Monday, May 4, 2009

Racehorses I have known

The last time I was at Churchill Downs I luxuriated on Millionaire's Row, delighting in a camphor-like essence emanating from a silver cup all iced up with Makers Mark, sugar water and ground mint. Folks around Louisville named that a Mint Julep.

As I recall, we were well into hot weather when Sister Shirl and I were squired about by our own personal--and genuine--Kentucky Colonel, my late brother-in-law, Warren. He sure did know how to show us a good time at America's most genteel race track.

It was thrilling to stand in the midst of the Downs history; I felt immense energy the second I walked through its gates. By having a love of horses myself, just being there gave me one of the happiest times of my life. It didn't matter that it was just another race day at Churchill Downs. I think I even won a couple of bucks. I was in heaven.

Now that I've walked around the track, the Kentucky Derby is even more special. Today's Derby run and win by Mine That Bird has brought back another time in my life that gave me much joy reminding me that life can be a wonderment of repeated events, if only just memories.

Or, I'm just getting old.

I've owned a couple or three horses. One of my horses cost me about the same as Mine That Bird once sold for. Originally, another I wound up with was won in a claim race by its original owner. If you don't know, a claim race is an event where iffy horses with iffy futures go to get a home. They run a race and people win them. It's not exactly the Special Olympics, but there are some problem rides.

The man who won one of my horses raced him too early and often, and messed up his legs. My understanding is the owner was not a horse person, but he had big ideas of raising a winner. Stupid man.

Having failed at his original plan, the horse was then anted in a poker game. The same thing happened with a new owner. Finally, this idiot got it through his head that the horse wouldn't run because he was broken down by age 2-1/2 and sold him to a nice lady who trained him to be a hunter/jumper.

This is where I came in. I bought this horse for a lot of money--not a small number for a single mother who was broke all of the time. But this single purchase kept my children off the streets and at the stables where they belonged mucking stalls for many years.

Years ago, someone told me that owning a sailboat is like standing in the shower and tearing up $20 dollar bills. Taking into account inflation, that amount should be $50 by now. That's one "hobby."

Owning a thoroughbred is like standing is a pile of manure and tearing up $100 dollar bills.

Back to my horse. The name the old owner came up with was "Halston." I'll bet the owner's girlfriend named him. His Jockey Club name escapes me. He was a big bay gelding--18 hands--who had a wild streak in him a mile-wide, probably emanating from his unfortunate childhood. Only one of my daughters could ride him well. I guess she wasn't afraid of him. But then, she wasn't afraid of me either. Or anyone else for that matter.

He was a great jumper and fast as, well a rabbit or, a racehorse, an E-Ride for sure. But, worst of all, he was a horse I couldn't count on. That made me mad considering his job description.

Eventually, as my twin girls grew older, their interests changed. Turning 16 in the horse world is when most girls leave riding behind. They preferred other forms of transportation, so off to work they went to buy their cars. I was left holding the reins, so to speak.

Neither I nor my husband were going to actually try to stride this monster, whose idea of pleasure riding was cantering along for a while then throwing his head in wild ways and jumping up and down like a jack in the box, and then suddenly coming to a stop; then doing it again; and then again.  It was time to sell the horse.

I wish I could say I got my money out of Halston. Horses must believe in Karma, because every time I tried to show him to a buyer, he would break out in great, huge whorls of hives. It was as if he knew that any new buyer--especially those with darling daughters in tow--would send him through the same routine of living in a stable paddock (nice as it was) and schlepping to stupid horse shows with dumb, insipid, spoiled little rich people who cry all the time if they don't win and then gets blamed.

I always tried to console Halston regarding the horse show thing, telling him at least he'd see other horses and and he could compare notes; how handsome he was, that he was certainly the biggest dude in the barn. I certainly don't know why he complained. I even gave him extra carrots and apples.

His demonstration of appreciation was limited. After he nearly broke my arm when I turned him out in a corral, I yelled at him and told him I was going to give him away. Out of spite, I sold him to a trainer for a dollar, which is what I told him he was worth. I understand the buyer/trainer put him out to pasture, the best place for him.

I had another horse. "Marty" was a little over 15 hands, about the size of Mine That Bird who looked almost exactly like him in form and image. He used to slip in and out of places too like Mine. In fact, they should rename Mine "Mercury" for his ability to shimmey between those two semis on either side of him in today's final run for the roses.

We sold Marty to a polo player in Solano Beach for $500. No, not much money, but I've never seen a happier horse. Besides, we had an opportunity to attend a couple of polo matches. My girls and I cried when he left, but we parted on good terms. He was just too little for hunter/jumper events. Again, horse karma. He's happy.

Oh, Marty and I had no conversations. I think he might have had "little horse syndrome."

Gosh, those were wonderful times!

Thanks for the read.

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