I just got back from seeing Secretariat with my friend Barbara. She let me pick the movie today and was gracious enough to like it. I knew I HAD to see it. First off, my passion from very young childhood was horses. I loved them in effigy long before I got to meet any in person. I read any horse story I could find growing up. My father had promised me a horse before I turned 12, but he took me aside after we had moved to a big house in Orange County CA and said it was my decision as to whether our family would get a pool, which everyone would enjoy, or I would get my horse. In any future life I am going to say I want my horse, just so, if you happen to be my dad in some other life, you will know what to expect. I figure if you want the family to also enjoy a pool (and I enjoyed ours very much) you will find a way to make that happen.
Speaking of my dad, another time he called the family all together and said we were going to the local high school track, and that if I could run a mile, he'd go get my horse that day. Now, I've never been a runner. Just thinking about it gives me a stitch in the side. But I chugged out onto the track and began jogging. It didn't take long before I was wheezing. And, being of indomiable spirit in only a few weird things of which running is not one, by the second lap I knew I was going to fail. And I was MAD too. Anyway, I had a lump in my throat and was wheezing and about to give up when my brother jogged up beside me. He told me I couldn't let myself be beaten and he jogged, backwards facing me, muttering "horse....horse" for another half a mile. But apparently it did not suit my father as acceptable ( I WAS going very slowly) and when I saw his face I ran off down the grassy hill, having gotten that wonderful "second wind" people talk about. I actually might have been able to run a mile after that happened. My brother accompanied me and I don't remember what he said but I do remember the absolute pure love he had for me. Shown there as it was in many instances. I don't remember discussing this with my father either. But I didn't get my horse then and never did by his hand.
Yet I loved the creatures. I read about them, drew them, spent time with real ones as I could and dreamed of them. I also followed racing and other equestrian events as much as I could. I think racing is a cruel sport. It ruins many fine young animals who are run too fast or too far and can cripple or kill them. I haven't followed racing in years now, but back when I was young I did because the horse has courage. And they are generous animals. I know some DO "want to win" There really is a "look of eagles"
It was 1973 when Secretariat ran the Triple Crown races. They are for 3 year olds, babies whose bones have not even finished growing. They are gruelling. And those races are 2 weeks apart starting with The Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May. Oh, and when I say they horses are 3 year olds, that's not exactly true, as registered thoroughbred racehorses are another year old as of January 1st of each year. I was glued to the tv as soon as coverage for the races came on. I was, as I recall, rooting for Sham. Sham was a beautiful little black horse and I was thinking of Seabiscuit when I saw him. I thought Secretariat was War Admiral and gave my heart to the little guy. I was crushed when Secretariat won the Derby. But by the Preakness it was ok with me if he won, I was dying to see a Triple Crown winner. So Sham or Secretariat...and it was Secretariat!!! By the Belmont I was hoping he would win. I remember watching the race and being disappointed when he broke so fast, he was a come from behinder and at the speed he was going he'd have to burn out! But, he didn't. Even typing this tears come to my eyes remembering that race. He pulled away and the other horses were not even on the screen as he won by an incredible margin, going away. If the race would have been longer I can't even imagine the gap. As it was it was, according to the movie, 31 lengths. 27 lengths stuck in my mind so I am thinking the announcer must have been very emotional at 27 lengths.
Secretariat was a horse with incredible heart. But, my experiences with horses is that they do have incredible hearts. Not often such a will to win though. My horse Ember might have made a good racehorse. She was a thoroughbred, but if she ever had papers they were not extant by the time I got her. She had been a polo pony and she was fast, quick, responsive and VERY competitive. She was also very proud. Thinking back, she was probably not the best choice for me. Much better riders than I could barely sit her rocket like takeoff when you asked for speed. God she loved speed!! And she hated being behind anything! We went on a 3 day trail ride and I was often in front of the leaders who knew where we were going, riding in circles to keep her from going to Timbuctoo! Many people commented on her endurance. She was a shortish horse, about 15.1 hands I'd say, but she out moved Tennessee Walkers when I was holding her to a walk!!
I remember when I first got her, I tried to ride her in a hackamore which is a bridle without a bit, the control is supposed to come via a curb chain that runs under the sensitive jaw. it was like riding a hot rod without brakes!! Riding horses is something best learned I think when one is young. Ember was my second horse and I was probably about 30 and a very beginning rider. After seeing the hackamore wasn't going to cut it I tried a nice thick jointed snaffle bit. I didn't want to hurt her mouth and I knew I did not have "light hands". She ran through the snaffle too. She really did not like to be behind any other horse and she would charge ahead without control. This is not acceptable behavior!!! She also gained the bad habit of doing the occasional Hi Ho Silver rear in which I am sure we were silohuetted against the sky very dramatically. I added the western version of a martingale to her tack and changed the snaffle to a low port curb bit, still thick, and on that we more or less agreed.
On the first day of that 3 day trail ride, I discovered we were going to be up with the leaders. Myfriends' mounts were all much more....relaxed. so I was not with them. I heard a call that there was a rider down. It was one of the founders of the ride, who was pretty ancient. It was thought he'd had a heart attack so they had called in life flight and were stopping the ride until he could be evacuated. I rode Ember over near a little group of pine trees, feeling sure that the helicopter would not come anywhere near us and not wanting to dismount because mounting was problematic for me. She seemed glad of the rest and very calm. I heard the helicopter approaching and it was noisy so I was glad I'd chosen the place I had. Even riding Ember down the streets of Norco could be much more exciting than I planned if a trash truck or mini bike happened by. She had a most distressing habit of leaping directly sideways right TOWARDS whatever it was that she feared. Then it seemed she would come to her senses, she wasn't a bolter thank God. But that initial leap could be terrifying. And I broke many a nail when I had no idea something was about to scare her. Anyway, the noise of the helicopter was increasing dreadfully and I realized with horror it was going to land very near us. It was almost directly overhead!! I sat there expecting the plunging to begin and not for the first time, nor the last Ember surpised me by standing stock still...like helicopters hovered over her every day. It was very amusing. I was so glad! That night I walked her to a river and let her splash a good long time. She LOVED that, to stand in a stream and paw the water up onto her body. You could almost see her glee.
Only once on that ride did she get mad at me, and she whirled in circles till I went flying off her back landing with a suprised "oof!" It was the only time she ever threw me, on purpose. But there was another time where we were on a high scary ridge that was pretty narrow and steep and we had paused at the top to take in the view. Ember was perfectly calm but I felt the saddle slipping sideways and before I knew it I was rolling down amongst the rocks and thorns. Several people leapt from their horses to assist me and there was Ember, standing there looking at me with I swear, a mix of scorn, "I didn't do it" and surprise. I reset her saddle and tightened the cinches and was assisted back aboard and we proceeded quickly, much to my gratitude.
That ride had so many good memories for me! At night you'd secure your horses after feeding them and rubbing them down and come to a chuck wagon dinner at a big bonfire where they had a band play music into the night.
My friend Dean had rigged a shower in his horse trailer just for me, a kind gesture I will never forget.
Likely I will tell more about my horses and about that ride, but this is long enough for now.