Horses: Foundation of the Sport,Valium on the Hoof.
When first I arrived on-campus at Beautiful Belmont Park on Tuesday, June 3rd, the first order of the day was to go to the Communications Office to get my Belmont Stakes’ media credential, and to renew my yearly NYRA credential.
With both those treasured documents hanging from my neck, I went straight to my my second order for the day: I drove out of the Clubhouse parking lot and directly into the backstretch.
Ahhhhhh…I could feel the tension melting off my shoulders, and out of my gut. Months of stress–the longest winter in history–deaths of friends and the fun of driving over the Throgs Neck Bridge just left my soul, via my body, the instant I drove through that gate.
The backstretch of Belmont Park–or Saratoga Race Course–or any race track, I would imagine–is the place where weary human souls find solace, comfort and peace. Where the traffic of Hempstead Turnpike and the beeping horns of tourists on Saratoga’s Broadway just–Poof!–disappear.
The backstretch of a race track is Heaven on Earth to me, and to many others, for there is a magical, heavenly cure to the rat-tat-tat of human life–waiting for us just inside those gates,
I spend as much time as possible in the back of Saratoga and Belmont, but also have been to the backsides of Aqueduct, Keeneland, Meadowlands, Finger Lakes, Monmouth, Delaware Park and the late, adorable Green Mountain Park. (And others I can’t recall right now.)
(And I must report, for the record, that–hands-down–the Keeneland Kitchen has THE Best, and most reasonable, breakfast in the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky.)
Every one of the aforementioned tracks has a flavor and spice all its own. Each is elegant or plain–enormous or tiny–no two race courses are the same. Ibid., their backsides.
So why is it, then, that I get the same feeling of relief at every track? How can it be that grief, stress, anxiety, pain and general world-weariness just fall off my soul like so many scales from a fish–in each of these very different places?
It’s not the trees that heal my soul–it cannot be the breeze, or the concrete–the structures of the barns, or even the humans who work in them.
It’s the horses. It must be the horses. The equines–both racing Thoroughbreds and Arabians, and the “ponies” who work on the tracks–are the only consistent thing at every track.
Oh, it’s never the same combination of horses–it can’t be. It’s not any particular horse, it’s the SPIRIT of The Horse, which all equines share–that turns current troubles into distant memories. It’s the Breath of God–the Wind of Heaven, as the Bedouins called it–that huffs out of those nostrils. The deep-throated, “Neigh” that demands attention–and the nicker of acknowledgement when a favored human approaches.
It’s The Horse, the utterly indescribable spirit that knows no boundaries–that unites human souls of every nation–that breaks down human cultural walls, and transcends this earthly plane. That is the source of my peace–of your peace–of the quiet in the spirit of those who understand.
Without the horses, all race tracks and backstretches would be just places inhabited by humans. Ironically, the horses with whom we share that space–humanize we humans. They make us better–more pure.
I call horses, “Valium on the Hoof.” If I drive into a backstretch, I feel my cares melt away. When I stop the car and kiss a horse, I almost fall asleep following the encounter. It’s the horses who humanize us–who heals us–who makes the track the spiritual home for many weary humans.
I’ve heard recently that some folks are campaigning to get racing organizations to let the public into the backstretch of every track. This isn’t practical, and it’s dangerous. The liability possibilities are endless. It’s not practical, nor would it provide a safe working environment for the horses and their human colleagues.
But does that mean that only I–and others who have backstretch creds–can experience the bliss, and the quiet? Good God, no. Anyone who argues this doesn’t understand racing or horses, at all.
Anyone who sets foot onto a racetrack’s property has the opportunity to experience The Quiet. Just look a horse in the eye. You’ll see escort ponies all over the track. The racing horses, in the paddock and on their way onto the track. There are ample opportunities for everyone who needs that quiet, to encounter an equine pharmacologist who will distribute the peace, happily.
Don’t use the cacophony of the racing day as an excuse not to seek out this moment. I’ve had eyeball-to-eyeball encounters on the paddock path and in the paddock with such rock stars as Funny Cide, Cigar, Fourstardave, Curlin, Rachel Alexandra–more great horses than I can count–and not in the quiet of the backstretch.
The Horse is the very foundation of the sport of horse racing. This makes logical sense. But The Horse also can be the foundation of a human’s peace of mind and heart. All we have to do is quit making excuses–that we don’t have the access we want–and be grateful for the access we HAVE. Find that eye–find that heart–and you will feel your own troubles melting like snow in the warmth of the April sun.
Not only is this encounter the beginning of your own journey to The Quiet–it’s the first step in lifelong fanaticism for this sport, this thing we call, Horse Racing. This thing I call, Love.