About the Horse

From The Saratoga Special, August 2013. 

“No problem.”

That’s all I wrote when asked to speak for the horse at a dinner for Saratoga WarHorse. I always say yes in emails, especially when the task is weeks away. I’ll say yes to anything, if it’s not today. It seemed easy, simply talk about the horse for two minutes. No problem.

I was feeling anxious Monday afternoon, when I hadn’t written a word. It had been in my head for days, weeks, but it wasn’t coming out. Sometimes the creative process is simply a process without the creativity. I brainstormed with myself, coming up with different lines, different themes, different threads. I quoted my dad, my wife, a trainer and a poet, trying to avoid Tesio and Churchill and then scratched it all out. Cocktail hour began to creep closer and I was still stuttering with my thoughts. I typed out what I could, didn’t love it, but didn’t hate it.

Sitting in the parking lot across from the Fasig-Tipton pavilion, I recited the lines, while timing myself. Two minutes, 10 seconds. Not bad, I figured I’ll talk too fast and get it down to 2 minutes on the nose.

Still anxious but somewhat comfortable with my thoughts, I walked into the party, script tucked squarely in my lapel pocket. A glass of champagne and a few conversations, I started to feel better, knowing the quicker you accept the inevitability of public speaking, the better.

Then I met Anthony Kearns. His business card says Word Renowned Tenor. You must be good when you put World Renowned on your card. Kearns warmed up his vocal cords and then waited to perform. He was nervous, edgy, as he swigged and swirled water in his mouth. I was thinking, ‘If he’s nervous…’

I pushed some food around my plate and waited for the program to start, trying to believe my initial response, ‘No problem.’

Anne Campbell began with a perfect delivery. Then a chaplain said a prayer. Then Kearns sang Danny Boy and Amazing Grace. And, indeed, he’s world renowned. If timing’s everything, this was not good timing. Follow Danny Boy and Amazing Grace from a world renowned Irish tenor…like singing karaoke after Elvis left the building.

It went something like this…

My friend Marilyn Lane asked me to speak for the horse. For 2 minutes. Give me 2 hours, 2 days, and I couldn’t come close to giving the horse his due.

It’s why all of us are here. Honest and forthright. Magical and mysterious. Athletic and brilliant.

This summer, we’ve watched Palace Malice, Princess of Sylmar, Wise Dan and all the others. I’ve written about them and I’ve been awed by them.

Then, on a quiet Sunday morning, with 25 papers printed and only 10 to go, I stopped by the jumper barn with two bags of carrots. Apse devoured his, Demonstrative begged for his, Lillehammer simply asked for hers. Promised Destiny, who no one in this room will know or recognize, put his head in my lap and chewed the carrots to bits, then he tried my knees, my shoes, my elbows – just for fun. I sat at the edge of his stall and relaxed for the first time all meet. It had to be the horse. It wasn’t for 15 minutes, but it brought me back to those moments that I miss.

There was a race pony, Red Raven, a Thoroughbred twin who was undefeated at age 22. He taught me confidence, he helped me beat my best friend for the first time. Wow, that felt good.

There was Student Dancer, a washed-out flat horse, show horse and foxhunter, who my father got back to the races after six years away. Dad believed in me. That horse believed in me. Long before I believed in myself.

There was Riverdee, now my stable’s namesake. We needed two men and a boy to tack him up, but then he ran and jumped like he knew I needed him.

Those three are the ones who shaped me, they made me. They are the three I think of when I think of the horse. We all have them, we are all lucky to have them.

People who don’t know horses, they always ask me, “What are horses like?” I laugh. How much time do you have? They’re just like people – but without the edge or the agenda. There are honest ones. Comical ones. Smart ones. Silly ones. There are slackers and savants, ballerinas and bulls, geniuses and giants.

They give, they teach, they learn, they care, they provide.

I met two graduates of the WarHorse program just the other day on the backside of Saratoga. They had seen things and felt things that I hadn’t seen all season, maybe I had ever seen. It wasn’t about Saratoga. It wasn’t about the backstretch. It was about the horse.