have been riding horses since is was two years old and I plan on going to a College named Meridith Manor where I can learn more about ways to make a living working with such amazing creatures.

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