The Insanity of Horse Racing Begins with a Single, Quiet Moment with–yes–a HORSE.
Well, it’s Day Three of the 2016 Saratoga race meet, and already I’m ready to kick someone in the head. I’m really not a big fan of humanity–honestly, I cannot fathom how God can love humans so much. I’m a mere mortal (a sinful one, apparently), and most humans make me nuts.
Especially the ones who are rude, inconsiderate, loud, drunk and just-plain mean.
I could be in a herd of 50,000 horses and feel perfect peace of heart.
But a crowd of 50,000 humans makes my skin itch.
(This is why I say that I can’t go to the Kentucky Derby again unless I have the same seat I had the first time I attended, in 2005: Section 17, front row. We were as far in front of the 100,000+ people there as possible–they all were behind us. I couldn’t see them, all I could see was the track and the horses–so I was fine. But if I’d had to sit amongst the crowd, I’ve have gone insane.)
Horse racing, by its very nature, is loud. The minute the gate goes off, *let’s say), eight horses, each weighing about 1000 pounds, roar down the track. That’s the Earth shaking thousands of times over: a fleshly, beautiful earthquake. At the same time, thousands of people start screaming as if with one voice. Of course, they’re all screaming for one of two reasons:
1) They’re cheering on the horse on whom they bet;
2) They have no idea, but everyone else is screaming.
Now, here’s the deal: every one of these people are screaming at–and for, about, around, by–an animal who, by her/his very core nature–is quiet. Almost Zen-like quiet. The Horse, except when s/he is aggravated/afraid/angry because they’re aggravated or afraid–is quiet. (You may have read my tale about Black, the Thoroughbred who sauntered up next to me to eat crackers on my table. And I never heard him until I heard cracker boxes being knocked over, and munching sounds.)
Horses, when left alone, are silent. Lying in their stalls–or in the vastness of the wilderness–silently chew on grass or hay…walk like ballet dancers, with grace and self-knowledge…horses are the ultimate Zen Masters. In Isaiah 30:15 in the Bible reads, “…in quietness and confidence shall be your strength…” and this verse, I believe, points directly to The Horse.
Race horses get loud when their fight-or-flight instincts are triggered, whether naturally or because they’re in a race, for example. (An artificial, human-created situation.) The pounding of hooves, the deep, rhythmic breathing–all results from having a small human astride, urging them to run like the wind.
In those two minutes, race horses are most akin to their wild horse relatives. They’re running from something, running TO something, and in so doing–their 1,000+ pounds of mass makes the Earth, herself, shake.
And most of us writing or reading this have spent hours standing as close to that finish line, screaming at those prey animals as they go tearing toward the finish line. We’ve participated in their flight instinct.
But what if each of us could have the opportunity to be one-on-one with The Horse, when said animal is in her/his quiet, natural state?
I relate here a brief story of an experience that happened to me, eight years ago. It was winter. I was in Lexington, Kentucky, and pretty sad. I took the right onto Van Meter Road. Driving, looking for healing.
I like Van Meter: it’s one of the few “pikes” in and around Lex that actually has enough room on the shoulder to pull over when you see a Sallee Van barreling toward you. And that shoulder is flat in spots, so you can just stop if you wish.
That day, I spied four lovely weanlings standing near a fence, so I pulled off onto the shoulder, into the snow, and stopped the car. As I exited my car, I feared that the weanlings would take off, but they did not. In fact, they lined up at the fence like Catholic schoolchildren, and waited for me to get to them.
I got to the fence, and realized that these four were the possession of Calumet Farm. (I always notice horses, but rarely the humans or properties connected to them…) These must’ve been some pretty impressive weanlings, yes? I always have a pad of paper and pen with me, so I wrote down the names of their dams, as on their halter plates:
I tucked away my notepad, then the most remarkable thing happened: the grrrlz came to me, and began to inspect me. (If you’re a horse lover, you’ve all had this experience. But this was my first experience with more than one horse at a time, checking me out.)
First, they all sniffed my balled-up hands, as I offered them.
Then, each took an assigned body part, and really drank in my scent and soul. As if each of them had decided ahead of time, “OK, I’ll sniff her neck…you take her belly…” etc.–each of those absolutely-silent, heavenly beings spent hours (it seemed) sniffing and nickering over my entire body. One started with my neck–the second ran her head up my shirt, and inspected my belly. The third, my thighs and lower legs. The fourth checked out my arms and head.
And they were thorough: they didn’t rush, they didn’t jump back. They sniffed, nickered, snuffled, rubbed themselves against me.
I became part of their Tribe, if only for that period of time.
I was accepted, and, I felt–loved. But it was more than mere “love,” for it was the approval of four animals who are in direct communication with their Creator. Horses, I believe, are a special brand of angelic messenger.
To spend such heavenly time with these four creatures–as I closed my eyes, I transcended–to spend that time, drinking in the soul of the moments–was a gift I’ll always cherish. A moment in time that I re-visit often as I walk this journey of Life.
Horses want to communicate with us. They want to get to know us, to accept us, to introduce us to God through their patient inspection and approval.
But they don’t often get the opportunity to communicate with us unless we work with or around them.
And this is where horse racing comes up short: No one can truly be called a Fan of Horse Racing until/unless s/he has spent time with an actual horse.
Call me silly–call me a stickler–but The Horse, as I’ve written many times before — IS the foundation of this sport.
Screaming your guts out at a 1,200-pound animal with whom you’ve never interacted is like watching porn: why bother? It’s the difference between an artificial and a real relationship. The enthusiastic vocalizations of a human who’s known the thrill of kissing a horse who’s kissed back–THAT scream is one of connection. THAT scream is the ecstatic utterance of a human who Gets It.
So here’s your assignment: I believe that NYRA has a horse in the backyard (picnic area) every day, or at least a couple of times a week during the entire Saratoga meet.
If you’ve never met a horse live, in person, and touched her/him–let that horse penetrate your soul with those eyes–if you’ve never met a horse and surrendered your will to the archetype of The Horse–your soul (and your life) has a hole in it.
If you go to the track–Saratoga, or any other–and never desire to meet a horse–don’t bother. Stay home and bet via phone or the Internet.
But if you’ve never met a horse because you’ve never had the opportunity, let’s get you hooked up.
If you’re afraid of a horse–even better! Horses want you to get to know them, so they’ll bring the horse to you into whose eyes you w.ill fall as you fall in the deepest kind of spiritual love.
To scream, and have no idea why you’re screaming is what 12-year-old grrrlz do.
To scream because your heart is riding “your” horse with her jockey–that, my friends, is Connection.
THAT is where horse racing is unlike any other sport.
THAT is the only thing that will save horse racing, in America or anywhere in the world. Only equine sports offer the opportuniry to fall in love with the athletes in a way that is healthy, deep, purely spiritual.
No amount of catering to the tech generation or to children via face painting can do in 10 years–what a single horse can do in five minutes.
Get yourself next to a horse. Let that horse transform, bless and convert you from being a mere “horse player” to being a real, loyal, loving fan of the species and of the sport. Then, and only then, will you become a real horse player.
THAT is how we’re going to save horse racing: one horse, one human at a time.