Cigar–and All Horses–Beautiful from the INside, Out.

Marion_TalkoftheTracKI read today in Joe Drape’s New York Times‘ article on Cigar, that the osteoarthritis in the great horse’s back and neck had taken its toll.

Drape wrote that Cigar “…wasn’t in great shape,” and made note that, old age and arthritis “…had reduced his once-beautiful gait to a motion resembling a rocking horse with a splintered glider…”

And that made me think.

All the memories–all the photos being thrown out into the Universe via the Internet–all show the magnificent Cigar in his prime, or at least shortly therafter.  Sleek, on the muscle and lightning-fast, Cigar was a freakin’ Force of Nature.  Opponents were intimidated, just being in the gate with the mighty warrior.

And in the years just after his retirement–when he moved to the Kentucky Horse Park–he was still sleek,  gorgeous and threatening to take off John Henry’s head.

Sadly enough–just as I was shocked to read of Cigar’s death because I’d assumed that he was immortal–I was saddened to realize that, contrary to the fantasy in my mind–he hadn’t just “up and died.”  He died following surgery for that arthritis.  Old age contributed to it, no doubt:  had he been a decade younger, for all we know, he’d have lived through that recovery period.

But indeed Cigar was not only mortal, but apparently also capable of breaking down.  No, he didn’t break down on the track, a victim of the weak ankles of so many contemporary Thoroughbreds.  He broke down at a more cellular level:  old age and arthritis cannot be stopped.  Cigar was a freight train when he raced, an unstoppable force–but arthritis, too, is an unstoppable force.  It. can. just. down.

I’m writing this from a place of supreme empathy, for I, too,have osteoarthritis, and two other varietiesof the disease.  Every joint in my body is affected by it.  Typing this article feels like knives being thrust into my hands and fingers.  It’s this way every day of my Life.

And yet–like so many other humans and animals who suffer from various forms of arthritis, we just push on.   Whining about it won’t change it.  Surgery CAN replace SOME joints–but certainly not those in the fingers, and I doubt that they could replace the discs in Cigar’s neck or back.  (With any level of certainty that it would work.)

Think of a body with arthritis as a machine that, like the Tin Man, is running out of oil.  The machine just keeps going until it just doesn’t anymore.

So today, a full 30 hours after I read of Cigar’s demise, I’m still grieving him–but tonight I’m also thinking about the fact that I wish I’d realized that, like me, the mighty man was wearing down.  I’d have found a way to be by his side in Kentucky, to tell him that I understand.  Just as I told him in 1996, that I really love him–I’d be sure he knew that I could understand his pain and “unattractive” gait—and that it was OK.

I’d get in that paddock, and, if he was lying down, I’d get down there on Mother Earth with him.  (It would take me a couple of minutes to get down there, and more than a few to get back up.)  But I’d cradle his big, beautiful head in my arms and kiss his brow and we’d talk about arthritis and the fact that it could do stupid things to us–but not kill our spirits.

I often laugh to myself and say that, in my mind, I’m 22 and hot.  I’m 58, and not.  I was first diagnosed with osteoarthritis when I was 24.  When I was 31 I was re-diagnosed, and a full body scan (X-ray) revealed that, at 31 I had the skeleton of a 75-year-old woman.

I didn’t write that so that y’all would feel sorry for me!  To the contrary–I found it amusing at the time, and still do.  But I do ask that you understand that, like me, Cigar had gone from being really, really beautiful to…well, to a being afflicted with a profoundly painful disease.  One over which he had no control.  It affects the joints, but yes–the pain shows on the face, as well.  Even when the being with arthritis isn’t saying anything–the fact is a dead giveaway, the unconscious speaker of Truth.

BoTox and wrinkle treatments for vain young women–those treatments can touch the surface, only.  The only thing that cosmetic surgery can affect is the OUTside of a being.  It can’t heal or hold off arthritis. It cannot stop your bones from grinding into powder.

Cigar could not help it, that he grew old.  He couldn’t help it, that he  got arthritis.  (BTW:  one thing has nothing to do with the other:  arthritis is NOT the domain of the elderly, as I said–I was first diagnosed when I was 24.  And God knows that Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis is a very real thing, affecting millions of children every year.)

No, Cigar could not  help it, that he went from the bronze-god-statue of a horse who trounced his competitors and won 16 straight races in a row–to a horse who probably limped.  He had no control over the ravages of the disease that overtook him.

So he walked in his paddock like a horse who had severe arthritis.  It was not pretty to look at, I’m sure.  But when Jerry Bailey went to see Cigar on Sunday, he didn’t see the old man with the crooked walk:  he saw the crazy, white-ringed eye of the the Champion whom he’d ridden to glory and history books.  He saw the magnificent horse who made him fall in love with horses.

Jerry saw the REAL Cigar.  He saw his soul–he saw the beautiful, sleek, young colt  who still resided beneath that skin that held together the aching, disintegrating bones.

And that’s the thing,  folks.  No doubt Cigar’s arthritis was as annoying and confusing to him as mine is to me:  in his mind, he was still 22 and hot.

Cigar was blessed:  he had wonderful owners who loved him wildly.  He became a legendary Champion, the likes of whom we’ll never see again.  He retired to the lush and lovely life of the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park.  And he died surrounded by people who cared, and who grieve him tonight.

But there are many horses in the world who are cast off the minute they’re no longer beautiful or “useful.”    I am so ashamed to be part of this shallow western culture that puts physical beauty above all else.  For 40 years,  I’ve lamented the fact that, in 200 years, no one will be able to name a great American philosopher–but everyone will know the name of some blonde starlet strumpet who had Buns of Steel.

Western culture puts this same pressure on horses–there are entirely too many horses who are cast off simply because they’re not “useful” in their respective sports anymore, or become, say, lame.

No Beauty, No Love.  It shouldn’t be that way.  Every day I thank God that He doesn’t see ME that way–that He didn’t discard me when my arthritis was diagnosed.  He knew that I’d slow down–no longer be able to dance with abandon–but God did not abandon me, because He knew (He knows) that my beauty is NOT on the outside.  The part of me that’s worth loving, worth knowing, worth saving–is the part of me that laughs, thinks, cries, loves, cares.

The part of a horse that is worth saving is that same part–but that soul is wrapped up in a skin and bones that aren’t always beautiful, or fit.  To ME, all horses are beautiful, because the first thing I notice about a horse is her eyes.  Those of us who truly love horses see them through the same lenses.

But those who simply use horses–and there are many, in every discipline–those who simply use horses for pleasure or money, then discard them when they are no longer “useful”–those people should be hog-tied.

Those people should never be allowed to be near a horse–or any other animal.  

The whole purpose of this article is to tell you that, yes, even the otherworldly-gorgeous Cigar became wracked with pain and, just before his last breaths–he had lost his elegant gait.  He had become fragile, no fault of his own.

And that if God’s Own Horse–Cigar–could disintegrate, so can every other horse.  But that does not mean that those horses do not deserve to be held, kissed, cherished, cared-for.

If you know a horse who’s not necessarily pretty–but who has a boatload of love to give–won’t you take in that horse and give her/him a home that’s filled with love and respect?  If you know someone who has horses whom he’s treating ill simply because they’re NOT Secretariats–please, do your duty to The Horse and to God:  report that person.  Help take those horses away, and given to people who will do right by them.

Not every horse can be Cigar–but not even Cigar was living up to the tremendous image that we insisted was him, forever and a day.

The Real Cigar is in Heaven–that tremendous soul that carried him around so many racing ovals and gave him such grit–THAT Cigar is eternal.  The package in which he was wrapped is dead, as will be every human who’s consumed with vanity at this moment in time.  Time catches up with all mortal beings, and robs us of our beauty.  But, as Cigar will tell you–that does not mean that an arthritis-wracked Thoroughbred–or knob-kneed Quarter Horse–doesn’t still have value, in the eyes of the One Who made him.

And if God values the sick, disabled horses of this Earth–who are ANY mere humans to not care, thence, to act?

I’m pretty sure that Cigar–and God–approve of this message.